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Ministerial resignations - how did Blair fare?

LSE academics show Blair's ministers survived more calls for resignation than Major's.

A new study of ministerial resignations by two LSE academics shows that a lower percentage of ministers resigned during Blair's period in office than during Major's, Thatcher's or Callaghan's.

Professor Keith Dowding and Dr Gita Subrahmanyam of the LSE's Government Department counted and categorised the calls for and resulting ministerial resignations under 28 administrations since 1906.

They found that:

  • Overall, Labour governments had fewer ministerial resignations than Conservative governments.
  • Although annual calls for resignations have grown significantly since 1990, Blair was able to retain ministers at a higher rate than any other post-war prime minister apart from Winston Churchill.
  • Blair followed the example of Churchill, Macmillan, Wilson and Thatcher by sacrificing fewer than 30 per cent of ministers subject to public criticism, while Major accepted resignations from around 40 per cent of ministers, as did Eden, Heath and Callaghan.
  • Disregarding loss of office owing to reshuffles, retirement or death, the greatest number of ministerial resignations occurred under Major.
  • Since 1906, more Conservative ministers have resigned for sexual or financial scandals than have Labour ministers. However, Labour and Conservative ministers have had similar resignation profiles for perceived 'poor performance' or 'mistakes' in office.
  • Faced with scandal, Blair followed the lead of Wilson and Thatcher by accepting resignations from twice as many cabinet ministers as junior ministers. Major, however, was prepared to lose three times as many junior ministers as cabinet ministers, going further than even Callaghan and Heath, who sacrificed two lower-level ministers for every cabinet minister.

Professor Dowding said: 'Sleaze was thought by many to have helped bring down the Major government in 1997. Yet Blair has remained relatively popular despite his government having a sexual and financial scandal record equally as dismal as Major's. Our findings show that Blair has had a greater capacity than Major to 'ride out' conflict and retain ministers.'

Dr Subrahmanyam said: 'It's not just about who's resigning but that calls for resignation have increased dramatically since 1990. Between 1906 and 1950, ministries were subject to fewer than four calls for resignation per year. From 1950 to 1990, this number rose to around five, and since 1990 the average number of calls for resignation have risen to around eleven per year. Clearly this presents a challenge for future prime ministers.'

Click here to download data on resignation calls| (PDF)


Contact: Dr Gita Subrahmanyam, LSE Government Department, 020 7955 6079, email: g.subrahmanyam@lse.ac.uk| 

26 June 2007