Which party is best for the UK’s Eurovision hopes? Whichever one is led by Harold Wilson…

Harold Wilson at microphoneA couple of weeks after the General Election, we’ll all be gathering around our TVs for another night of overblown histrionics and complicated voting analysis when it’s time for 2015’s Eurovision Song Contest. With the death of former British Eurovision entrant Ronnie Carroll causing a bit of a stir in the election a couple of weeks ago, I decided to look at under which parties and Prime Ministers we’ve had the most success in the contest.

My first discovery was that only three Prime Ministers have presided over British Eurovision victories: Wilson, Thatcher and Blair. They’re also the three longest serving Prime Ministers of the Eurovision era, which perhaps indicates a link between success and Prime Ministerial longevity. Wilson’s the most successful, with three victories and just one each for Thatcher and Blair. It is worth noting that Blair’s victory (Katrina and the Waves, 1997) came on just his second day in office, while Wilson’s final victory came just two days before he left office, so there is also a possible link between victory and Prime Ministerial transition.

Despite having more victories under Labour Prime Ministers, the overall record under Tory governments is better with Britain’s average finishing position under purely Tory governments being 4.88 and just 9.12 under Labour governments. The coalition has fared even worse, with an average finishing position of 19.6, which makes the average under Tory PMs 7.16 – still better than the Labour average. Of course, there is an effect of the number of contestant countries increasing over the years, which I haven’t controlled for.

In terms of individual Prime Ministers, the list goes like this (excluding Douglas-Home, who only saw one contest during his time in office, Matt Monro’s 2nd place in 1964):

1) Wilson (average finishing position of 2.66 over 9 contests)
2) Heath (3 over 3 contests)
3) Macmillan (3.5 over 6 contests)
4) Thatcher (5.27 over 11 contests)
5) Callaghan (6.66 over 3 contests)
6) Major (7 over 6 contests)
7) Blair (14 over 11 contests)
8) Brown (15 over 2 contests)
9) Cameron (19.6 over 5 contests)

What’s clear from that is that there’s been a general decline in Britain’s performance over the years with each Prime Minister doing worse than their predecessor except for Wilson and Thatcher. The general trend appears to be for a long-term decline beyond the control of any political party leaving little hope of a British revival, unless someone finds a way to resurrect Harold Wilson.

Should we directly elect the Prime Minister?

David Cameron’s stomping around the North today, yet again trying to persuade people that having elected mayors is a good idea.

I’ve set out before why I don’t like the current system of mayors (and their related ‘democratic’ position, Police and Crime Commissioners). In short, by concentrating power in one person and then severely restricting the ability of others to have any checks on that power, they’re effectively anti-democratic. There are good arguments for separating executive and legislative power at all levels, but democracy is about more than just voting. Most of these proposals just seem to assume that having a named individual responsible for some area of government magically makes it more accountable, without paying any attention to how that accountability takes place. As we saw with the farce over Shaun Wright, Police and Crime Commissioners are so unaccountable in practice, there was no body with the power to remove him from office.

When David Cameron and others do their pitches for elected mayors – despite the public rejecting them twice as often as they accept them – there’s a simple way to test how much they actually believe the arguments about improved accountability and democracy. Simply ask him this – should the position of Prime Minister be directly elected?

Sure, the position covers a while country rather than just a local government unit, but the principle is the same. The PM has an important role to lead and represent the country, but the people have no direct say in who gets to fill that role, so is it truly accountable and democratic? If our cities and towns will flourish more because they can directly elect their leaders, who can say how much the country would flourish if its leader was directly elected?

I’m not convinced elected mayors are some magical panacea for the problems of local government, and I strongly doubt that directly electing the Prime Minister would solve even one-tenth of the problems that it would cause. However, those that advocate directly electing more and more posts in the name of more democracy and accountability are heading towards this, even if they won’t admit it.

As I said a few weeks ago, I think there is a strong argument for looking at how we can better separate Government and Parliament, especially the question of whether ministers need to hold a seat in Parliament to do their jobs. I don’t think a directly elected Prime Minister is the answer, but then I’m not the one arguing that electing a post suddenly makes everything better.

There’s been at least one former Prime Minister in Parliament since 1756, but could that end next year?

The Duke of Newcastle - the last Prime Minister to serve without a predecessor in Parliament.
The Duke of Newcastle – the last Prime Minister to serve without a predecessor in Parliament.
A thought occurred to me this morning that with Gordon Brown stepping down as an MP at the next election, if David Cameron is re-elected, there’ll be no former Prime Minister in Parliament. There’ll be living former Prime Ministers – John Major, Tony Blair and Brown – but as the first two haven’t taken seats in the Lords, they’re not in Parliament. Assuming Brown chooses to follow their example (possibly confirming a new precedent), none of them will be in Parliament.

That got me wondering about if it had ever happened before, and if so, when was the most recent case of it? Going back to the start, this is what I found:

Following the convention, we’ll assume Walpole was the first Prime Minister, and thus there was no former one in Parliament during his time in office. Having been created Earl of Orford, he remained in Parliament until his death in 1745, through the whole of the Earl of Wilimgton’s time as PM and the first two years of Henry Pelham’s.

Wilmington and Pelham both died in office, thus there were no living former PMs during the Duke of Newcastle’s first period in office. He was then replaced by the Duke of Devonshire before returning to office when Devonshire resigned. Newcastle was in power till 1762, and Devonshire didn’t die until 1764, then Newcastle lived on until 1768, during which time the Earl of Bute, George Grenville, the Marquess of Rockingham and Pitt the Elder all served as Prime Minister.

Of those four, Bute lived the longest and held a peerage, thus remaining a member of Parliament in the Lords until his death in 1792. There were a number of Prime Ministers during that time, the longest lived being the Duke of Grafton, who survived until 1811. Following him, Henry Addington (who joined the Lords as Viscount Sidmouth after being Prime Minister) lived until 1844.

(EDIT: Charles Dundas in the comments points out that the Earl of Bute was only a member of the Lords until 1780, but Grafton was an ex-PM in the Lords from 1770 until 1811)

Viscount Goderich was the longest-surviving PM of Addington’s time, living till 1859 (and outliving four of his successors), with Lord John Russell (later the first Earl Russell) the longest-lived of Goderich’s time. Russell lived to see Disraeli and Gladstone trade the premiership back and forth, though Gladstone was the longest-lived. However, he did not enter the Lords, and served as an MP until 1895. When Gladstone left Parliament, however, his successor the Earl of Rosebery also lost the Premiership to the Marquess of Salisbury, though Rosebery lived on until 1929.

At Rosebery’s death, David Lloyd George was still in Parliament and would serve as an MP until 1945, while Stanley Baldwin (both a former and future PM at the time of Rosebery’s death) would be in the Lords as Earl Baldwin until 1947. Attlee and Churchill were then both former Prime Ministers and leaders of the Opposition while the other was in office. Attlee would remain in Parliament as Earl Attlee until his death in 1967, and then there would always be at least one former Prime Minister in the House of Lords until Thatcher’s death in 2013.

On her death, Gordon Brown became the only former Prime Minister left in Parliament, and so, to answer my original question, if Cameron remains as Prime Minister and none of the three living former PMs enter the Lords, this will be our first time without a former Prime Minister in Parliament since the Duke of Newcastle’s first term in 1754-56.

UPDATE (September 2016): The scenario I outlined above did come to pass, and so from May 2015 until July 2016, there was no former Prime Minister in Parliament. This changed when Cameron resigned and Theresa May became Prime Minister, and then changed again when he decided to resign as an MP. We thus went for 259 years without a period with a former PM in Parliament, then had two come along at once. How long this period lasts for is anyone’s guess, though it could be a short one if Cameron breaks with the new precedent of Major, Blair and Brown to accept a seat in the Lords.