David Cameron has been voted the UK’s second worst Prime Minister of the last 100 years, but is he a victim of the tyranny of today – receny bias, if you prefer a more formal phrase?
Historical writers have clubbed together, and voted for the UK’s worst Prime Minister over the last 100 years. Margaret Thatcher won, David Cameron came second, and picking up the bronze medal was Neville Chamberlain.
Mrs T garnered 24% of the votes, DC 22%
The writer Emma Darwin said of the iron lady: “She destroyed too many good things in society, and created too many bad ones, then left a social and moral vacuum in which the selfishly rich and unimaginatively fortunate could too easily destroy still more of what they don’t need and can’t see that everyone else does need.”
It is an odd one. Mrs Thatcher’s statement about there being no such thing as society seems to have especially got the goat of the history writers.
But as Paddy Ashdown was quoted in the Guardian as saying: “I disagreed with Mrs Thatcher, I fought her all the way. But I thought she was a great and necessary destroyer. Some of those old structures she pulled down had to be pulled down, but what she wasn’t was a builder.”
The snag with all this, and history writers of all people should get this, is that the legacy of a leader can seem different depending on when you look at it. It is also human nature to focus on recent events – that’s receny bias. That is why whenever the British public vote for their all- time favourite pop song, a chart topper from that year always does well.
One of the most disastrous decisions in UK history of the last 100 years was re-joining the gold standard when Stanley Baldwin was Prime Minister, and Winston Churchill was chancellor. Why didn’t Mr Baldwin figure higher in this list?
History writers lambast Mr Cameron for his decisions to hold an EU referendum, saying that decision may herald the break-up of the UK. But what about the Prime Ministers of this country when the British Empire came to an end? If you respond by saying that was inevitable, then won’t the 52% of the electorate who voted leave say that Brexit was always inevitable? Won’t the SNP say the break-up of the UK is inevitable?
Yes, many of the problems today, for example inequality, and corporate greed, arguably were kicked off during the Thatcher/Reagan era. But then again, don’t forget what the UK was like before Mrs Thatcher, it felt like a country in terminal decline.
How you interpret history is a matter of perspective, and history writers should get this.