The gutter press (well, the Daily Telegraph: so the gutter in question is presumably attached firmly to the eaves of a rather nice vicarage somewhere in Buckinghamshire) has made much of the fact that Gordon Brown is an “unelected prime minister” – i.e. he hasn’t yet fought and won a general election as party leader. The fact that he’s attempting to do so now should have answered that point – it hasn’t – but it’s interesting to note that this isn’t exactly a rarity in British politics.
Brown’s predecessor, Tony Blair, came into Number 10 in what you might imagine was the usual way: he was the leader of a party that won a majority in a general election. But, oddly, this makes Blair a member of a rather small and exclusive club, with only four other members since the start of the 20th century. Almost every British prime minister – of whatever party – since the death of Queen Victoria has not been elected into the office. The only exceptions have been Clement Attlee, Edward Heath, Margaret Thatcher, and perpetual pub quiz trivia answer Andrew Bonar Law. Everyone else – Churchill, Lloyd George, Sunny Jim Callaghan, Supermac, Harold Wilson, Baillie Vass – got the metaphorical keys to Number 10 because the PM ahead of them resigned, retired or was eased out.
It’s true that quite a few – Eden and Baldwin, to name two – followed their accession to power by calling an election fairly quickly. Eden did so almost immediately. But others (Major, to take one recent example) hung on as long as he possibly could in office.
How does this reflect other countries’ histories? Not so much with presidents, who are a special case, but with prime ministers or chancellors?