Just as a history of a country is a history of a people, a history of an office is a history of those who have occupied it. And while there is much more to our nation's history, visiting the leaders who have graced and tarnished our history might help paint a broad political picture of how our nation has developed. In this weekly periodical, we will be exploring the individuals who have occupied the highest office in the land: Prime Minister.
The office of Prime Minister is interesting for, technically, it doesn't actually exist (on paper). What I mean by this is that it isn't written down in any law or book that says there must be a PM. Rather, the position has evolved throughout history - going from basically whoever in parliament the monarch could get along with (literally the prime minister), to the leader of the party that can command the confidence of the elected lower chamber (the House of Commons), and, by extension, the people. In fact, the way the concept of prime minister has developed represents the advance of democracy in Britain through the past 300 years. For much of those 300 years, however, the parliament from which the Prime Minister arose was not democratic by modern standards. Despite elections being held regularly, those who were eligible to vote in them came to a grand total of [insert figure] - and even then an aspiring MP could just buy or inherit the seat. In what we would now call cronyism, parliament consisted of familial connections and inherited power. It was only in the 1830s that we began to see reform in the way we 'did politics', and even then it took us until 1928 to grant equal suffrage between men and women.
The history of the Prime Minister is important for us to understand, as the 300-year window which we will be exploring is a critical juncture in our nation's story. The victory of Cromwell over Charles I in the English Civil War (1642-51), and the Glorious Revolution later in the century (1688), paved the way for a change in power dynamics in England. In the history leading up to these landmark events, the monarch effectively governed the country. However, as the sovereignty of parliament and the peoples' elected representatives was starting to be established, it became clear that this would create the need for the monarch to have a spokesperson in parliament; a sort of, prime minister, if you will. This is where we shall begin. The need for a PM to command the confidence of the people, parliament and the monarch has always existed - with the importance of the latter only declining in the last century or so.
This weekly periodical will introduce us to the people who led our nation, and the individuals who have shown us what good and bad leadership looks like. More than that, this periodical will allow us to picture the advance of democracy and the changing political landscape of the past 300 years through the office from which we demand so much.
This will be a history of those who have been Prime Minister, but, more importantly, it will also be our history