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10 little known facts about British Prime Ministers
1. There have been 57 British prime ministers
Rishi Sunak is the 57th British prime minister to serve since the office was first established. Whig politician Robert Walpole, who is recognised as the first prime minister, began his premiership in 1721.
From Winston Churchill to Liz Truss, a total of 15 prime ministers served under Queen Elizabeth II, more than any other British monarch in history. George III oversaw 14 during his 59-year reign. But who was the worst?
2. There have been three female British prime ministers
Liz Truss was the third female British prime minister. Margaret Thatcher, who was elected in 1979 and stayed in power for 11 years, was Britain’s first female prime minister and one of the UK’s longest-serving PMs.
Theresa May, the UK’s second female prime minister, served for just over three years and resigned after struggling to come up with a Brexit plan that was supported by the wider parliament.
3. Anyone over the age of 18 can be prime minister
Anyone wishing to be President of the United States must be at least 35 years old. However, in the UK, any Member of Parliament can become prime minister, which means anyone over the age of 18 can take the role. William Pitt the Younger was the youngest prime minister to be appointed, at just 24.
4. The prime minister earns a hefty salary
The salary of the prime minister changes on an almost yearly basis. It’s believed that Boris Johnson was earning approximately £164,000 during 2022. This salary is totalled from his base MP salary of £84,000, plus an additional £80,000 for the role of prime minister.
5. Prime ministers have access to several cars and residences
The high salary isn’t the only perk of being prime minister. Prime Ministers have access to a number of executive vehicles and large residences to complete their business. A fleet of Prime Ministerial Cars is used to keep the prime minister safe, as well as provide them with luxurious travel. The cars are always manufactured in Britain, such as Range Rovers and Jaguars, and are custom-made and armoured. The prime minister also has access to several aircraft, including helicopters.
10 Downing Street is the official and most recognisable residence of the British prime minister. There is a private living area on the third floor, but the rest of the house is used as executive offices and areas to meet with government ministers, national leaders, and foreign dignitaries. Chequers Court is a 16th-century manor house in Buckinghamshire, 40 miles outside central London, that is used as the prime minister’s country retreat.
6. The term 'prime minister' was originally seen as abuse
At the time, Robert Walpole rejected the term ‘prime minister’ as it was seen as a term of sardonic abuse aimed at politicians who sought to rise above their station. Instead, he served as First Lord of the Treasury, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Leader of the House of Commons. It is only in later years that he has been recognised as the ‘de facto’ first prime minister.
7. The first prime minister is also the longest-serving
Robert Walpole is also recognised as being the longest-serving prime minister, having sat for a total of 20 years and 314 days. William Pitt the Younger is the second longest-serving, with a tenure of 18 years and 343 days.
8. George Canning is the shortest-serving prime minister
The shortest-serving prime minister was George Canning who lasted just 119 days in office. He took on the role on 12th April 1827, but sadly died from tuberculosis just a few months later.
In modern history, Sir Alec Douglas-Home is the shortest-serving having only just scraped past his first anniversary. He lost the 1964 election because he was widely considered as being old-fashioned and out-of-touch.
9. Only one prime minister has been murdered in office
Spenser Perceval has the dubious distinction of being the British prime minister who has been assassinated while in office. The assassin, John Bellingham, shot Perceval with a pistol in 1812 because of a personal grudge against the government.
10. No member of the House of Lords has served as prime minister in over 100 years
Lord Salisbury was the last prime minister to run the country from the House of Lords. For most of the period between June 1885 and his retirement in 1902, he even served as his own Foreign Secretary.
There is no specific rule that prevents prime ministers from serving from the House of Lords, but the fact that members of the House of Lords can’t speak in the House of Commons would make defending government policy very tricky.