The Prime Minister is the head of the UK government. The Prime Minister's main responsibilities include setting the direction of the government, appointing members of the Cabinet, coordinating the activities of the Cabinet and government departments, participating in ceremonial occasions, and being the 'face' of the government in the UK and abroad.
The Prime Minister is technically appointed by the Monarch; by convention, he or she always chooses the leader of the party that holds a majority in the House of Commons. If one party does not have a simple majority (a rare occurence, due to the British electoral system), but two or more parties form a coalition, the leader of the coalition is chosen. If the two major parties ( Labour, Conservatives) are evenly matched in the House of Commons, and neither can form a coalition with minor parties, then the monarch is free to choose the leader of either party as Prime Minister.
The leader of the second largest party in the House of Commons is termed the 'Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition'.
The office of Prime Minister originated out of the office of First Lord of the Treasury. The First Lord of the Treasury was responsible for administration of the royal treasury, the office having originated in medieveal times. It was not, however, until Sir Robert Walpole (1721-1742) that the First Lord of the Treasury became the most powerful minister, and became head of government. Prior to that there was no clear head of government, and the most powerful minister could hold any one of a number of titles (including First Lord of the Treasury, Secretary of State and Lord Privy Seal).
Although Sir Robert Walpole is considered to be the first Prime Minister, the term Prime Minister did not originate until later. The term was initially an insult, equivalent to teacher's pet, implying that the minister was the puppet of the monarch. It was not until Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman was elected in 1905 that it became an official title.
The Prime Minister traditionally lives at No. 10, Downing Street, in London. This house was offered by King George II to Sir Robert Walpole as a personal gift. Walpole would not accept it personally, but agreed to receive it in his official capacity as First Lord of the Treasury. All subsequent holders of this office have lived there. Walpole took up residence in 1735.
The following list shows each Prime Minister, when they held this office, and their political party.
- Tony Blair (1997-Present, Labour)
- John Major (1990-97, Conservative)
- Margaret Thatcher (1979-90, Conservative)
- James Callaghan (1976-79, Labour)
- Edward Heath (1970-74, Conservative)
- Harold Wilson (1964-70 & 1974-76, Labour)
- Sir Alec Douglas-Home (1963-64, Conservative)
- Harold Macmillan (1957-63, Conservative)
- Sir Anthony Eden (1955-56, Conservative)
- Clement Attlee (1945-51, Labour)
- Sir Winston Churchill (1940-45 & 1951-55, Conservative)
- Neville Chamberlain (1937-40, Conservative)
- Ramsay MacDonald (1924-27 & 1929-35, Labour)
- Stanley Baldwin (1923 & 1924-29 & 1935-37, Conservative)
- Andrew Bonar Law (1922-23, Conservative)
- David Lloyd George (1916-22, Liberal)
- H.H. Asquith (1908-16, Liberal)
- Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman (1905-08, Liberal) First official "Prime Minister"
- Arthur James Balfour (1902-05, Conservative)
- Archibald Primrose, Earl of Rosebery (1894-95, Liberal)
- Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, Marquess of Salisbury (1885-6 & 1886-92 & 1895-1902, Conservative)
- William Ewart Gladstone (1868-74 & 1880-85 & 1886 & 1892-94, Liberal)
- Benjamin Disraeli, later Earl Beaconsfield (1868 & 1874-80, Conservative)
- Earl of Derby (1852 & 1858-59 & 1866-68, Conservative)
- Earl Russell (1846-51 & 1865-66, Whig)
- Viscount Palmerston (1855-58 & 1859-65, Liberal)
- George Hamilton Gordon, Earl of Aberdeen (1852-55, Tory)
- Sir Robert Peel (1834-35 & 1841-46, Tory)
- William Lamb, Viscount Melbourne (1834 & 1835-41, Whig)
- Earl Grey (1830-34, Whig)
- Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington (1828-30, Tory)
- Frederick Robinson, Viscount Goderich (1827-28, Tory)
- George Canning (1827, Tory)
- Robert Banks Jenkinson, Earl of Liverpool (1812-27, Tory)
- Spencer Perceval (1809-12, Tory)
- William Bentinck, Duke of Portland (1783 & 1807-09, Tory)
- William Wyndham Grenville, Lord Grenville (1806-07, Whig)
- William Pitt The Younger (1783-1801 & 1804-06, Tory)
- Henry Addington (1801-04, Tory)
- William Petty, Earl Shelburne (1782-83, Whig)
- Charles Wentworth, Marquess of Rockingham (1765-66 & 1782, Whig)
- Lord North (1770-82, Tory)
- Augustus Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Grafton (1767-70, Whig)
- William Pitt The Elder, Earl of Chatham (1766-68, Whig)
- George Grenville (1763-65, Whig)
- John Stuart, Earl of Bute (1762-63, Tory)
- Thomas Pelham-Holles, Duke of Newcastle (1752-56 & 1757-62, Whig)
- William Cavendish, Duke of Devonshire (1756-57, Whig)
- Henry Pelham (1743-54, Whig)
- Spencer Compton, Earl of Wilmington (1742-43, Whig)
- Sir Robert Walpole (1721-42, Whig)