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UK politics

The “crazy carousel” of Number 10

Changing the guard: the Downing Street staircase. Dan Kitwood/Getty

There is no more “precarious or unsatisfactory” job in the country than that of prime minister, says Anthony Seldon in The Times. The four PMs since Tony Blair have served an average of just three years and nine months. That’s simply “not long enough”. Looking back, all our “top tier” prime ministers were in power for at least five years – and so too almost all the “second tier” leaders. This is a real problem: our “crazy carousel” of revolving leaders denies us much-needed stability. Prime ministers can no longer abide by Churchill’s famous maxim: “Keep buggering on.”

What’s behind this change? The first is that our leaders today lack experience. From 1900 to 1979, the average age of a new PM was 60. From 1990 to now, it’s 48. The last five prime ministers, from Blair to Boris, served in just three offices of state between them before arriving at No 10. The five before them, from Ted Heath to John Major, served in 23, and the five before them, from Churchill to Harold Wilson, in 39. “Experience matters.” This problem has been exacerbated by the centralisation of power – key decisions are made by No 10 rather than the relevant department. It shouldn’t be like this. “The most effective prime ministers, including Gladstone, Attlee and Thatcher, had a small No 10, staffed with highly capable and proven figures who remained in post for prolonged periods.” Our future leaders should take note.

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