The name game

THIS General Election campaign has done more to engender public interest in politics than any other in a generation.

The achievement of Margaret Thatcher in becoming Britain’s first woman Prime Minister and the excitement aroused by the youthful Tony Blair didn’t attract so much media and television coverage as the slow marriage between Conservative David Cameron and Lib Democrat Nick Clegg as they formed Britain’s first coalition in 70 years.

What lasting legacy the 2010 General Election will have when the history of the 21st century comes to be written will largely depend on the decisions made, their impact and effect, the public’s acceptance of them, and international credibility.

It might seem incredible, but new research commissioned by the Royal Mint reveals that by 2090 future generations will no longer recognise Winston Churchill.

As part of the survey, carried out to mark this week’s 70th anniversary of Churchill’s prime ministerial tenure, more than 1,136 people were asked to identify three prominent 20th century Prime Ministers – Churchill, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair.

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One in five (19%) adults failed to name Churchill, with the figure rising to 32% of 25 to 34-year-olds and 44% of those aged 16 to 24.

Following the pattern, researchers projected the rough date when the leaders would no longer be recognised, with Churchill’s demise predicted in 80 years’ time.

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They said the vast majority of those questioned could identify both Mr Blair (97%) and Baroness Thatcher (98%).

But recognition dropped significantly in the 16 to 24-year-old range – 16% failed to identify Baroness Thatcher and more than a quarter (27%) were unable to recognise Mr Blair.

If this downward trend were to continue, Gordon Brown’s predecessor would be “extinct” in the public consciousness by 2075, followed by the Iron Lady in 2115, they said.

The survey, which involved people naming black and white head shot photos of the prime ministers, saw Churchill mistaken for Stephen Fry, Robert Hardy, Michael Gambon, Charlie Chaplin, Oliver Hardy, John Betjeman and Roy Hattersley.

One person even incorrectly identified Tony Blair as David Cameron.

The research could help the country’s new leader make sure he cements his place in the history books rather than being forgotten.

Professor George Jones, Emeritus Professor of British Government at the London School of Economics, said: “There’s a complex combination of factors at play when it comes to maintaining prime ministerial longevity and being remembered as a great British leader.

“For long-lasting impact and to cement your position in the public consciousness, certain character and personality traits such as potency and decisiveness must be apparent and proven crisis-handling demonstrated.

“If the new Prime Minister wants to secure his place in history, he must bear these things in mind.’’

Data was collected according to five age groups – 16 to 24, 25 to 34, 35 to 44, 45 to 54, and 55+ – then researchers worked out what the percentage recognition was of each age group when they were 16-24.

The results were plotted on a graph going back to 1970, when the oldest age group was 16-24, and a “line of best fit’’ was calculated to the point where recognition was at 0% – the year of “extinction’’.

Kevin Clancy, head of Historical Services at the Royal Mint, added: “It’s shocking that one of our greatest statesmen runs the risk of potentially being forgotten.

“Churchill remains an historical colossus and is arguably one of the nation’s greatest Britons.

“It’s fundamentally important that we commemorate our heritage for future generations to celebrate, and to mark the 70 years that have passed since he was Prime Minister we’re immensely proud to have designed a new �5 coin featuring an iconic Churchillian image, to help his memory live on.’’

Churchill, who died in 1965, also features on a new first class value Royal Mail stamp, which could help to keep him in the public’s mind.

For now, our new government will be concentrating on keeping a somewhat strange coalition in tact for the next five years as it tackles the appalling public spending deficit it has inherited from Gordon Brown.

Cameron’s Cabinet includes five Liberal Democrats – Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Vince Cable, David Laws, Chris Huhne and Danny Alexander.

And he has also found room for two former Tory leaders who never made the rank of Prime Minister – William Hague and Iain Dincan Smith.

Fitting in the Liberal Democrats means two Tory front benchers who could have expected to have made Cabinet rank in an all-Tory administration – Theresa Villiers, Chris Grayling and David Mundell – have had their careers crash into the buffers.

Perhaps the three most significant appointments to the Cabinet are Eric Pickles at communities and local government, Theresa May as Home Secretary, and Liberal Democrat David Laws.

The appointment of Mr Laws, a former banker, as Chancellor George Osborne’s deputy at the Treasury, means he will be responsible for deciding where the spending axe will fall when it comes to spending cuts, ensuring the Lib Dems will be thoroughly implicated in the unpopular decisions that will undoubtedly have to come.

Theresa May’s advancement to one of the three principal offices of State under the Prime Minister makes her only the second female to be Home Secretary, while Mr Pickles as a former prominent councillor in Bradford will point the new administration in to how to cut wasteful expenditure in town and county halls.

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