At a time when we can fairly uncontroversially look at the current incumbent and his two immediate predecessors as the three worst Prime Ministers of modern times its good to look at “might have beens”. The dreadful last four years have shown a candidate needs breadth of vision, experience, intelligence and belief. A rare combination to which I would add compassion and humility – a big call!
Hugh Gaitskell ticked most of the boxes and his “Fight again” speech showed he didn’t lack passion either. If Rishi Sunak does, as it seems, have an ambition to replace Boris Johnson when the latter finally implodes he would do well to look closely at his fellow Wykehamist. I would put Denis Healey and Roy Jenkins up there with Gaitskell. Perhaps Bevin, though he was a bit before my time.
Tony Crosland’s political agenda was formidable though he might have been too smart by half. On the Tory side Ken Clarke and Iain Macleod had assurance to go with intellect. They wouldn’t have dithered. Jo Grimond might have wavered a bit in office but Paddy Ashdown or a sober Charles Kennedy might have done a good job.
Britain’s failure to find a post imperial role can be firmly attributed to Prime Ministerial failure between 1951 and 1964. We may never have had it so good during those years but unlike Germany and France we abjectly failed to create a modern European state. Butler or Gaitskell could hardly have done any worse.