Harold Macmillan

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The Right Honourable
The Earl of Stockton
OM PC FRS
Harold Macmillan number 10 official.jpg
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
In office
10 January 1957 – 18 October 1963
Monarch Elizabeth II
Preceded by Sir Anthony Eden
Succeeded by Sir Alec Douglas-Home
Leader of the Conservative Party
In office
10 January 1957 – 18 October 1963
Preceded by Sir Anthony Eden
Succeeded by Sir Alec Douglas-Home
Chancellor of the Exchequer
In office
20 December 1955 – 13 January 1957
Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden
Preceded by Rab Butler
Succeeded by Peter Thorneycroft
Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
In office
7 April 1955 – 20 December 1955
Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden
Preceded by Sir Anthony Eden
Succeeded by Selwyn Lloyd
Minister of Defence
In office
19 October 1954 – 7 April 1955
Prime Minister Winston Churchill
Preceded by Earl Alexander of Tunis
Succeeded by Selwyn Lloyd
Minister of Housing and Local Government
In office
30 October 1951 – 19 October 1954
Prime Minister Winston Churchill
Preceded by Hugh Dalton
Succeeded by Duncan Sandys
Secretary of State for Air
In office
25 May 1945 – 26 July 1945
Prime Minister Winston Churchill
Preceded by Sir Archibald Sinclair
Succeeded by Viscount Stansgate
Minister Resident in Northwest Africa
In office
30 December 1942 – 25 May 1945
Prime Minister Winston Churchill
Preceded by New post
Succeeded by Harold Balfour
Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies
In office
4 February 1942 – 30 December 1942
Prime Minister Winston Churchill
Preceded by George Hall
Succeeded by The Duke of Devonshire
Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply
In office
15 May 1940 – 4 February 1942
Prime Minister Winston Churchill
Preceded by John Llewellin
Succeeded by Viscount Portal
Member of Parliament
for Bromley
In office
14 November 1945 – 16 October 1964
Preceded by Sir Edward Campbell
Succeeded by John Hunt
Member of Parliament
for Stockton-on-Tees
In office
28 October 1931 – 6 July 1945
Preceded by Frederick Fox Riley
Succeeded by George Chetwynd
In office
30 October 1924 – 31 May 1929
Preceded by Robert Strother Stewart
Succeeded by Frederick Fox Riley
Personal details
Born Maurice Harold Macmillan
(1894-02-10)10 February 1894
Chelsea, Middlesex, England
Died 29 December 1986(1986-12-29) (aged 92)
Chelwood Gate, East Sussex, England
Resting place St Giles' Church, Horsted Keynes
Nationality British
Political party Conservative
Spouse(s) Lady Dorothy Macmillan
Children Maurice Macmillan (deceased)
Caroline Faber
Catherine Amery (deceased)
Sarah Heath (deceased)
Alma mater Balliol College, Oxford
Profession Publisher
Religion Anglican[1]
Military service
Allegiance United Kingdom United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army
Rank UK-Army-OF2.gif Captain
Unit Grenadier Guards
Battles/wars First World War
Awards Allied Victory Medal BAR.svg Victory Medal
British War Medal BAR.svg British War Medal

Maurice Harold Macmillan, 1st Earl of Stockton, OM, PC, FRS[2] (10 February 1894 – 29 December 1986) was a British Conservative politician and statesman who served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 10 January 1957 to 18 October 1963.

Nicknamed "Supermac" and known for his pragmatism, wit and unflappability, Macmillan achieved note before the Second World War as a Tory radical and critic of appeasement. As a child, teenager and later young man, he was an admirer of the policies and leadership of a succession of Liberal Prime Ministers, starting with Henry Campbell-Bannerman, who came to power near the end of 1905 when Macmillan was only 11 years old, and then H. H. Asquith, whom he later described as having "intellectual sincerity and moral nobility", and particularly of Asquith's successor, David Lloyd George, whom he regarded as a "man of action", likely to accomplish his goals.[3]

Macmillan served in the Grenadier Guards during the First World War. He was wounded three times, most severely in September 1916 during the Battle of the Somme. He spent the rest of the war in a military hospital and suffered pain and partial immobility for the rest of his life. After recovering sufficiently from his war wounds to be able to walk again, Macmillan joined his family business, then entered Parliament in the 1924 General Election, for the northern industrial constituency of Stockton-on-Tees. After losing his seat in 1929, he regained it in 1931, soon after which he spoke out against the high rate of unemployment in Stockton-on-Tees. However, he remained on the backbenches, as he was regarded as a "maverick" by the party whips, as he was frequently unwilling to follow his party's political line. He was even described by his political hero, and now Parliamentary colleague, the wartime Prime Minister David Lloyd-George, as a "born rebel".[3]

Rising to high office as a protégé of wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Macmillan then served as Foreign Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer under Churchill's successor Sir Anthony Eden. When Eden resigned as a result of the Suez Crisis in 1957, Macmillan succeeded him as Prime Minister. He believed in the post-war settlement and the necessity of a mixed economy, and in his premiership pursued corporatist policies to develop the domestic market as the engine of growth.[4] During his time as prime minister, average living standards steadily rose[5] while numerous social reforms were carried out such as the 1956 Clean Air Act, the 1957 Housing Act, the 1960 Offices Act, the 1960 Noise Abatement Act,[6] the Factories Act 1961, the introduction of a graduated pension scheme to provide an additional income to retirers,[7] the establishment of a Child's Special Allowance for the orphaned children of divorced parents,[8] and a reduction in the standard work week from 48 to 42 hours.[9]

As a One Nation Tory of the Disraelian tradition, haunted by memories of the Great Depression, he championed a Keynesian strategy of public investment to maintain demand, winning a second term in 1959 with an increased majority on an electioneering budget. Benefiting from favourable international conditions,[4] he presided over an age of affluence, marked by low unemployment and high if uneven growth. In his Bedford speech in July 1957 he told the nation they had 'never had it so good',[10] but warned of the dangers of inflation, summing up the fragile prosperity of the 1950s.[11]

In international affairs, Macmillan rebuilt the special relationship with the United States from the wreckage of the Suez Crisis (of which he had been one of the architects), and redrew the world map by decolonising sub-Saharan Africa. Reconfiguring the nation's defences to meet the realities of the nuclear age, he ended National Service, strengthened the nuclear forces by acquiring Polaris, and pioneered the Nuclear Test Ban with the United States and the Soviet Union. Belatedly recognising the dangers of strategic dependence, he sought a new role for Britain in Europe, but his unwillingness to disclose United States nuclear secrets to France contributed to a French veto of the United Kingdom's entry into the European Economic Community.[12]

Near the end of his premiership, his government was rocked by the Vassall and Profumo scandals, which seemed to symbolise for the rebellious youth of the 1960s the moral decay of the British establishment.[13] Resigning prematurely after a medical misdiagnosis, Macmillan lived out a long retirement as an elder statesman of global stature. He was as trenchant a critic of his successors in his old age as he had been of his predecessors in his youth.

Macmillan was the last British prime minister born in the reign of Queen Victoria, and the last to have served in the First World War.

Contents

Early life[edit]

Family[edit]

Macmillan was born at 52 Cadogan Place in Chelsea, London, to Maurice Crawford Macmillan (1853–1936), publisher, and Helen (Nellie) Artie Tarleton Belles (1856–1937), artist and socialite, from Spencer, Indiana in the United States.[14] He had two brothers, Daniel, eight years his senior, and Arthur, four years his senior.[15] His paternal grandfather, Daniel MacMillan (1813–1857), who founded Macmillan publishing, was the son of a Scottish crofter.

Education[edit]

Macmillan received an intensive early education, closely guided by his American mother. He learned French at home every morning from a succession of nursery maids, and exercised daily at Mr Macpherson's Gymnasium and Dancing Academy, around the corner from the family home.[16] From the age of six or seven he received introductory lessons in classical Latin and Greek at Mr Gladstone's day school, close by in Sloane Square.[17]

Macmillan attended Summer Fields School, Oxford (1903–1906); his time at Eton College (1906–1910) was blighted by recurrent illness, starting with a near-fatal attack of pneumonia in his first half; he missed his final year after being invalided out,[18][19] and had to be taught at home by private tutors (1910–1911), notably Ronald Knox, who did much to instil his High church Anglicanism.[20] He went up to Balliol College, Oxford (1912–1914), where he became a member and debater of the Oxford Union Society, and obtained a First in Honours Moderations, informally known as Mods (consisting of Latin and Greek, the first half of the four-year Oxford Literae Humaniores course, informally known as Greats), in Hilary Term 1914. He did not complete the full degree after serving in First World War.[21]

War service[edit]

Volunteering immediately for active service in the First World War, Macmillan joined the Grenadier Guards and fought on the front lines in France, where the casualty rate was known to be high, as was the probability of an "early and violent death".[3] He served with distinction as a captain and was wounded on three occasions. The then-Prime Minister Asquith's own son, Raymond Asquith, was a fellow officer, and was killed in September 1916 in the Battle of Flers–Courcelette. Shot in the hand and receiving a glancing bullet wound to the head in the Battle of Loos in September 1915, Macmillan was sent to Lennox Gardens in England for hospital treatment, then joined a reserve battalion at Chelsea Barracks from January to March 1916, until his hand had healed. He then returned to the front lines in France. Leading an advance platoon in the Battle of the Somme in September 1916, he was severely wounded. He spent an entire day wounded and lying in a slit trench with a bullet in his pelvis, reading the classical playwright Aeschylus in the original Greek.[22] Macmillan spent the final two years of the war in hospital undergoing a long series of operations, and saw no further active service.[23] His hip wound took four years to heal completely, and he was left with a slight shuffle to his walk and a limp grip in his right hand from a separate wound. As was common for contemporary former officers, he continued to be known as 'Captain Macmillan' until the early 1930s.

Canadian aide-de-campship[edit]

Of the 28 freshmen who started at Balliol with Macmillan, only he and one other survived.[24] As a result, he refused to return to Oxford, saying the university would never be the same.[25] He served in Ottawa, Canada, in 1919 as ADC to Victor Cavendish, 9th Duke of Devonshire, then Governor General of Canada, and his future father-in-law.[26]

Publishing[edit]

On his return to London in 1920 he joined the family Macmillan publishing firm as a junior partner, remaining with the company until his appointment to ministerial office in 1940.

Personal life[edit]

Marriage[edit]

Macmillan married Lady Dorothy Cavendish, the daughter of the 9th Duke of Devonshire, on 21 April 1920. Her great-uncle was Spencer Cavendish, 8th Duke of Devonshire, who was leader of the Liberal Party in the 1870s, and a close colleague of William Ewart Gladstone, Joseph Chamberlain and Lord Salisbury. Lady Dorothy was also descended from William Cavendish, 4th Duke of Devonshire, who served as Prime Minister from 1756 to 1757 in communion with Newcastle and Pitt the Elder. Her nephew William Cavendish, Marquess of Hartington married Kathleen, a sister of John F. Kennedy. In 1929 Lady Dorothy began a lifelong affair with the Conservative politician Robert Boothby, an arrangement that scandalised high society but remained unknown to the general public.[27] The stress caused by this may have contributed to Macmillan's nervous breakdown in 1931.[28]

The Macmillans had four children:

Lady Dorothy died on 21 May 1966, aged 65, after 46 years of marriage.

Macmillan was in close friendship in old age with Ava Anderson, Viscountess Waverley, née Bodley (1896–1973), the widow of John Anderson, 1st Viscount Waverley.[30] Eileen O'Casey, née Reynolds (1900–1995), the actress wife of Irish dramatist Seán O'Casey, was another female friend, Macmillan publishing her husband's plays. Although she is said to have replaced Lady Dorothy in Macmillan's affections, there is disagreement over how intimate they became after the death of their respective spouses, and whether he proposed.[31][32][33][34]

Political career (1924–1957)[edit]

Private Member (1924–1929, 1931–1940)[edit]

Elected to the House of Commons in 1924 for the depressed northern industrial constituency of Stockton-on-Tees, Macmillan lost his seat in 1929 in the face of high regional unemployment, but regained the same seat in 1931. He spent the 1930s on the backbenches, with his championing of economic planning, anti-appeasement ideals and sharp criticism of Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain isolating him from the party leadership. In 1938 he wrote the first edition of The Middle Way, which advocated a broadly centrist political philosophy both domestically and internationally.

Supply Parliamentary Secretary (1940–1942)[edit]

In the Second World War Macmillan at last attained office, serving in the wartime coalition government as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply from 1940 to 1942, providing armaments and other equipment to the British Army and Royal Air Force. Macmillan travelled up and down the country to co-ordinate production, working with some success under Lord Beaverbrook to increase the supply and quality of armoured vehicles.[35]

Colonial Under-Secretary (1942)[edit]

Macmillan was appointed Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1942, in his own words 'leaving a madhouse to enter a mausoleum'.[36] Though a junior minister he was a member of the Privy Council, and he spoke in the House of Commons for Colonial Secretaries Lord Moyne and Lord Cranborne. Macmillan was given responsibility for increasing colonial production and trade, and signalled the future policy direction when in June 1942 he declared:

The governing principle of the Colonial Empire should be the principle of partnership between the various elements composing it. Out of partnership comes understanding and friendship. Within the fabric of the Commonwealth lies the future of the Colonial territories.[37]

Minister Resident in the Mediterranean (1942–1945)[edit]

Macmillan (top row, left) with Allied military leaders in the Sicilian campaign, 1943.

Macmillan attained real power and Cabinet rank upon being sent to North Africa in 1942 as British government representative to the Allies in the Mediterranean, reporting directly to Prime Minister Winston Churchill instead of to the Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden. Macmillan served as liaison and mediator between Churchill and US General Dwight D. Eisenhower in North Africa, building a rapport with the latter that proved helpful in his career.[38]

As minister resident with a roving commission, Macmillan was also the minister advising General Keightley of V Corps, the senior Allied commander in Austria responsible for Operation Keelhaul, which included the forced repatriation of up to 70,000 prisoners of war to the Soviet Union and Josip Broz Tito's Yugoslavia in 1945. The deportations and Macmillan's involvement later became a source of controversy because of the harsh treatment meted out to Nazi collaborators and anti-partisans by the receiving countries, and because in the confusion V Corps went beyond the terms agreed at Yalta and Allied Forces Headquarters directives by repatriating 4000 White Russian troops and 11,000 civilian family members, who could not properly be regarded as Soviet citizens.[39][40][41]

Air Secretary (1945)[edit]

Macmillan returned to England after the European war and was Secretary of State for Air for two months in Churchill's caretaker government, 'much of which was taken up in electioneering', there being 'nothing much to be done in the way of forward planning'.[42] He felt himself 'almost a stranger at home',[43] and lost his seat in the landslide Labour victory of 1945, but returned to Parliament in the November 1945 by-election in Bromley.

Housing Minister (1951–1954)[edit]

With the Conservative victory in 1951 Macmillan became Minister of Housing under Churchill, who entrusted him with fulfilling the conference promise to build 300,000 houses per year. 'It is a gamble—it will make or mar your political career,' Churchill said, 'but every humble home will bless your name if you succeed.'[44] Macmillan achieved the target a year ahead of schedule.[45]

Defence Minister (1954–1955)[edit]

Macmillan was Minister of Defence from October 1954, but found his authority restricted by Churchill's personal involvement.[46] In the opinion of The Economist: 'He gave the impression that his own undoubted capacity for imaginative running of his own show melted way when an august superior was breathing down his neck.'[47]

A major theme of his tenure at Defence was the ministry's growing reliance on the nuclear deterrent, in the view of some critics, to the detriment of conventional forces.[48] The Defence White Paper of February 1955, announcing the decision to produce the hydrogen bomb, received bipartisan support.[49]

By this time Macmillan had lost the wire-rimmed glasses, toothy grin and Brylcreemed hair of wartime photographs, and grew his hair thick and glossy, had his teeth capped and walked with the ramrod bearing of a former Guards officer, acquiring the distinguished appearance of his later career.

Foreign Secretary (1955)[edit]

Macmillan was Foreign Secretary in April–December 1955 in the government of Anthony Eden, who had taken over as prime minister from the retiring Churchill. Returning from the Geneva Summit of that year he made headlines by declaring: 'There ain't gonna be no war.'[50] Of the role of Foreign Secretary Macmillan famously observed:

Nothing he can say can do very much good and almost anything he may say may do a great deal of harm. Anything he says that is not obvious is dangerous; whatever is not trite is risky. He is forever poised between the cliché and the indiscretion.[50]

Chancellor of the Exchequer (1955–1957)[edit]

Macmillan was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer in December 1955 after just eight months as Foreign Secretary, and held this role for just over a year.

He insisted that Eden's de facto deputy Rab Butler not be treated as senior to him, and threatened resignation until he was allowed to cut bread and milk subsidies. One of his innovations at the Treasury was the introduction of premium bonds,[51] announced in his budget of 17 April 1956.[52] Although the Labour Opposition initially decried them as a 'squalid raffle', they proved an immediate hit with the public, with £1,000 won in the first prize draw in June 1957.

During the Suez Crisis, when Britain invaded Egypt in collusion with France and Israel, according to Labour leader Harold Wilson Macmillan was 'first in, first out': first very supportive of the invasion, then a prime mover in Britain's humiliating withdrawal in the wake of the financial crisis caused by pressure from the US government.[53] Since the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, relations between Britain and Egypt had deteriorated. The Egyptian government, which came to be dominated by Gamal Abdel Nasser, was opposed to the British military presence in the Arab World. The Egyptian nationalisation of the Suez Canal by Nasser on 26 July 1956 prompted the British government and the French government of Guy Mollet to commence plans for invading Egypt, regaining the canal, and toppling Nasser. Macmillan wrote in his diary:

"If Nasser 'gets away with it', we are done for. The whole Arab world will despise us ... Nuri [es-Said, British-backed prime minister of Iraq] and our friends will fall. It may well be the end of British influence and strength forever. So, in the last resort, we must use force and defy opinion, here and overseas".[54]

Macmillan was heavily involved in the secret planning of the invasion with France and Israel. It was he who first suggested collusion with Israel.[55] On 5 August 1956 Macmillan met Churchill at Chartwell, and told him that the government's plan for simply regaining control of the canal was not enough and suggested involving Israel, recording in his diary for that day: "Surely, if we landed we must seek out the Egyptian forces; destroy them; and bring down Nasser's government. Churchill seemed to agree with all this."[56] Macmillan knew President Eisenhower well, but misjudged his strong opposition to a military solution. Macmillan met Eisenhower privately on 25 September 1956 and convinced himself that the US would not oppose the invasion,[57] despite the misgivings of the British Ambassador, Sir Roger Makins, who was also present. Macmillan failed to heed a warning from Secretary of State John Foster Dulles that whatever the British government did should wait until after the US presidential election on 6 November, and failed to report Dulles' remarks to Eden.

The treasury was his portfolio, but he did not recognise the financial disaster that could result from US government actions. Sterling was draining out of the Bank of England at an alarming rate, and it was getting worse. The canal was blocked by the Egyptians, and most oil shipments were delayed as tankers had to go around Africa. The US government refused any financial help until Britain withdrew its forces from Egypt. When he did realise this, he changed his mind and called for withdrawal on US terms, while exaggerating the financial crisis. Faced with Macmillan's prediction of doom, the cabinet had no choice but to accept these terms and withdraw. The Canal remained in Egyptian hands, and Nasser's government continued its support of Arab and African national resistance movements opposed to the British presence in the region and on the continent.[58] The debacle destroyed Eden's political standing and his physical health; he had to resign, leaving the door to 10 Downing Street open for his deputy Rab Butler or Macmillan.[59]

In later life Macmillan was open about his failure to read Eisenhower's thoughts correctly and much regretted the damage done to Anglo-American relations, but always maintained that the Anglo-French military response to the nationalisation of the Canal had been for the best.[60]

Prime Minister (1957–1963)[edit]

Macmillan with Indian Minister and head of Indian delegation Ashoke Kumar Sen and wife Anjana, daughter of Sudhi Ranjan Das

First government (1957–1959)[edit]

Eden resigned in January 1957. At that time the Conservative Party had no formal mechanism for selecting a new leader, and the Queen appointed Macmillan Prime Minister after taking advice from Churchill and the Marquess of Salisbury, who had asked the Cabinet individually for their opinions, all but two or three opting for Macmillan. This surprised some observers who had expected that Butler would be chosen. The political situation after Suez, which had contributed to Eden's resignation, was so desperate that on taking office on 10 January he told the Queen he could not guarantee his government would last "six weeks" – though ultimately he would be in charge of the government for more than six years.[61]

Macmillan filled government posts with 35 Old Etonians, seven of them in Cabinet.[62] He was also devoted to family members: when Andrew Cavendish, 11th Duke of Devonshire was later appointed (Minister for Colonial Affairs from 1963 to 1964 amongst other positions) he described his uncle's behaviour as "the greatest act of nepotism ever".[63]

He was nicknamed Supermac in 1958 by cartoonist Victor Weisz ('Vicky'). It was intended as mockery but backfired, coming to be used in a neutral or friendly fashion. Vicky tried to label him with other names, including "Mac the Knife" at the time of widespread cabinet changes in 1962, but none caught on.[64]

Economy[edit]

Macmillan brought the monetary concerns of the Exchequer into office; the economy was his prime concern. His One Nation approach to the economy was to seek high or full employment. This contrasted with his mainly monetarist Treasury ministers who argued that any support of sterling required strict controls on money and hence an unavoidable rise in unemployment. Their advice was rejected and in January 1958 the three Treasury ministers Peter Thorneycroft, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nigel Birch, Economic Secretary to the Treasury, and Enoch Powell, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, resigned. Macmillan, away on a tour of the Commonwealth, brushed aside this incident as 'a little local difficulty'.

Foreign policy[edit]

MacMillan being welcomed by Prempeh II in January 1960

Macmillan took close control of foreign policy. He worked to narrow the post-Suez rift with the United States, where his wartime friendship with Eisenhower was key; the two had a productive conference in Bermuda as early as March 1957.

In February 1959 Macmillan became the first Western leader to visit the Soviet Union since the Second World War.[65] Talks with Nikita Khrushchev eased tensions in East-West relations over West Berlin and led to an agreement in principle to stop nuclear tests and to hold a further summit meeting of Allied and Soviet heads of government.[66]

In the Middle East, faced by the 1958 collapse of the Baghdad Pact and the spread of Soviet influence, Macmillan acted decisively to restore the confidence of Persian Gulf allies, using the Royal Air Force and special forces to defeat a revolt backed by Saudi Arabia and Egypt against the Sultan of Oman, Said bin Taimur, in July 1957;[67] deploying airborne battalions to defend Jordan against Syrian subversion in July 1958,;[68] and deterring a threatened Iraqi invasion of Kuwait by landing a brigade group in July 1960.[69]

Macmillan was a major proponent and architect of decolonisation. The Gold Coast was granted independence as Ghana, and the Federation of Malaya achieved independence within the Commonwealth of Nations in 1957.

Nuclear weapons[edit]

First successful British H-bomb test – Operation Grapple X Round C1, which took place over Kiritimati

In April 1957 Macmillan reaffirmed his strong support for the British nuclear weapons programme. A succession of prime ministers since the Second World War had been determined to persuade the United States to revive wartime co-operation in the area of nuclear weapons research. Macmillan believed that one way to encourage such co-operation would be for the United Kingdom to speed up the development of its own hydrogen bomb, which was successfully tested on 8 November 1957.

Macmillan's decision led to increased demands on the Windscale and (subsequently) Calder Hall nuclear plants to produce plutonium for military purposes.[70] As a result safety margins for radioactive materials inside the Windscale reactor were eroded. This contributed to the Windscale fire on the night of 10 October 1957, which broke out in the plutonium plant of Pile No. 1, and nuclear contaminants travelled up a chimney where the filters blocked some, but not all, of the contaminated material. The radioactive cloud spread to south-east England and fallout reached mainland Europe. Although scientists had warned of the dangers of such an accident for some time, the government blamed the workers who had put out the fire for 'an error of judgement', rather than the political pressure for fast-tracking the megaton bomb.[71][72]

Concerned that public confidence in the nuclear programme might be shaken and that technical information might be misused by opponents of defence co-operation in the US Congress, Macmillan withheld all but the summary of a report into the fire prepared for the Atomic Energy Authority by Sir William Penney, director of the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment.[73] While subsequently released files show that 'Macmillan's cuts were few and covered up few technical details',[74] and that even the full report found no danger to public health, but later official estimates acknowledged that the release of polonium-210 may have led directly to 25 to 50 deaths, and anti-nuclear groups linked it to 1,000 fatal cancers.[75][76]

On 25 March 1957 Macmillan acceded to Eisenhower's request to base 60 Thor IRBMs in England under joint control to replace the nuclear bombers of the Strategic Air Command, which had been stationed under joint control since 1948 and were approaching obsolescence. Partly as a consequence of this favour, in late October 1957 the US McMahon Act was eased to facilitate nuclear co-operation between the two governments, initially with a view to producing cleaner weapons and reducing the need for duplicate testing.[77] The Mutual Defence Agreement followed on 3 July 1958, speeding up British ballistic missile development,[78] notwithstanding unease expressed at the time about the impetus co-operation might give to atomic proliferation by arousing the jealousy of France and other allies.[79]

Election campaign (1959)[edit]

Macmillan led the Conservatives to victory in the 1959 general election, increasing his party's majority from 67 to 107 seats. The campaign was based on the economic improvements achieved; the slogan "Life's Better Under the Conservatives" was matched by Macmillan's own remark, '"indeed let us be frank about it – most of our people have never had it so good,"[80] usually paraphrased as "You've never had it so good." Such rhetoric reflected a new reality of working-class affluence; it has been argued that "the key factor in the Conservative victory was that average real pay for industrial workers had risen since Churchill's 1951 victory by over 20 per cent".[81]

The Daily Mirror, despite being a staunch supporter of the Labour Party, wished Macmillan "good luck" on its front page after his win.[82]

Second government (1959–1963)[edit]

Economy[edit]

Britain's balance of payments problems led to the imposition of a wage freeze in 1961 and, amongst other factors, this caused the government to lose popularity and a series of by-elections in March 1962.

Fearing for his own position, Macmillan organised a major Cabinet change in July 1962, named 'the night of long knives' as a symbol of his alleged betrayal of the Conservative party, when eight junior Ministers were sacked. The Cabinet changes were widely seen as a sign of panic, and the young Liberal MP Jeremy Thorpe said of Macmillan's dismissals 'greater love hath no man than this, than to lay down his friends for his life'.

Macmillan supported the creation of the National Incomes Commission to institute controls on income as part of his growth-without-inflation policy. A further series of subtle indicators and controls was introduced during his premiership.

Foreign policy[edit]

British decolonisation in Africa.

The special relationship with the United States continued after the election of President John F. Kennedy, whose sister Kathleen Cavendish, Marchioness of Hartington had married William Cavendish, Marquess of Hartington, the nephew of Macmillan's wife. He was supportive throughout the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 and Kennedy consulted him by telephone every day. The British Ambassador David Ormsby-Gore was a close family friend of the President and actively involved in White House discussions on how to resolve the crisis.

Macmillan's first government had seen the first phase of the sub-Saharan African independence movement, which accelerated under his second government. His 'wind of change' speech in Cape Town on his African tour in February 1960 is considered a landmark in the process of decolonisation.

Macmillan felt that if the costs of holding onto a particular territory outweighed the benefits then it should be dispensed with. After securing a third term for the Conservatives in 1959 he appointed Iain Macleod as Colonial Secretary. Macleod greatly accelerated decolonisation and by the time he was moved to Conservative Party chairman and Leader of the Commons in 1961 he had made the decision to give independence to Nigeria, Tanganyika, Kenya, Nyasaland (as Malawi) and Northern Rhodesia (as Zambia).[83]

Nigeria, the Southern Cameroons and British Somaliland were granted independence in 1960, Sierra Leone and Tanganyika in 1961, Uganda in 1962, and Kenya in 1963. Zanzibar merged with Tanganyika to form Tanzania in 1963. All remained within the Commonwealth but British Somaliland, which merged with Italian Somaliland to form Somalia.

Macmillan's policy overrode the hostility of white minorities and the Conservative Monday Club. South Africa left the multiracial Commonwealth in 1961 and Macmillan acquiesced to the dissolution of the Central African Federation by the end of 1963.

In Southeast Asia, Malaya, Sabah (British North Borneo), Sarawak and Singapore became independent as Malaysia in 1963.

The speedy transfer of power maintained the goodwill of the new nations but critics contended it was premature. In justification Macmillan quoted Lord Macaulay in 1851:

Many politicians of our time are in the habit of laying it down as a self-evident proposition that no people ought to be free until they are fit to use their freedom. The maxim is worthy of the fool in the old story, who resolved not to go into the water until he had learnt to swim. If men are to wait for liberty until they become wise and good in slavery, they may indeed wait for ever.[84]

Skybolt crisis[edit]

Macmillan and John F. Kennedy confer in 1961

Macmillan cancelled the Blue Streak ballistic missile in April 1960 over concerns about its vulnerability to a pre-emptive attack, but continued with the development of the air-launched Blue Steel stand-off missile, which was about to enter trials. For the replacement for Blue Steel he opted for Britain to join the American Skybolt missile project. From the same year Macmillan permitted the US Navy to station Polaris submarines at Holy Loch, Scotland, as a replacement for Thor. When Skybolt was unilaterally cancelled by US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, Macmillan negotiated with President Kennedy the purchase of Polaris missiles under the Nassau agreement in December 1962.

Partial Test Ban Treaty (1963)[edit]

Macmillan was a force in the negotiations leading to the signing of the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty by the United Kingdom, the United States and the Soviet Union. His previous attempt to create an agreement at the May 1960 summit in Paris had collapsed due to the 1960 U-2 incident.

Europe[edit]

Macmillan worked with states outside the European Economic Community (EEC) to form the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), which from 3 May 1960 established a free-trade area. Macmillan also saw the value of rapprochement with the EEC, to which his government sought belated entry, but Britain's application was vetoed by French president Charles de Gaulle on 29 January 1963. De Gaulle was always strongly opposed to British entry for many reasons. He sensed the British were inevitably closely linked to the Americans. He saw the EEC as a continental arrangement primarily between France and Germany, and if Britain joined France's role would diminish.[85][86]

Profumo Affair[edit]

The Profumo Affair of 1963 permanently damaged the credibility of Macmillan's government.[citation needed] He survived a Parliamentary vote with a majority of 69, one fewer than had been thought necessary for his survival, and was afterwards joined in the smoking-room only by his son and son-in-law, not by any Cabinet minister. Accordingly, Butler and Maudling (who was very popular with backbench MPs at that time) declined to push for his resignation, especially after a tide of support from Conservative activists around the country.

Retirement (1963–1986)[edit]

Resignation[edit]

The Profumo affair may have exacerbated Macmillan's ill-health. He was taken ill on the eve of the Conservative Party conference, and diagnosed incorrectly with inoperable prostate cancer. Consequently, he resigned on 18 October 1963. He felt privately that he was being hounded from office by a backbench minority:

Some few will be content with the success they have had in the assassination of their leader and will not care very much who the successor is.... They are a band that in the end does not amount to more than 15 or 20 at the most.[87]

Succession[edit]

Macmillan was succeeded by Foreign Secretary Alec Douglas-Home in a controversial move; it was alleged that Macmillan had pulled strings and utilised the party's grandees, nicknamed 'The Magic Circle', who had slanted their "soundings" of opinion amongst MPs and Cabinet Ministers to ensure that Butler was not chosen.

Macmillan initially refused a peerage and retired from politics in September 1964, a month before the 1964 election, which the Conservatives narrowly lost to Labour, now led by Harold Wilson.[88]

Oxford Chancellor (1960–1986)[edit]

Macmillan had been elected Chancellor of the University of Oxford in 1960, in a campaign masterminded by Hugh Trevor-Roper, and continued in this distinguished office for life, frequently presiding over college events, making speeches and tirelessly raising funds. According to Sir Patrick Neill QC, the vice-chancellor, Macmillan 'would talk late into the night with eager groups of students who were often startled by the radical views he put forward, well into his last decade.'[89]

Return to publishing[edit]

In retirement Macmillan took up the chairmanship of his family's publishing house, Macmillan Publishers, from 1964 to 1974. He brought out a six-volume autobiography:

  1. Winds of Change, 1914–1939 (1966) ISBN 0-333-06639-1
  2. The Blast of War, 1939–1945 (1967) ISBN 0-333-00358-6
  3. Tides of Fortune, 1945–1955 (1969) ISBN 0-333-04077-5
  4. Riding the Storm, 1956–1959 (1971) ISBN 0-333-10310-6
  5. Pointing the Way, 1959–1961 (1972) ISBN 0-333-12411-1
  6. At the End of the Day, 1961–1963 (1973) ISBN 0-333-12413-8

The read was described by Macmillan's political enemy Enoch Powell as inducing 'a sensation akin to that of chewing on cardboard'. His wartime diaries were better received.

  • War Diaries: Politics and War in the Mediterranean, January 1943 – May 1945 (London: St. Martin's Press, 1984) ISBN 0-312-85566-4

Political interventions[edit]

Macmillan made occasional political interventions in retirement. Responding to a remark made by Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson about not having boots in which to go to school, Macmillan retorted: 'If Mr Wilson did not have boots to go to school that is because he was too big for them.'[90]

Macmillan accepted the Order of Merit in 1976. In October of that year he called for 'a Government of National Unity' including all parties, which could command the public support to resolve the economic crisis. Asked who could lead such a coalition, he replied: "Mr Gladstone formed his last Government when he was eighty-three. I'm only eighty-two. You mustn't put temptation in my way."[91] His plea was interpreted by party leaders as a bid for power and rejected.

Macmillan still travelled widely, visiting China in October 1979, where he held talks with senior Vice-Premier Deng Xiaoping.[92]

Relations with Margaret Thatcher[edit]

Photograph
Macmillan became critical of Margaret Thatcher, pictured in 1975.

Macmillan found himself drawn more actively into politics after Margaret Thatcher became Conservative leader in February 1975,[93] and Prime Minister in May 1979 when the Tories ended Labour's five-year rule with an election win,[94] and the record of his own premiership came under attack from the monetarists in the party, whose theories she supported. In a celebrated speech he wondered aloud where such theories had come from:

Was it America? Or was it Tibet? It is quite true, many of Your Lordships will remember it operating in the nursery. How do you treat a cold? One nanny said, 'Feed a cold'; she was a neo-Keynesian. The other said, 'Starve a cold'; she was a monetarist.[95]

On Macmillan's advice in April 1982 Thatcher excluded the Treasury from her Falklands War Cabinet. She later said: 'I never regretted following Harold Macmillan's advice. We were never tempted to compromise the security of our forces for financial reasons. Everything we did was governed by military necessity.'[96]

Macmillan finally accepted a peerage on 10 February 1984[97] and was created Earl of Stockton and Viscount Macmillan of Ovenden. He took the title from his former parliamentary seat on the edge of the Durham coalfields, and in his maiden speech in the House of Lords he criticised Thatcher's handling of the coal miners' strike and her characterisation of striking miners as 'the enemy within'.[98] He received an unprecedented standing ovation for his oration, which included the words:

It breaks my heart to see—and I cannot interfere—what is happening in our country today. This terrible strike, by the best men in the world, who beat the Kaiser's and Hitler's armies and never gave in. It is pointless and we cannot afford that kind of thing. Then there is the growing division of Conservative prosperity in the south and the ailing north and Midlands. We used to have battles and rows but they were quarrels. Now there is a new kind of wicked hatred that has been brought in by different types of people.[95]

As Chancellor of Oxford University, Macmillan condemned its refusal in February 1985 to award Thatcher an honorary degree. He noted that the decision represented a break with tradition, and predicted that the snub would rebound on the university.[99]

Macmillan is widely supposed to have likened Thatcher's policy of privatisation to 'selling the family silver'. His precise quote, at a dinner of the Tory Reform Group at the Royal Overseas League on 8 November 1985, was on the subject of the sale of assets commonplace among individuals or states when they encountered financial difficulties: 'First of all the Georgian silver goes. And then all that nice furniture that used to be in the salon. Then the Canalettos go.' Profitable parts of the steel industry and the railways had been privatised, along with British Telecom: 'They were like two Rembrandts still left.'[100]

Macmillan's speech was much commented on, and a few days later he made a speech in the House of Lords, referring to it:

When I ventured the other day to criticise the system I was, I am afraid, misunderstood. As a Conservative, I am naturally in favour of returning into private ownership and private management all those means of production and distribution which are now controlled by state capitalism. I am sure they will be more efficient. What I ventured to question was the using of these huge sums as if they were income.[101]

Death and funeral[edit]

The Macmillan family graves in 2012 at St Giles' Church, Horsted Keynes. Macmillan's grave is on the right.

Macmillan died at Birch Grove, the Macmillan family mansion on the edge of Ashdown Forest near Chelwood Gate in East Sussex, four days after Christmas in 1986. His age was 92 years and 322 days— the greatest age attained by a British Prime Minister until surpassed by James Callaghan on 14 February 2005. His grandson and heir Alexander, Viscount Macmillan of Ovenden, said: 'In the last 48 hours he was very weak but entirely reasonable and intelligent. His last words were, "I think I will go to sleep now".'[102][103]

On receiving the news, Thatcher hailed him as 'a very remarkable man and a very great patriot', and said that his dislike of 'selling the family silver' had never come between them. He was 'unique in the affection of the British people'.[104]

Tributes came from around the world. US President Ronald Reagan said: 'The American people share in the loss of a voice of wisdom and humanity who, with eloquence and gentle wit, brought to the problems of today the experience of a long life of public service.'[89] Outlawed African National Congress president Oliver Tambo sent his condolences: 'As South Africans we shall always remember him for his efforts to encourage the apartheid regime to bow to the winds of change that continue to blow in South Africa.'[89] Commonwealth Secretary-General Sir Shridath Ramphal affirmed: 'His own leadership in providing from Britain a worthy response to African national consciousness shaped the post-war era and made the modern Commonwealth possible.'[89]

A private funeral was held on 5 January 1987 at St Giles' Church, Horsted Keynes, West Sussex, where he had regularly worshipped and read the lesson.[105] Two hundred mourners attended,[103] including 64 members of the Macmillan family, Thatcher and former premiers Lord Home and Edward Heath, Lord Hailsham,[102] and 'scores of country neighbours'.[105] The Prince of Wales sent a wreath 'in admiring memory'.[102] He was buried beside his wife and next to his parents and his son Maurice, who had died in 1984.[105]

The House of Commons paid its tribute on 12 January 1987, with much reference made to his book The Middle Way.[106] Thatcher said: 'In his retirement Harold Macmillan occupied a unique place in the nation's affections', while Labour leader Neil Kinnock struck a more critical note:

A public memorial service, attended by the Queen and thousands of mourners, was held on 10 February 1987 in Westminster Abbey.[107]

Titles from birth to death[edit]

  • Harold Macmillan (10 February 1894 – 29 October 1924)
  • Harold Macmillan, MP (29 October 1924 – 30 May 1929)
  • Harold Macmillan (30 May 1929 – 4 November 1931)
  • Harold Macmillan, MP (4 November 1931 – 1942)
  • The Right Honourable Harold Macmillan, MP (1942 – 26 July 1945)
  • The Right Honourable Harold Macmillan (26 July 1945 – November 1945)
  • The Right Honourable Harold Macmillan, MP (November 1945 – 15 September 1964)
  • The Right Honourable Harold Macmillan (15 September 1964 – 2 April 1976)
  • The Right Honourable Harold Macmillan, OM (2 April 1976 – 24 February 1984)
  • The Right Honourable The Earl of Stockton, OM, PC (24 February 1984 – 29 December 1986)

Cabinets[edit]

For a full list of Ministerial office-holders, see Conservative Government 1957-1964.

January 1957 – October 1959[edit]

Change

  • March 1957 – Lord Home succeeds Lord Salisbury as Lord President, remaining Commonwealth Relations Secretary.
  • September 1957 – Lord Hailsham succeeds Lord Home as Lord President, Home remaining Commonwealth Relations Secretary. Geoffrey Lloyd succeeds Hailsham as Minister of Education. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Reginald Maudling, enters the Cabinet.
  • January 1958 – Derick Heathcoat Amory succeeds Peter Thorneycroft as Chancellor of the Exchequer. John Hare succeeds Amory as Minister of Agriculture.

October 1959 – July 1960[edit]

July 1960 – October 1961[edit]

October 1961 – July 1962[edit]

July 1962 – October 1963[edit]

In a radical reshuffle dubbed "The Night of the Long Knives", Macmillan sacked a third of his Cabinet and instituted many other changes.

Dramatic and comedic portrayals[edit]

Beyond the Fringe (1960–1966)[edit]

During his premiership in the early 1960s Macmillan was savagely satirised for his alleged decrepitude by the comedian Peter Cook in the stage review Beyond the Fringe.[108] 'Even when insulted to his face attending the show,' a biographer notes, 'Macmillan felt it was better to be mocked than ignored.'[109] One of the sketches was revived by Cook for television.

Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years (1981)[edit]

Macmillan appears as a supporting character, played by Ian Collier, in the 1981 miniseries Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years produced by Southern Television for ITV.

A Letter of Resignation (1997–1998)[edit]

Set in 1963 during the Profumo scandal, Hugh Whitemore's play A Letter of Resignation, first staged at the Comedy Theatre in October 1997, dramatises the occasion when Macmillan, staying with friends in Scotland, received a political bombshell, the letter of resignation from Profumo, his war minister.

Edward Fox portrayed Macmillan with uncanny accuracy, but the play also explores the involvement of MI5 and the troubled relationship between Macmillan and his wife (Clare Higgins) who had made no secret of her adultery with the wayward Tory MP, Robert Boothby. The play was directed by Christopher Morahan.

Eden's Empire (2006)[edit]

Macmillan was played by Kevin Quarmby in Gemma Fairlie's production of James Graham's play Eden's Empire at the Finborough Theatre, London, in 2006.

Never So Good (2008)[edit]

Never So Good is a four-act play by Howard Brenton, a portrait of Macmillan against a back-drop of fading Empire, two world wars, the Suez crisis, adultery and Tory politics at the Ritz.

Brenton paints the portrait of a brilliant, witty but complex man, tragically out of kilter with his times, an Old Etonian who eventually loses his way in a world of shifting values.

The play premiered at the National Theatre in March 2008, directed by Howard Davies with Jeremy Irons as Macmillan.

Additional reading[edit]

References[edit]

  • Theatre Record (1997 for Hugh Whitemore's A Letter of Resignation; 2008 for Howard Brenton's Never So Good)
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Cited texts[edit]

External links[edit]

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