Life after power: what the UK’s ex-prime ministers are doing now
Three former PMs unite to condemn Boris Johnson’s plan to leave the EU without a deal
Theresa May will be replaced by Boris Johnson as prime minister today, returning to the backbenches for the first time in 21 years.
She will remain the MP for Maidenhead, the constituency she has represented since 1997.
“This is a common career trajectory for outgoing prime ministers, some of whom stayed on as MPs for decades later,” says the Daily Express. However, the newspaper notes that her predecessor David Cameron resigned from the House of Commons when he left Downing Street.
Here is what every living British prime minister has done since stepping down:
David Cameron 2010-2016
Forming an unlikely Coalition government with the Lib Dems that surprised many pundits by lasting the full five-year term, Cameron won an unexpected election victory in 2015, and the first Tory majority since John Major. However, his premiership will forever be known for his decision to call, and then ultimately lose, the referendum on EU membership.
Despite vowing to carry on as prime minister in the event of a Brexit vote, Cameron stood down on 24 June 2016, just hours after the result had been declared. He left Parliament soon after and has since kept a relatively low profile.
He was appointed president of Alzheimer’s Research UK in January 2017 and became chairman of the National Citizen Service, which he helped established while in office, shortly after resigning as MP.
He has taken up several other consultant positions, was named vice-chairman of the UK China Fund and became a member of the Council of Foreign Relations.
Cameron has also been penning his political memoir, having reportedly signed an £800,000 contract with William Collins, due to be released in September.
Gordon Brown 2007-2010
So long a “leader-in-waiting”, Gordon Brown finally succeeded Tony Blair in the summer of 2007 but was permanently labelled indecisive following an aborted snap election. His time in office was dominated by the financial crisis and he stepped down as PM after the 2010 general election, remaining a backbench MP until 2015.
Comparisons have often been made with the ineffectual John Major but, like his predecessor, Brown’s reputation and legacy have been somewhat revived since he left office.
His handling the financial crisis has received growing appreciation and, in stark contrast to his great rival Blair, the MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath refused to line his own pockets with lucrative private advisory roles, instead choosing to focus his energy on supporting primary education around the world.
Once touted as a possible managing director of the International Monetary Fund, in 2012 Brown was named as a United Nations Special Envoy on Global Education and chaired the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity.
In 2015, he became an adviser to Pimco, one of the world’s largest asset managers, but his spokesman at the time told the Financial Times: “Any money goes to the Office of Gordon and Sarah Brown to support their charitable and public service work. Mr Brown does not receive a penny.”
While rarely making forays into British national politics, he won admiration for his influential intervention in the Scottish independence referendum in 2014 with a stirring defence of the union.
Last week, Brown - who lives with his family in Fife - set out plans to set up a new think tank, Our Scottish Future, to demonstrate why Scotland should remain in the UK. Writing in the Scottish Daily Mail, he said: “Unless the progressive case for Scotland’s role in Britain is made and strongly made, Boris Johnson could be the UK’s last Prime Minister – and our 300-year-old Union will bite the dust.”
Tony Blair 1997-2007
After sweeping to power with a massive majority in 1997 following 18 years of Tory rule, Tony Blair’s time in Downing Street was fatally undermined by his decision to invade Iraq in 2003.
He left Number 10 in 2007, just before the financial crisis, and his subsequent record out of office has only served to damage his reputation further.
Despite spending seven years as official Middle East envoy for the United Nations, EU, United States and Russia, he drew sharp criticism for alleged conflicts of interest by amassing a vast personal fortune, estimated to be as much as £70m, through his role as an advisor to a number of private companies as well as a series of authoritarian governments.
Yet while much attention has been paid to his business interests, Blair has also used his time since 2007 to pursue a number humanitarian causes close to his heart. The Tony Blair Faith Foundation aims “to promote respect and understanding about the world’s major religions” while his sports foundation seeks to increase participation in sport among disadvantaged children around the world.
Now, despite being viewed as toxic by many on the left, it seems he is intent on re-entering the political arena by fully committing himself to reversing Brexit.
To this end, he has announced the closure of Tony Blair Associates, his private business empire, and the winding up of complex and controversial financial structures that have earned him so many millions and so much opprobrium. Reserves of £10m, and henceforth 80% of his time, will be devoted to his not-for-profit work, he has claimed.
In an interview with The Guardian at the end of 2017, he said he is “returning to frontline British politics using his institute as a platform to promote progressive centrist policy ideas and combat the rise of populism”.
John Major 1990-1997
The unlikely successor to Margaret Thatcher, John Major won a shock election victory in 1992, but his premiership was rocked by Black Wednesday and came to be dominated by sleaze scandals and Tory infighting over Europe.
He left Downing Street after Labour’s landslide 1997 election but carried on as an MP for another four years, stepping down at the 2001 general election.
Since leaving office, Major has indulged his love of cricket, becoming first president of Surrey County Cricket Club and then a member of the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), historically the governing body of the sport. Touted as a possible Tory candidate for the 2008 London mayoral election, Major eventually turned down an offer to stand saying his political career was behind him. A spell as a member of the Carlyle Group’s European Advisory Board was followed in 2012 by a job as the president of influential centre-right think tank the Bow Group. He is currently a president of the Chatham House foreign policy think tank and an advisor to Credit Suisse.
Like many former heads of state, he has also become an active after-dinner speaker, earning more than £25,000 per engagement, according to his agency.
Perceived at the time as an honest but ultimately weak and uninspiring leader and often portrayed as a stop-gap prime minister between Thatcher and Blair, Major’s reputation has slowly grown in recent years.
“His administration has enjoyed a terrible reputation and remains associated with sleaze, incompetence, drift and weakness,” wrote Peter Oborne in The Daily Telegraph in 2012, “but as time has passed this verdict has started to look unfair [and] history may yet be much kinder to John Major than many would have thought.”
Since the EU referendum he has become a vocal critic of Brexit.
This week, Major, Blair and Brown showed a rare united front in condemning Johnson’s plans to leave the EU without a deal, reports the Daily Mirror.
It adds that from Cameron - “criticised for unleashing the Brexit fiasco by announcing the referendum then quitting before the storm hit” - there was only “silence”.