Have you ever wanted to play a game of Top Trumps with Conservative leaders as your cards? Now you can. A new analysis, by Matt Smith for ConservativeHome, has ranked every one of the Party’s 13 leaders to have contested a General Election since 1906.
The leaders are ranked according to five measures of success: how many seats they gained; the vote swing they achieved; the amount of time they spent as leader; their number of election victories; and that same number as a proportion of all the elections they contested. Taken together, these result in a score out of 500.
David Cameron – who delivers his speech in the main hall at 11:30 today – is ranked as the second most successful leader of the period, with a score of 406. His record of 132 seats gained (1st overall), a 4.5 per cent vote swing (3rd), 9 years 10 months in charge (5th) and having won both of the elections he has fought is so good that only one other leader surpasses it.
And that one other leader is? Margaret Thatcher, of course, the subject of Charles Moore’s biography which had its second volume published yesterday. Her overall score is 477 out of 500.
The full rankings are shown in this chart (click for a larger version):
Aside from the positions of Thatcher and Cameron, the relatively low ranking of Winston Churchill stands out. Seventh place is not a flattering finish for a man who has come to symbolise Britain’s resilience and fortitude in the face of global conflict.
This, however, is the nature of the analysis. It does not account for world wars, just as it does not account for the actual policies implemented by these leaders. It is entirely about their performance as Party leader, rather than their skill as Prime Minister. Thatcher won three of three elections for the Conservatives. Cameron won two of two. Churchill, for all his merits, won only one of three.
Our wartime leader still manages to outperform many of the Party’s most recent leaders. Take John Major. His single election victory matches Churchill’s, but the mammoth scale of his defeat in 1997 contributes to his 12th place finish – not to mention leaving the Conservatives out of power for 13 years.
William Hague and Michael Howard failed to make amends. They finish in 9th and 10th place, with scores of 149 and 143, respectively. Iain Duncan Smith doesn’t even feature in the analysis because he was sent packing by the Party before he could actually contest an election.
This is one way of judging David Cameron as leader. The Party was in a lowly position when he took it over, but, unlike his immediate predecessors, he has managed to elevate it. In this respect, his successor will be in a more comfortable position for the 2020 General Election. In another, they will struggle to do better than Dave.
Leader ranking cards
Matt Smith provides more detail about the individual leaders here. These are all of the cards he produced for each one:
For “seats change” and “vote % change”, a scale was created from the lowest figure any leader had achieved to the highest. The leader with the lowest value was scored zero and the leader with the highest was scored 100. All leaders in between were scored based upon where they place on this scale.
For “term as leader”, “election wins” and “election % wins”, a scale was created from zero to the highest figure that a leader had achieved. All leaders were scored based upon where they place on this scale, with the leader with the highest figure scoring 100.
An election “win” is counted as any election where the leader becomes Prime Minister as a result. In the case of Bonar-Law in 1918 and Baldwin in 1931, although the Coalition/National platforms on which they fought the election were successful, and both achieved a majority in the House of Commons in terms of Conservative seats alone, neither became Prime Minister; nor, due to their shared platforms, can they claim full credit for the election victory. These elections are therefore considered to be a half win, and are treated in the scoring as if Baldwin had won 2.5 elections overall and Bonar Law 1.5.
The seats scoring for Arthur Balfour excludes seats won by the Liberal Unionists, which are sometimes lumped together with the Conservatives as a combined total.