British Politics

, Volume 12, Issue 4, pp 492–520 | Cite as

‘Everyone needs a Willie’: The elusive position of deputy to the British prime minister

  • Jonathan KirkupEmail author
  • Stephen Thornton
Original Article


This article examines the post of deputy to the UK prime minster, an office officially ‘unknown to the constitution’. Employing a largely chronological approach, the article has two key objectives: to establish who and under what terms an individual might be considered a deputy to the prime minister – a list that is more expansive than those traditionally identified as ‘deputy prime minister’; to categorise these individuals to create a basic typology. Though more research will be required to substantiate the claim, a further argument tentatively made here is that, although the position of deputy remains constitutionally invisible, the office’s roles and responsibilities have become an increasingly important part of the management of the core executive and effective government. Overall, in a constitution already famous for its slippery qualities, this article will demonstrate that the position of deputy to the British prime minister is particularly lubricious.


deputy prime minister first secretary of state British constitution core executive 



The co-authors would like to thank Roger Scully, Peter Dorey, Peter Kerr and the two anonymous reviewers for their valuable assistance.


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Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Politics and International Relations, School of Law and Politics, University of CardiffCardiffUK

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