Harold Macmillan

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Harold Macmillan
67th Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
Term of office
1957 - 1963
Political party Conservative Party
Preceded by Anthony Eden
Succeeded by Alec Douglas-Home
Born 1894
Died 1986
Religion Anglican

Harold Macmillan, 1st Earl of Stockton, OM (1894-1986), was the Conservative Party Prime Minister of the United Kingdom between 1957 and 1963. He succeeded Sir Anthony Eden as PM and had a rapid impact in restoring Conservative Party fortunes following the disastrous conclusion of the Suez Crisis of 1956. Britain's economy boomed and Macmillan gained the nickname 'Super Mac' and was associated with the catchphrase "You've never had it so good." He won the 1959 general election convincingly, but was subsequently dogged by poor economic performance and political scandal. In 1958 his entire Treasury team resigned after the Cabinet had refused to agree to a decrease of £50 million in public expenditure. Macmillan dismissed the event as little local difficulties. In 1962 the Vassal Affair saw an Admiralty (the UK Navy Ministry) clerk gaoled for 18 years for spying for the Soviet Union, and it was implied, but later disproved, that Vassal had been protected by government ministers. Worse was to come with the Profumo Affair of 1963, in which Macmillan's Minister of War, John Profumo, reigned in disgrace after being found to have had a sexual affair with a courtesan who was also in a relationship with a Soviet Military Attache to the UK. Later that year Macmillan resigned, fearing he had not long to live after an operation for prostate cancer. He was, in the event, overly pessimistic, as he survived another 23 years. He was succeeded in office by Sir Alec Douglas-Home.

Macmillan was an accomplished political operator, and could be ruthless: following poor by-election results in July 1962 he sacked seven cabinet ministers (including the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Lord Chancellor and the Ministers of Housing, Education and Defence), and subsequently nine junior ministers, in the so-called Night of the Long Knives. He was on the socially liberal wing of the Conservative Party, influenced in part by his observations of poverty in his 1930s parliamentary constituency of Stockton on Tees. In 1984 he was raised to the Peerage as the first Earl of Stockton.

See also