Yet even more on Prime Ministers and their Mandates

Dave Levy
3 min readDec 29, 2020
The Mace, in Parliament, cropped from

I have again revised the diagram I use to illustrate the nature of Prime Ministerial mandates which I last revised a day or two ago. I started thinking about the reasons, other than electoral defeat that leads to prime ministerial departure; it comes down to ill-health or coup, and in parliament, it’s the support of your own party that is critical. I have amended the chart, to show the two reasons for departure.

Three points, as prime ministers get younger they are less likely to resign for reasons of health although the job is much tougher today and all recent ex-prime ministers looked terrible as they resigned, except John Major who was obviously getting a lot of exercise.

My initial diagram was inaccurate in that it showed Eden as a losing inheritor, this isn’t true, he called an election which increased his majority, perhaps Gordon Brown should have studied this episode in history more carefully, but it is unlikely that it would have overcome his risk aversion or cowardice; you choose the word.

Macmillan & Cameron are interesting. Cameron didn’t succumb to ill health, unless not being arsed has become a medical condition, so I count this as a coup. There are friends that dispute this, but he hd clearly lost the confidence of the nation and should have resigned. Macmillan had lost the confidence of his parliamentary party, what with all the shagging and lying, (how times change) but he had enough control to deny those who were plotting the succession because the Tories didn’t do anything as vulgar as have elections in those days.

So my theorem is that Prime Ministers that test their popularity on accession are more successful, with the examples of Douglas-Home, Callaghan (maybe), Brown and May being illustrations of failures who failed to compete within their Party or go to the country. Callaghan did win an election

A second suggestion from the evidence is that either Heath’s 1970–4 administration was a fluke interruption of a 15 year Wilson government or that by selecting Douglas-Home, the Tories gifted Wilson the 64 election which he won by only four seats. Obviously, it can’t be both. If the latter, this shows the shocking success of the Tory Party in selecting its premiers as election winners. If Maudling or Butler has succeeded McMillan, and then beaten Wilson, our governments would have looked like Italy or Japan, or West Germany. Douglas-Home is the only Tory Prime Minister not to have won re-election.

I originally published a model in an article called “Mandates” and revised it in an article, ‘ PMs and “coronations”’, in which I looked at Theresa May’s record; I made some notes in a wiki article, “ Confidence of the House “.

Originally published at on December 29, 2020.



Dave Levy

Brit, Londoner, economist, Labour, privacy, cybersecurity, traveller, father - mainly writing about UK politics & IT,