At a time when the Cold War was beyond freezing, the public conscience of 1960s Britain was dominated by fears of Soviet espionage, with a whirlwind of anti-communist spy stories and rumors circulating around the British press. But none of these shook the foundations of politics quite like the Profumo Affair. In which John Profumo, the Tories’ Secretary of State for War, had a sexual relationship with nineteen-year-old model Christine Keeler, who was also involved with a soviet spy. Despite his immediate resignation, the event nearly destroyed the Conservative Party and like ketchup on a white shirt, still taints their political record to this day.
Sometimes described as the British Mussolini or as I like to call him, the Pre-war Nigel Farage, Oswald Mosley was the leader of the British Union of Fascists and remains one of the countries’ most controversial politicians. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s hard to understand how fascism could even be considered controversial, let alone popular. But with strong aristocratic support, Mosley and his mob of Blackshirts were a dividing movement, at a time where Adolf Hitler was voted Times Man of the Year in 1937. However, with the start of World War II, the movement was crushed and Mosley and his disciples were swiftly imprisoned.
Megalomaniac and philanthropist, war criminal and progressive, these are just some of the descriptions that Tony Blair has received following his ten years in power. Notorious for allegedly lying about Saddam Hussein’s possession of nuclear weapons, and having amassed an obscene amount of wealth through dealings with shady oil barons. Tony Blair appears to have the moral fibre of a London banker snorting cocaine off a hooker’s tits. However, it is easy to forget that the former prime minister was once one of the most popular leaders to date, who still commands a dedicated following to this day. Having raised the minimum wage and introduced tax credits – which are currently in sights of the Tory hunting rifles, perhaps Blair’s political achievements have been partly forgotten; shrouded by the blood of the Iraq War.
Hailed for his rousing speeches and timeless quotes, the name Winston Churchill has become that of legendary status after Britain and her allies defeated Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich in World War II. Indeed, there isn’t a shop in Oxford Street that doesn’t sell an unfortunate looking bobble-head of him, incessantly screeching “never, never, never” at the top of its lungs. However, there’s a fine line between legends and myths, and the war leader is no exception, with his romantically patriotic image having come under fire in recent years.
Not unlike his Austrian enemy, Churchill was an unapologetic classist, racist, white supremacist and any other ‘ist’ in existence. He bragged personally that he shot at least three “savages” in his time with the armed forces, wished death by elephant upon Mahatma Gandhi and believed that “the Aryan stock was bound to triumph” in the end; not only startling 21st century historians, but also his contemporaries. Nevertheless, for many of us, Churchill will always remain Britain’s endearingly bigoted grandfather, remembered for the colours he loved, rather than the ones he didn’t.
No name divides a room quite like Margaret Thatcher, as seen by Britain’s reaction to her death in 2013. While the Iron Lady was being laid to rest by a tearful congregation of 2,300 in London, angry mobs in Newcastle Upon Tyne lit fiendish effigies of her while chanting “burn the witch”. With such touching testimonies being seen in any city beyond the Angel of the North, it should come as no surprise that the baroness topped our list as the most controversial UK political figure to date.
Through her eleven year iron-fisted reign, Britain underwent a radical transformation from left to right; following an agenda of unprecedented privatization and deregulation. With an unwavering resolve she sold £47 billion worth of state assets and crushed the subsequent miners’ strike beneath her heel, with the brutality of a lion tearing into a gazelle’s neck. So whether you think of her as an exemplary leader that did what was necessary for the good of the country, or a villain, leading a class war driven by her own vested interests, it is indisputable that Margaret Thatcher’s actions have shaped our country… for better or worse.