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Harold Macmillan

10/01/195718/10/1963

Harold Macmillan

Maurice Harold Macmillan, 1st Earl of Stockton (10 February 1894 – 29 December 1986) was a British Conservative politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1957 to 1963. Dubbed "Supermac", he was known for his pragmatism, wit and unflappability.

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 unable to walk, and suffered pain and partial immobility for the rest of his life. After the war Macmillan joined his family business, then entered Parliament at 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, and against appeasement. Rising to high office during the Second World War 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 in 1957 following the Suez Crisis, Macmillan succeeded him as prime minister and Leader of the Conservative Party. As a One Nation Tory of the Disraelian tradition, haunted by memories of the Great Depression, he believed in the post-war settlement and the necessity of a mixed economy, championing a Keynesian strategy of public investment to maintain demand and pursuing corporatist policies to develop the domestic market as the engine of growth. Benefiting from favourable international conditions, he presided over an age of affluence, marked by low unemployment and high—if uneven—growth. In his Bedford speech of July 1957 he told the nation they had 'never had it so good', but warned of the dangers of inflation, summing up the fragile prosperity of the 1950s. The Conservatives were re-elected in 1959 with an increased majority.

In international affairs, Macmillan worked to rebuild the Special Relationship with the United States from the wreckage of the 1956 Suez Crisis (of which he had been one of the architects), and facilitated the decolonisation of 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. After the Skybolt Crisis undermined the Anglo-American strategic relationship, he sought a more active 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. Near the end of his premiership, his government was rocked by the Vassall and Profumo scandals, which to cultural conservatives and supporters of opposing parties alike seemed to symbolise moral decay of the British establishment. After his resignation, Macmillan lived out a long retirement as an elder statesman. He was as trenchant a critic of his successors in his old age as he had been of his predecessors in his youth. In 1986, he died at the age of 92.

Macmillan was the last British prime minister born during the Victorian era, the last to have served in the First World War and the last to receive a hereditary peerage. At the time of his death, he was the longest-lived prime minister in British history, a record surpassed by James Callaghan in February 2005.


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Published in 10/09/2020

Updated in 19/02/2021

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