Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Grading America’s Best Friends: British PMs from Churchill, Thatcher, and Blair

I would like to show you the following chart by BBC History Magazine, grading British prime ministers in the 20th century. Margaret Thatcher and Clement Attlee are graded top, while Winston Churchill barely missed this rank. Tony Blair is evaluated just average. What makes Thatcher and Blair so different, though both leaders are America’s best allies in their days? Let me review this grade in detail.

20th Century Prime Ministers[Rated 0 (worst) – 5 (best)]
5 Margaret Thatcher
5 Clement Richard Attlee
4 Edward Heath
4 Winston Churchill
4 Harold Macmillan
4 Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman
3 Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil [later Lord Salisbury]
3 Herbert Henry Asquith
3 David Lloyd George
3 Stanley Baldwin
3 James Harold Wilson
3 Tony Blair
2 James Callaghan
2 Arthur James Balfour
1 Andrew Bonar Law
1 James Ramsay MacDonald
1 Sir Alec Douglas-Home
1 John Major
0 Robert Anthony Eden
0 Neville Chamberlain

In terms of ideology, Thatcher and Attlee are the opposite, but they are common in changing British society for new era. Attlee transformed Britain from a colonial empire to a welfare state. The Beveridge Plan had become a textbook of social policy. British forces withdrew from India with dignity. However, the editor grades him too high, in my view. He nationalized Britain’s leading businesses, which is one of the reasons for stagnant economy throughout the postwar era.

Margaret Thatcher deserves top grade. The editor says as follows.

“Margaret Thatcher took one sort of society, and turned it into another sort of society. She broke the Attlee settlement, which had lasted more than 30 years, largely by force of will. Today few people under 40 remember a time when trade unions were a real force in the land; when the public sector controlled large swathes of the economy; when local councils controlled education and other local services; when benefits were considered rights of citizenship. The defeat and destruction of the once-powerful National Union of Mineworkers was a key moment in the history of the last half decade.”

I agree with him. It is her steadfast attitude that led Britain to strong economy today. Also, a best partner to Ronald Reagan, she played a leading role in Cold War victory, and defeated dictators such as Saddam Hussein of Iraq, Muammar Khadafi of Libya, and Leopold Galtieri of Argentina.

Though very popular among the public, Churchill failed to mark the top grade. Certainly, he is charismatic, and one of the best US allies in history. However, some historians cast slight doubt on his competence to manage the government. He focused on defeating Germany too much, without sufficient consideration to the British economy after the War. Grade 4 seems to be adequate.

On the other hand, Tony Blair is evaluated too low. The editor says as follows, according to The Times.

Mr. Blair had brought about a “relatively permanent change” in terms of the private sector’s involvement in public services. But he added: “The unpopularity of the Iraq war, and the fact that the reasons given afterwards for going to war were not those given at the time, have undermined Mr. Blair’s ability to implement his vision, probably permanently.”

But think again. Had Blair rejected to join the attack against Iraq, the transatlantic alliance would have been damaged fatally. Despite the rift on Iraq, NATO forces are engaged in counter terrorism operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I have to say that the timing of evaluation is bad for Blair. Currently, he is under pressure to hand his power to the next prime minister. Blair should be rated higher when graded in usual days.

British prime ministers, notably, Churchill, Thatcher, and Blair are best allies to the United States. Their commitment to prevailing liberal democracy and bringing global stability is invaluable. Regardless of the grade in this magazine, their roles in the transatlantic relationship deserve high credit.

Foreign policy and security are not the only area of the Anglo-American partnrtship. Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan are evangelists of conservatism. Their ideas of small government have crucial effects on world leaders. Welfare states are reconsidered in Scandinavia. Japan is inspired by their conservatism to pursue the Koizumi Reform.

Margaret Thatcher was not loved in her days. History evaluates leaders properly. Do what you have to do, even if severely criticized. This is the vital lesson to be a real statesman.