Sunday, 12 April 2015

Top Ten: Most influential post-war British politicians

Are today's politicians really as poor as they sometimes appear? In an entirely non-objective, unscientific spirit of enquiry, I've drawn up a list of the people I consider to be the ten most influential post-war British politicians. The criteria are simple: they must have been elected to the Westminster Parliament, and only their impact on Britain counts - this isn't about foreign affairs.

1. Edward Heath - Useless in so many ways, but he was the man who took Britain into the European Community, which is surely the biggest political development since the war.

2. Roy Jenkins - The best home secretary in living memory, the man who made parliamentary time available for backbencher bills that ushered in the civilised society (as he called it) or the permissive society (as everyone else called it).

3. Aneurin Bevan - He gave us the NHS, the great sacred cow of modern politics. (Unless you believe Leanne Wood of Plaid Cymru, in which case the NHS was a gift to the UK by the Welsh people.)

4. Ken Livingstone - A bit of a cheat, since his contribution was made before he was elected as an MP, but the identity politics he pioneered at the GLC in the early-1980s have transformed the country: the loony left became the mainstream.

5. Margaret Thatcher - She may not have achieved many of her goals, but she did persuade the British people that they didn't like socialism. And none of her trade union reforms or privatisations have been reversed, or show any sign of being reversed.

6. Enoch Powell - Nearly fifty years after he was sacked from the Conservative front bench, his obsessions with free-markets, British sovereignty, Europe, immigration - all deeply unfashionable at the time - continue to dominate the political agenda.

7. Clement Attlee - Since William Beveridge was never elected, he doesn't get on this list, so Attlee's here in his stead as the man who presided over the implementation of the Beveridge reforms. And because Attlee's government also gave us National Parks and a decent Town and Country Planning Act.

8. Harold Macmillan - The break-up of the empire was inevitable, but Macmillan's 'wind of change' attitude helped ensure it happened with relatively little violence.

9. John Major - The much maligned Citizens' Charter emphasised users rather than providers in public services, which will be a great idea when it kicks in. He also takes the credit for initiating the Northern Ireland peace process.

10. Tony Blair - The massive, unprecedented increase in immigration during Blair's government is still in the process of transforming Britain.

Others who made this list at one time or another during my long cogitations included Gerry Adams, Alex Salmond and a brace of Tory chancellors - Anthony Barber and Nigel Lawson - who screwed up the economy.

And then there's Tony Benn, the man who gave us colour television, post codes and commemorative postage stamps; he also introduced the concept of the referendum and, by changing the Labour Party constitution, inadvertently and ironically strengthened the leadership. But since he's best known for his socialist message, which is now conspicuous by its complete absence from the political agenda, he doesn't make the cut.

Of the present crop, the only one I think might make it onto this list in the future is Iain Duncan Smith, if his benefit reforms last. (Of course this should have been Frank Field, but Tony Blair and Gordon Brown chickened out.)

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