The Top 10: Journalist-politicians

From Winston Churchill via Sarah Palin to Boris Johnson and Michael Gove

John Rentoul
Friday 27 May 2016 17:12 BST
Winston Churchill, the young war reporter
Winston Churchill, the young war reporter

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Louise Thomas

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Sunder Katwala suggested this list after I wrote an article pointing out that Vote Leave’s two main leaders, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, were both journalists. “Good copy can be bad politics,” he said.

1. Winston Churchill. Correspondent for The Morning Post for a year during the Boer war, and thus just qualifying for this list, which is of people whose main job was as a journalist and who were significant political leaders. Nominated by Francis Hoar, Robert Hutton and Stuart, who says: “Probably only one in the list to have had a ransom on his head as a journalist.”

2. Ruth Davidson. Glenrothes Gazette, Kingdom FM, Real Radio and BBC Scotland: producer, presenter and reporter for seven years. Member of the Scottish Parliament and leader of the Scottish Conservatives, since 2011. Proposed by Lawrence Freedman.

3. Nigel Lawson. Financial Times, Sunday Telegraph, editor of The Spectator, 1966-70. Chancellor of the Exchequer, 1983-89. Named by Francis Hoar, Simon Wilder and Alan Jowett.

4. Benito Mussolini. Well, he briefly edited two Socialist Party newspapers. Thanks to Sunder Katwala.

5. Ed Balls. Financial Times, leader-writer, 1990-94. From Janice Morphet, who also nominated Yvette Cooper, The Independent, economics correspondent from 1995, leader-writer (with me) and European economics editor, 1997.‏

6. Jim Hacker. Editor of the newspaper Reform, minister at the Department of Administrative Affairs and later Prime Minister, Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister. Made up by Alan Robertson and Brian Brady.

7. Michael Foot. “It is not too well known that he edited the Evening Standard during the Second World War,” says Paul T Horgan. Also put forward by Paul Frame and Paul Waugh.

8. Horatio Bottomley. “Financier, journalist, editor, newspaper proprietor, swindler and MP,” says Robert Hutton, quoting from Wikipedia. Founder of, among others, the Financial Times and John Bull magazine.

9. ‏Sarah Palin. Started as a sports journalist and broadcaster, notes Chris Jones. Sportscaster for KTUU-TV and KTVA-TV in Anchorage; sports reporter for the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, also in Alaska, 1987-88.

10. Bill Deedes. The only person to date to have been both a cabinet minister, 1962-64, and the editor of a national newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, 1974-86. Recalled by Mr Memory.

Honourable mentions for Ian Gilmour, Iain Macleod, Georges Clemenceau (Francis Hoar), Martin Bell (Daniel Sugarman), ‏Lord Beaverbrook, Leo Amery, Norman Fowler, Chris Huhne (Mr Memory), Nick Clegg (Financial Times, nominated by Harry Reid) and ‏Al Gore (Chris Jones).

Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, Marquess of Salisbury, Prime Minister three times between 1885 and 1902, did not qualify, although Andrzej Kozlowski described him as “one of the greatest”. He wrote a lot, anonymously, for the Saturday Review, the Quarterly Review and the Standard, from 1856 to 1866, but he was already an MP.

Next week: Leaders with the name of their country in their name, such as Kenyatta and de Gaulle

Coming soon: People with invented middle initials, such as Ulysses S Grant and JK Rowling

Your suggestions, and ideas for future Top 10s, in the comments please, or to me on Twitter, or by email to

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