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Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
The office of Deputy Prime Minister is one that has only existed occasionally in the history of the United Kingdom. Unlike analogous offices in other nations, the Deputy Prime Minister does not have any of the powers of the Prime Minister in the latter's absence and there is no presumption that the Deputy Prime Minister will succeed the Prime Minister.
The post has existed intermittently and there have been a number of disputed occasions as to whether or not the title has actually been conferred. On some occasions the honorific title First Secretary of State has been conferred on the Deputy Prime Minister.
In many cases the post of Deputy Prime Minister is given to a senior party figure, who is frequently one of the Prime Minister's past challengers or future rivals for the leadership, as a form of consolation prize, recognition of their achievements or way of keeping them quiet. The Deputy can be appointed by the Prime Minister once in office (as with Michael Heseltine), or can be elected Deputy Leader by the party, as in the case of the current incumbent, John Prescott.
Labour Party leader Clement Attlee held the post in the wartime coalition government led by Winston Churchill, and had general responsibility for domestic affairs, allowing Churchill to concentrate on the war. Rab Butler held the post in 1962-3 under Harold Macmillan, but was passed over for the premiership in favour of Alec Douglas-Home.
William Whitelaw was Margaret Thatcher's deputy from 1979-1988, a post he combined with that of Home Secretary in 1979-83 and Leader of the House of Lords after 1983. Sir Geoffrey Howe was given the title in 1989, on being removed from the post of Foreign Secretary. He resigned as Deputy Prime Minister in 1990, making a resignation speech that is widely thought to have hastened Thatcher's downfall. Thatcher's successor John Major did not appoint a Deputy Prime Minister until 1995, when Michael Heseltine was given the post.
John Prescott, who was elected Deputy Leader of the Labour Party in opposition, was appointed Deputy Prime Minister by Tony Blair in 1997, in addition to being Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions. In 2001 this "superdepartment" was split up, with Prescott being given his own Office of the Deputy Prime Minister with fewer specific responsibilities.
List of Deputy Prime Ministers
- Clement Attlee (February 19, 1942 - May 23, 1945)
- Herbert Stanley Morrison (July 26, 1945 - February 24, 1951)
- Sir Anthony Eden (October 26, 1951 - April 6, 1955)
- William Whitelaw (May 4, 1979 - January 10, 1988)
- Sir Geoffrey Howe (July 24, 1989 - November 1, 1990) (Resigned)
- Michael Heseltine (July 20, 1995 - May 2, 1997)
- John Prescott (May 2, 1997 - )
First Secretaries of State
- George Brown (October 16, 1964 - August 11, 1966)
- Michael Stewart (August 11, 1966 - April 6, 1968)
- Barbara Castle (April 6, 1968 - June 19, 1970)
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