The University of East Anglia and Queen Mary University of London recently collaborated with the PSA Political Leadership Specialist Group to host a conference on British Labour Party Leaders on June 28th.  At the conference, leading biographers and experts assessed Labour leaders from Kier Hardie to Gordon Brown.

To kick-off the discussion Toby James gave an introductory talk setting out a framework for evaluating leaders based on work he and Jim Buller (York) have recently published in the British Journal of Politics and International Relations. This work suggests that one can assess leaders by looking at how successful they were in achieving statecraft: winning office, or moving their party towards the goal of winning of office during their tenure. 

Rt. Hon Charles Clarke, Visiting Professor at the University of East Anglia, presented a simple statistical analysis of general election performance of the Labour leaders since Keir Hardie in the form of a ‘league table’.  According to the league table Clement Attlee comes top.   Labour benefited from a net gain of 225 seats and a 12.9 percentage point vote share with Attlee at the helm.  Arthur Henderson came bottom, assuming that he is responsible for the 1931 general election result.  

The author of the biography of each Labour Leader to have fought a general election then presented their analysis, with the framework in mind.  The speakers included John Rentoul and Steve Richards of the Guardian, Peter Kellner of YouGov and historian Kenneth Morgan.

Charles Clarke said: “Leadership is instrumental for all political parties and is an important contribution to their collective success or failure. The league table compares the relative success of both Labour and Conservative leaders in relation to parliamentary seats and share of the vote won or lost at general elections.

“This conference analysed their performances by reference to impartial academic analysis.”

A further conference on Conservative leaders will follow shortly. For full details and further information, please see the PSA Political Leadership Group’s website.