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Science Predicts the PM

Aug 17, 2007
When someone starts a new job they are always judged against their predecessors. Prime Ministers are no exception.

On June 27th Gordon Brown will take over the reins as Prime Minister. The Labour Party has put its trust in the man who has been heir apparent for the last ten years, but is it right to do so?

Some people will be content to wait and see how the Brown years pan out, but not us. We're impatient. We want to know right now whether Gordon Brown will make a good Prime Minister or whether he'll leave No. 10 an abject failure.

Well, with the help of a panel of political experts including contemporary historian Francis Beckett and John Priddeaux, political editor at the Economist, we know the answer. Gordon Brown will win two elections but only last just over six years. In that time he'll be moderately effective in bringing about meaningful change. However, if David Cameron were to become PM he would actually do much better; and he's not the only one.

But how do we know this?

Well, we have produced formulae that predict how well a person will fare as PM. Our mathematical wonders can predict how long someone will be in office, how many elections they'll win, how many acts of parliament will be passed during their tenure, and how effective a PM they will be considered.

They were produced by looking at attributes of all the previous Prime Ministers stretching back to Henry Campbell Bannerman, who entered No. 10 in 1906, and using those attributes to explain their performance.

This left us with the maths to predict how well current politicians would fare. The results were unequivocal;
both David Cameron and Liberal Democrat leader Menzies Campbell would make more effective Prime Ministers than Big Gordon. And it will worry Britain's next PM even more that one of his own cabinet would make a better leader. David Milliband scored considerably higher than his new boss. Rank outsiders for Premier, Boris Johnson and George Galloway, were ranked much lower than their more heavyweight colleagues.

More good news for the Conservative party was that David Cameron is predicted to be the longest serving PM. Again David Milliband showed strongly, pushing Cameron all the way, with Boris Johnson surprising everyone. The formula predicts that Britain's favourite bumbling idiot would spend eight glorious and utterly ineffectual years in charge of the country.

Our calculations also show that having a Scottish heritage will knock a year off your time in Number 10 and Labour leaders tend to be less effective than Conservatives or Liberals despite the post-war Labour PM Clement Atlee being one of the most effective Prime Ministers of all.

The formula for predicting the effectiveness of a future Prime Minister looks like this:

Effectiveness = A(alpha) + B(Beta)P1 + X(Chi)P2 + E(Epsilon)P3 + F(Party) + F(Scottish)

P1, P2 and P3 are personal attributes. P1 is a measure of speech giving ability and political astuteness; P2 combines leadership skills with the amount of time a politician has been an MP before taking the highest office and P3 combines the politician's age, number of children and trustworthiness.

Each of the personality traits P1, P2 and P3 are weighted by the factors A, B and X, added together along with the effect of which party they belong to and the effect of whether they are Scottish or not. The formulae for predicting the other attributes are very similar.

So there you go. No need to read the political columns for the next ten years or so, just plug in the numbers.

We are indebted to our panel of experts: Francis Beckett; John Priddeaux; Dr Martin Lodge, political science lecturer at the London School of Economics and Maria Sciara, political science researcher at University College London, for their assistance. We also couldn't have carried out the research without the help of History-guru, David Warnes - a man who can make even the Great Depression of 1929 sound interesting.

This current research is ongoing. If you know a lot about politics and politicians and would like to join our esteemed panel of experts it could help increase the power of this analysis. Please get in touch using the comments form below.

If you're not an expert, but would like to be then the best place to start would be Francis Beckett's excellent books about Gordon Brown himself or any of the other 20th Century PMs.
About the Author
Andy worked for four years studying ducks (no stop laughing, he really did). He went into his PhD thinking he was going to save the world (albeit from ducks) and now spends him time lovingly preening Null Hypothesis, the Journal of Unlikely Science!
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