Harold Macmillan

Harold Macmillan
Birth Place
Brixton, London
Date of Birth
10 February 1894
Date of Death
29 December 1986


Born in London, Maurice Harold Macmillan was educated at Eton and at Balliol College, Oxford. He served with distinction during the First World War, being wounded on three occasions.

He entered Parliament in 1924 as a Conservative for Stockton-on-Tees. He lost his seat in 1929 but was re-elected in 1931. Throughout the 1930s he was an advocate of social and economic reforms and an outspoken critic of the government's policy of appeasement. His left wing views condemned him to the backbenches. When sanctions against Italy were abandoned in 1936, he voted against his party leaders and sat for a year as an independent.

During the Second World War he held several government posts, including minister resident in North Africa representing British interest in the Mediterranean. He returned to England after the war, having lost his seat in Parliament in the landslide Labour Party victory. He quickly won a by-election for Bromley in November 1945.

When the Conservatives were re-elected in 1951, led by Winston Churchill, he was first made Minister of Housing, then Minister of Defence, Foreign Secretary and finally Chancellor of the Exchequer. When Eden resigned in January 1957 Macmillan succeeded him.

In foreign affairs he succeeded in restoring Anglo-American relations damaged by the Suez crisis. He also tried to establish a better East-West relationship based on personal appeals to the American and Soviet leaders from an elder statesman. He attempted to take the United Kingdom into the European Economic Community (Common Market) but met implacable opposition from the French President de Gaulle.

In the October 1959 General Election he led the Conservatives to victory. The campaign had been based on the economic improvements achieved and the slogan "Life's Better Under the Conservatives". Macmillan matched this remark with "most of our people have never had it so good" usually paraphrased to "You've never had it so good."

He also accelerated Britain's decolonization, especially in Africa. In a memorable speech to the South African parliament in 1960, he said the “winds of change” were sweeping across Africa. However in the Middle East he ensured Britain remained an important player, intervening in Iraq in 1958 and 1960 as well as becoming involved in Oman.

One area where he was involved in key decisions was in defence. In the late 1950s he had agreed to the stationing of Thor missiles on British soil under joint Anglo-American control. From later 1957 he had succeeded in getting the American McMahon Act eased and this allowed Britain greater access to American nuclear technology. Following the failure of the British Blue Streak missile programme and then the cancellation, by the Americans of the replacement Skybolt, Macmillan negotiated with President Kennedy for the supply of Polaris missiles under what became known as the 1962 Nassau Agreement.

Macmillan was also very keen to improve international relations between the major powers. His first attempt to create a Partial Test Ban Treaty in 1960 had collapsed after the Gary Powers U-2 incident. However in 1962 he succeeded and this led to Great Britain, the United States and Soviet Union signing such a treaty. France and China refused to do so.

At home things had not gone quite so well. By 1961 balance of payments difficulties had forced the government to introduce an austerity programme and this lost them popularity. Adding to his difficulties, his government suffered a series of scandals; the most famous being the Profumo scandal.

Following ill health and surgery he resigned on 18 October 1963 and in 1964 retired from Parliament. Macmillan served as Chancellor (1960–86) of Oxford University and as chairman (1963–74) of his family’s publishing business Macmillan Publishers. He finally accepted an earldom in 1984 and was created Earl of Stockton. He died at Birch Grove in Sussex in 1986.


A man who trusts nobody is apt to be the kind of man nobody trusts.

At home, you always have to be a politician; when you're abroad, you almost feel yourself a statesman.

Britain's most useful role is somewhere between bee and dinosaur.

I have never found, in a long experience of politics, that criticism is ever inhibited by ignorance.

I read a great number of press reports and find comfort in the fact that they are nearly always conflicting.

I was a sort of son to Ike, and it was the other way round with Kennedy.

I was determined that no British government should be brought down by the action of two tarts.

It has been said that there is no fool like an old fool, except a young fool. But the young fool has first to grow up to be an old fool to realize what a damn fool he was when he was a young fool.

It is the duty of Her Majesty's government neither to flap nor to falter.

It's no use crying over spilt summits.

Jaw-jaw is better than war-war.

Marxism is like a classical building that followed the Renaissance; beautiful in its way, but incapable of growth.

Once the bear's hug has got you, it is apt to be for keeps.

The wind of change is blowing through the continent. Whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact.

There might be 1 finger on the trigger, but there will be 15 fingers on the safety catch.

To be alive at all involves some risk.

Tradition does not mean that the living are dead, it means that the dead are living.

I should like that to be translated if he wants to say anything. (29 September 1960 on being twice interupted by Khrushchev, shouting and banging his desk during a speech at the United Nations).

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