Monday, November 17, 2014

Prime Ministers - Royal Mail First Day Cover

The newest Royal Mail First Day Cover is dedicated to the British Prime Ministers. The first Prime Minister is thought to have been Sir Robert Walpole, whose 21-year premiership is still a record. The position has evolved over time and is not defined in law; formally, the Prime Minister is simply the ‘First Lord of the Treasury.’ Prime Ministers are invited to form a government by the monarch, but they must have the support of Parliament. There have been 53 Prime Ministers, averaging five and a half years in office. The eight PMs in this new collection are:

Margaret Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven, PM 1979 – 1990. The first woman to become Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher led the longest continuous government since the 1820s. She won three general elections in a row and carried through a radical programme of privatisation, tax cuts and reform of trade union law. She was nicknamed ‘The Iron Lady’ by a Soviet newspaper; her reputation for toughness was strengthened by the Falklands War of 1982 and the miners’ strike during 1984-85. She resigned after a leadership challenge in 1990.
Harold Wilson, Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, PM 1964 – 1970, 1974 – 1976. Invariably seen smoking a pipe, Harold Wilson came to office at a time of growing economic difficulty and extraordinary social change. His governments founded the Open University, passed the first Race Relations Act and held Britain’s first national referendum on membership of the European Community. His premiership saw major reform to the law on abortion, homosexuality, divorce and capital punishment. A skilful tactician, he is the only modern leader to win four general elections.
Clement Attlee, 1st Earl Attlee, PM 1945 – 1951. Having fought in the First World War, Clement Attlee served as deputy Prime Minister during the Second World War before winning a landslide victory in the 1945 election. He was the first Labour leader to form a majority government, establishing the National Health Service and the ‘cradle to grave’ welfare state. His governments nationalised large parts of the economy and granted independence to former colonies in India, Pakistan, Ceylon, Burma and Jordan.
Sir Winston Churchill, PM 1940 – 1945, 1951 – 1955. Winston Churchill let Britain during the Second World War, steering his country through the Battle of Britain, the Blitz and the coming of Victory in Europe. He was one of the greatest orators of modern times, and his wartime speeches are celebrated across the world. A historian, a journalist, artist and wit, he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953 and is only the second non-American to have been made an honorary citizen of the United States. He was given a state funeral in his death in January 1965, watched by millions around the world.
William Ewart Gladstone, PM 1868 – 1874, 1880 – 1885, 1886 – 1886, 1892 – 1894. The ‘Grand Old Man’ of British politics, William Gladstone was Prime Minister four times and an MP for 60 years. A spellbinding orator, he cut taxes, extended free trade and passed major reforms of the church, army and civil service. His governments carried the first national Education Act and doubled the electorate in the Third Reform Act of 1884. His attempt to grant Home Rule to Ireland split the Liberal Party in 1886.
Sir Robert Peel, 2nd Baronet, PM 1834 – 1835, 1841 – 1846. Sir Robert Peel was both the founder of the Conservative Party and the man who came closer to destroying it. A skilled financier, he transformed the tax system and propelled Britain into the age of the free trade. Yet his decision to repeal the Corn Laws in 1846 brought down his government and split the Conservative Party for a generation. He also founded the Metropolitan Police, whose officers were nicknamed ‘Bobbies’ or ‘Peelers’ in his memory.
Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, PM 1830 – 1834. Early Grey is remembered chiefly for the ‘Great’ Reform Act, passed after a lengthy and sometimes violent struggle in 1832. This act expanded the electorate, abolished ‘rotten boroughs’ and standardised the electoral qualification, building the foundations for modern democracy. His governments abolished slavery in the British Empire, limited the employment of women and children in factories, and passed the new Poor Law. Earl Grey tea was named in his honour.
William Pitt, the Younger, PM 1783 – 1801, 1804 – 1806. Just 24 when he took office, William Pitt was the youngest Prime Minister in British history. The son of a previous Prime Minister (William Pitt the Elder), he led Britain into the Napoleonic Wars in 1793, reformed the government of India and introduced the first ever income tax. He passed the Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland and tried, unsuccessfully, to abolish the slave trade. He died in office in 1806, just 46 years old.     

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