Harold Macmillan

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The Right Hon. Harold Macmillan
Prime Minister 11 January 1957 - 19 October 1963
Political Party Conservative Party
Born 10 February 1894
Chelsea, London
Died 29 December 1986
Chelwood Gate, Sussex

Maurice Harold Macmillan, 1st Earl of Stockton, OM, PC (10 February 1894 - 29 December 1986) was a prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1957 to 1963, and elected leader of the British Conservative Party from 1957 to 1963.

Early career

Maurice Harold Macmillan was born in London. He was educated at Eton and at Balliol College, Oxford. He served with distinction in the First World War, being wounded on three occasions. Elected to the House of Commons in 1924 for Stockton-on-Tees, he lost his seat in 1929 only to return in 1931. In the 1930s he was stuck on the backbenches, his leftish ideas and sharp criticism of Baldwin and Chamberlain served to isolate him. In the Second World War he was part of the wartime coalition government, he worked with the Ministry of Supply before being sent to North Africa in 1942 as British government representative to the Allies in the Mediterranean.

He returned to England post-war and after the massive electoral defeat of 1945. When the Conservatives regained power in 1951 he was minister of housing (October 1951) then minister of defense (October 1954) under Winston Churchill and foreign secretary (April - December 1955) and chancellor of the exchequer (1955 - 1957) under Anthony Eden. When Eden resigned on 10 January 1957 he was succeeded by Macmillan, and he also became leader of the Conservative Party on 22 January 1957.

Prime minister

Macmillan brought the monetary concerns of the exchequer into office - the economy was his prime concern. However his approach to the economy was to seek high employment, whereas his treasury ministers argued that to support the pound sterling required strict controls on money and hence a rise in unemployment. Their advice was rejected and in January 1958 all the Treasury ministers resigned. Macmillan brushed aside this incident as 'a little local difficulty.' Macmillan supported the creation of the National Incomes Commission as a means to institute controls on income as part of his growth without inflation policy, a further series of subtle indicators and controls were also introduced during his premiership.

Macmillan also took close control of foreign policy. He worked to narrow the rift post-Suez with the United States, where his wartime friendship with Eisenhower was useful, and the two had a constructive conference in Bermuda as early as March 1957. The better relationship remained after the ascent of Kennedy. Macmillan also saw the value of a rapproachment with Europe and sought belated entry to the European Economic Community (EEC) as well as exploring the possibility of a European Free Trade Area (EFTA). In terms of the Empire, Macmillan continued the divestment of the colonies, his 'wind of change' speech (February 1960) indicating his policy. Ghana and Malaya were granted independence in 1957, Nigeria in 1960 and Kenya in 1963. However in the Middle East Macmillan ensured Britain remained a force - intervening over Iraq in 1958 and 1960, as well as becoming involved in Oman.

He led the Conservatives to victory in the October 1959 general election, increasing his party's majority from 67 to 107 seats. The election campaign had been based on the economic improvements achieved, the slogan 'Life's Better Under the Conservatives' was matched by Macmillan's own remark, 'most of our people have never had it so good' usually paraphrased as 'You've never had it so good.' The actual growth rate, compared to the rest of Europe, was weak and marked a relative decline distorted by high defence expenditure.

Following the technical failures of a British independent nuclear deterrent with the Blue Streak and the Blue Steel projects, Macmillan negotiated the supply of American UGM-27 Polaris submarine-launched ballistic missiles under the Nassau agreement in December 1962. Previously he had agreed to base sixty US-built PGM-17 Thor intermediate range ballistic missiles in Britain under joint control, and since late 1957 the American McMahon Act had been eased to allow Britain more access to nuclear technology.

Macmillan was a major force in the successful negotiations leading to Britain, the US, and the Soviet Union signing the Partial Test Ban Treaty in 1962. His previous attempt to create an agreement at the May 1960 summit in Paris had collapsed due to the U-2 incident. Britain's application to join the EEC was vetoed by Charles de Gaulle (29 January 1963), in part due to his fear that 'the end would be a colossal Atlantic Community dependent on America' and in part in anger at the Anglo-American nuclear deal.

Britain's balance of payments problems led to the imposition of a wage freeze in 1961. This caused the government to lose popularity and led to a series of by-election defeats. He organised a major Cabinet change in July 1962 but he continued to lose support from within his party. His government was also embarrassed by the Profumo Affair of 1963. Following ill health and surgery he resigned on 18 October 1963. He was succeeded by Alec Douglas-Home, the foreign secretary.

Retirement

Macmillan initially refused a peerage and retired from politics in September 1964. Over the next twenty years he made the occasional intervention. Following Margaret Thatcher's election as leader of the Conservative Party, Macmillan was found to be intervening more often as the record of his premiership came under attack from the monetarists in the party. In one of his more memorable contributions he likened Margaret Thatcher's policy of privatisation to 'selling the family silver.' In 1984 he finally accepted a peerage and was created Earl of Stockton that year. He died at Birch Grove in Sussex, in 1986, at the age of 92 years and 322 days - the greatest age attained by any British prime minister until 2005.