The Prime Minister: The Office and Its Holders Since 1945

9780002555012: The Prime Minister: The Office and Its Holders Since 1945

In this study, Peter Hennessy explores the formal powers of the Prime Minister and how each incumbent has made the job his or her own. Drawing on access to many of the leading figures, as well as the key civil servants and journalists of each period, Hennessy has built up a picture of the hidden nexus of influence and patronage surrounding the office. From recently declassified archival material he reconstructs precise prime ministerial attitudes towards the key issues of peace and war. He concludes with a controversial assessment of the relative performance of each Prime Minister since 1945 and a new specification for the premiership, as it enters its fourth century.

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Peter Hennessy, former journalist turned scholar of contemporary political history, is an academic aeolus whose infectious enthusiasm for his subject, Whitehall and Westminster, blows the dust off documents and reinflates a mandarin's minute with a telling topicality. The holder of the Chair of Contemporary History at Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London, he has natural gift (and inclination) for grafting germane gossip onto the gravity of his subject and thus enlivening his expert exhumation of archives with appropriate anecdote. His earlier work, Whitehall has become a classic, and in his latest study he turns his attention to the steady accretion of power by Prime Ministers since the last world war and makes an assessment of each occupant of 10 Downing Street. Hennessy delights in proceeding by exposure as well as explication, throwing up fascinating insights on Premiers as they arrive at crucial decisions. He is undoubtedly happiest when chronicling the manoeuvrings of the backroom boys in Whitehall rather than those in the corridors of the Palace of Westminster, but then the shift of power away from the legislature to the executive is becoming all too apparent. In each of his studies, Hennessy shows how individual Prime Ministers struggled and shaped the governance of the nation to their different personalities, and then their day of hard graft and glory is gone. As Harold Macmillan, one of the more charismatic holders of the office, said after his resignation, "nothing rolls up more quickly than a red carpet" -- Michael Hatfield

About the Author:

Peter Hennessy is Attlee Professor of History at Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London. Among many other books, he is the author of WHITEHALL ('Much the best book on the British civil service ever to appear', Anthony King, Economist) and NEVER AGAIN: BRITAIN 1945-1951, which in 1993 won the NCR Award for Non-Fiction and the Duff Cooper Prize

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