The Prime Minister: The Office and Its Holders Since 1945 (Paperback)
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In "The Prime Minister: the Office and its Holders since 1945", Peter Hennessy explores the formal powers of the Prime Minister and how each incumbent has made the job his or her own. Drawing on unparalleled access to many of the leading figures, as well as the key civil servants and journalists of each period, he has built up a picture of the hidden nexus of influence and patronage surrounding the office. From recently declassified archival material he reconstructs, often for the first time, 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, from Clement Atlee and Winston Churchhill to Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, and proposes a new specification for the premiership as it enters its fourth century. "I really can't praise it too highly: a tremendous achievement ...an instant classic". (Antony Jay, author of "Yes, Prime Minister"). "Supersedes everything else written on the subject. If I were Tony Blair, I'd keep a copy by my bedside". (Adam Sisman, "Observer"). "A must ...far and away the best account of the office of the First Lord of the Treasury, its history, powers and practice, and an independent assessment of the occupants of Downing Street since the Second World War". (Tony Benn, "Spectator"). "Important and extremely readable...Hennessy's portrait of the "Blair" premiership is fascinating ...a major contribution to our understanding of how we are governed". (Peter Oborne, "Sunday Express"). 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 "The Secret State", "Whitehall" 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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UK Kirkus review
Churchill once likened the Britich prime minister to a sun from which all other luminaries in public life derived their radiance, although the old warriors postwar record dimmed memories of his former brilliance. The achievements of Churchill's 'Indian summer' premiership mingle, however, with more bizarre recollections by contemporaries about the habits of his companions at NO 10: not least Toby the budgerigar prone to opening his bowels on the Chancellor's bald head. This shamelessly personal style of heading a government - and how the role had changed since Churchill had first occupied it - are at the heart of Hennessy's examination of this institution. It is an office that remains unique, a metaphor for Britains's puzzling 'silent construction', shaped by its incumbent and hence a reflection of his or her strengths and shortcomings. The political historian's guided tour takes the reader into the minds if the 11 individuals who have occupied the office since 1945. In doing so, he develops a unique audit of performance: Attlee and Thatcher score highly as 'weathermakers' transforming the British agenda, while the hapless Eden and Major languish in catastrophic and overwhelmed categories of their own. Hennessy's aim is to examine an issue clearly troubling him: the temptation to carve from such a fluid office a presidential style of rule at the expesnse of Cabinet and Parliment. Much of this book would, indeed, appear to be a preface to his examination of Tony Blair's prime ministership, one dogged by criticism of his Napoleonic command and control style - a style which Hennessy himself warned in 1997 usually 'ended in tears'. This authoritative history is by far Hennessy's most significant, yet it is delivered with his characteristic ablility to feed us fascinating titbits that bring wihtin our reach otherwise remote historical subjects. (Kirkus UK)
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