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Sacking Prime Ministers

Updated Wednesday, 5th May 2010

It can be hard to persuade the person in charge that it's time for them to go. Much harder when they're the Prime Minister. Andrew Rawnsley offers his potted guide to sacking Prime Ministers.

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Open Politics: Sacking Prime Ministers

Andrew Rawnsley: The Observer

If you look back at the last hundred years you can really say that only two British Prime Ministers have left Number 10 entirely voluntarily.  Most of them have been booted out by the Electorate.

John Major

When the curtain falls it’s time to get off the stage and that is what I propose to do.

Andrew Rawnsley

Then there’s another section of them who are removed and replaced by somebody else, because their own party has lost confidence in them.


The party faithful couldn’t have been effusive when Margaret Thatcher celebrated ten years as Prime Minister, but just thirteen months later the woman who’d won three elections for the Conservatives was deposed. 

Margaret Thatcher

Ladies and gentlemen, we’re leaving Downing Street for the last time after eleven and a half wonderful years.

Andrew Rawnsley

Prime Ministers’ belief that they should remain there and nobody else can do the job as well as they can usually exceeds how long the voters and their colleagues are going to tolerate them.


But when the Prime Minister spoke out for modernising services like the NHS some in the audience had had enough. 

Andrew Rawnsley

In the case of Tony Blair they become so weak and as he was in 2006 that they’re obliged to say they’ll leave Number 10.

Tony Blair

Today I announce my decision to stand down from the leadership of the Labour Party.  The Party will now select a new leader.  On the 27th of June I will tender my resignation from the Office of Prime Minister to the Queen.

Andrew Rawnsley

When the leader’s brand becomes tarnished, when, as is nearly inevitable, they get tainted by scandal, they make mistakes, disillusion starts to attract to them, then they pull the whole party down with them, because they put so much weight on the leader’s personality. 

In any democracy you are the tenants.  You’re prime minister one morning and the next morning you’re not, your furniture is being removed from the back carpark of Number 10.  The Electorate always have the right to throw you out.



Interested? For more on the way the Prime Ministers reach their final act, listen to our audio feature Sacking Prime Ministers: Perspectives





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