REVEALED: TaxPayers' Alliance uncovers tax rankings of post-war prime ministers

TaxPayers' Alliance analysis finds current contenders set to raise tax burden to record levels

For immediate release

Research by the TaxPayers' Alliance (TPA) shows that whoever wins Thursday's general election, the tax burden will be higher than it has been under almost any post-war prime minister.

New analysis ranks each post-war British PM by their effect on the tax burden, or national account taxes as a proportion of GDP. Boris Johnson has presided over the highest tax burden of any Conservative leader on record, at 34.4 per cent of GDP. Conservative manifesto commitments mean this is set to rise to an average of 34.7 per cent of GDP by 2023-24. The Labour manifesto suggests that Jeremy Corbyn will impose the highest tax burden ever recorded (37.3 per cent of GDP), even higher than it was under Clement Attlee in the aftermath of the second world war (35.8 per cent of GDP).

The rankings demonstrate the way in which tax rates have varied under different prime ministers and the two main political parties. It reveals that Conservatives have tended to reduce the tax burden, while Labour has tended to increase it, with polling showing that the public tend to have more respect for recent Tory tax-cutters.

Winston Churchill reduced the tax burden more than any other post-war prime minister, while Harold Wilson presided over the largest increase.

The TPA is calling on the next prime minister to cut taxes in their first Budget and start getting the burden back to the levels of their post-war predecessors.

Click here to read the research paper


Key findings:

  • The four most recent prime ministers have presided over the highest average tax burdens (as a percentage of GDP) since Clement Atlee : 
    1) Clement Attlee (35.8%) 
    2) Boris Johnson (34.4%) 
    3) Theresa May (34.1%) 
    4) David Cameron (33.3%) 
    5) Gordon Brown (33%)

  • The tax burden (as a percentage of GDP) has been lowest under Conservative prime ministers
    1) Harold Macmillan (28.7%)
    2) Alec Douglas-Home (28.7%) 
    3) Anthony Eden (29.1%) 
    4) John Major (29.7%) 

  • The largest reductions in the tax burden (as a percentage of GDP) have come mainly, but not exclusively, under Conservative prime ministers:
    1) Winston Churchill 1951-1955 (-4.4%)
    2) Edward Heath (-3.9%) 
    3) James Callaghan (-2.1%) 
    4) Anthony Eden (-1%)
    5) Margaret Thatcher (-0.7%)

  • The largest increases in the tax burden (as a percentage of GDP) have come mainly, but not exclusively, under Labour prime ministers
    1) Harold Wilson 1964-70 (+4.7)
    2) Harold Wilson 1974-1976 (+3.6%) 
    3) Tony Blair (+2.5%)
    4) John Major (+0.9)

  • Recent TPA polling asked which recent leader respondents had the ‘most respect’ for. Thatcher was selected by 27 per cent compared to 5 per cent for May and Cameron and 4 per cent for Major. Our data shows that the public are more likely to respect lower-tax Tory leaders:
    1) Margaret Thatcher (-0.7%)
    2) David Cameron (+0.3%)
    3) Theresa May (+0.4%)
    4) John Major (0.9%)

Click here to read the research paper


Commenting on the rankings, John O'Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said:

The fact that the tax burden is already at a 50 year high should give us a wake up call in this election campaign. As it stands, both potential PMs will be whacking up taxes to higher rates than any of their post-war predecessors from their respective parties. Corbyn‘s hikes would be enough even to make Wilson wince.

"But while it’s true that the biggest tax rises have historically come under Labour leaders, today’s Tories are giving them a run for their money. Conservative prime ministers who cut taxes, like Churchill and Thatcher, are rewarded with the public’s respect. Leaders who don’t, like Major and May, don’t tend to fare so well.

"Whoever wins the election should give taxpayers a much needed break in their first budget."

Commenting on Boris Johnson's manifesto tax plans, O'Connell said:

"Despite some encouraging noises about a possible tax-cutting budget, there’s no escaping the fact that the Tory manifesto will put up tax levels in Britain - at a time when the tax burden is already at a 50 year high.

"Recent Conservative leaders compare badly to their tax-cutting predecessors, and if Boris wins he should look to follow in Churchill and Thatcher's footsteps by trusting taxpayers and letting them keep more of their own money."

Commenting on Jeremy Corbyn's manifesto tax plans, O'Connell said:

"It's little wonder that a long list of freebies will mean a sharp increase in the tax burden.

"Corbyn claiming that their hare-brained pledges and state control of anything and everything can be paid for with minor tax increases on the few is ludicrous, and takes typical taxpayers for fools. Labour should be seeking to lower the burden on the working class, trusting people to look after themselves, their families and their communities."

TPA spokesmen are available for live and pre-recorded broadcast interviews via 07795 084 113 (no texts)

Media contact:

Sam Packer
Media Campaign Manager, TaxPayers' Alliance
[email protected]
24-hour media hotline: 07795 084 113 (no texts)

  1. Founded in 2004 by Matthew Elliott and Andrew Allum, and now with 80,000 supporters, the TaxPayers’ Alliance (TPA) fights to reform taxes, reduce spending and protect taxpayers. Find out more about the TaxPayers' Alliance at
  2. TaxPayers' Alliance's advisory council.
  3. The polling was conducted for the TaxPayers' Alliance by Public First Ltd. Total sample size was 4,004 with fieldwork between 26 - 30 July 2019. The survey was carried out online. Link to polling data:


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