Harold Macmillan

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Life is a long lesson in humility.
Sir James M. Barrie
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Maurice Harold Macmillan, 1st Earl of Stockton OM PC (10 February 1894 – 29 December 1986) was a British Conservative politician who served six years as Prime Minister at the end of the 1950s and beginning of the 1960s. Macmillan is regarded as a patrician figure who was at home on the grouse moor. He entered politics in the inter-war period as MP for the industrial northern town of Stockton-on-Tees, which he was later to take as his title when made a Peer. This experience led him to adopt an economic policy which was concerned with prosperity for all.

His term in government was marked by beginning the process of decolonisation of Africa, and saw Britain move into unparalleled post-war prosperity. Macmillan was related to John F. Kennedy through marriage and was a strong Atlanticist. In the early 1960s an economic downturn and some scandals such as the Profumo affair damaged his popularity and he was forced from office by a health scare. Late in retirement, Margaret Thatcher awarded him a rare hereditary peerage, but he used his platform in the televised House of Lords to criticise her government.


  • Although I am still in favour of a National Government in these difficult times, and shall probably be found in the great majority of cases in the Government Lobby, there are some issues that have arisen, or are likely to arise, upon which I am unable to give the Government the support which it has, perhaps, the right to expect from those receiving the Government Whip. It occurs to me, therefore, that it would perhaps be more satisfactory if I was no longer regarded as being among the supporters of the present Administration.
    • "Mr H. Macmillan M.P.", The Times, 8 July 1936, p. 8.
    • Letter written on 29 June 1936 resigning the Government whip.
  • Forever poised between a cliché and an indiscretion.
    • Newsweek, 30 April 1956.
    • Macmillan's description of the role of the Foreign Secretary, a job he held in 1955.
  • Indeed, let us be frank about it. Most of our people have never had it so good.
    • "More production 'the only answer' to inflation", The Times, 22 July 1957, p. 4.
    • Speech at Bedford, 20 July 1957.
  • It is always a matter of regret from the personal point of view when divergences arise between colleagues, but it is the team that matters and not the individual, and I am quite happy about the strength and the power of the team, and so I thought the best thing to do was to settle up these little local difficulties, and then turn to the wider vision of the Commonwealth.
    • "Mr Macmillan sets out", The Times, 8 January 1958, p. 8
    • Statement to the press at Heathrow Airport, 7 January 1958. Macmillan was refusing to postpone a Commonwealth tour despite the resignation of the entire Treasury team of ministers.
  • The most striking of all the impressions I have formed since I left London a month ago is of the strength of this African national consciousness. In different places it may take different forms but it is happening everywhere. The wind of change is blowing through this continent. Whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact. We must all accept it as a fact.
    • "Mr Macmillan's appeal to South Africans", The Times, 4 February 1960, p. 15.
    • Speech to the South African Parliament, 3 February 1960.
  • I'd like that translated, if I may.
    • "Mr Macmillan seeks end to world fear", The Times, 30 September 1960, p. 12.
    • Macmillan's reaction at the United Nations General Assembly when Nikita Khrushchev started shouting and banging his shoe on the desk in protest at something in Macmillan's speech.
  • So there you are – you can see what it is like. The camera's hot, probing eye, these monstrous machines and their attendants – a kind of twentieth century torture chamber, that's what it is. But I must try to forget about that, and imagine that you are sitting here in the room with me.
    • "Call for 'A little extra effort'", The Times, 25 January 1962, p. 6.
    • Opening to Conservative Party political broadcast, 24 January 1962. Macmillan decided to open by showing the television outside broadcast crew who had set up their equipment.
  • So what did they do? They solemnly asked Parliament, not to approve or disapprove, but to 'take note' of our decision. Perhaps some of the older ones among you will remember that popular song: 'She didn't say "Yes", she didn't say "No". She didn't say "stay", she didn't say "go". She wanted to climb, but dreaded to fall, she bided her time and clung to the wall.'
    • "Mr Macmillan Denies Threat to Britain's Sovereignty", The Times, 15 October 1962, p. 6.
    • Speech to the Conservative Party conference, Blackpool, 13 October 1962, having some fun at the expense of the opposition Labour Party.
  • It breaks my heart to see (I can't interfere or do anything at my age) what is happening in our country today - this terrible strike of the best men in the world, who beat the Kaiser's army and beat Hitler's army, and never gave in. Pointless, endless. We can't afford that kind of thing. And then this growing division which the noble Lord who has just spoken mentioned, of a comparatively prosperous south, and an ailing north and midlands. That can't go on.
    • "Great Parliamentary Speeches" CD.
    • Maiden speech in the House of Lords, 13 November 1984.
  • The sale of assets is common with individuals and states when they run into financial difficulties. First, all the Georgian silver goes, and then all that nice furniture that used to be in the saloon. Then the Canalettos go.
    • "Stockton attacks Thatcher policies", The Times, 9 November 1985, p. 1.
    • Speech to the Tory Reform Group, 8 November 1985. Often quoted as "selling off the family silver".
  • When I ventured to criticise, the other day, this 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.

    I know now, I have learnt now from the letters that I have received, that I am quite out of date. Modern economists have decided there is no difference between capital and income. I am not so sure. In my younger days, I and perhaps others of your Lordships had friends, good friends, very good fellows indeed too, who failed to make this distinction. For a few years everything went on very well, and then at last the crash came, and they were forced to retire out to some dingy lodging-house in Boulogne, or if the estate were larger and the trustees more generous, to a decent accommodation at Baden-Baden.

    • Hansard, House of Lords, 5th series, vol. 468, cols. 390-1.
    • Speech in the House of Lords, 14 November 1985.


  • Events dear boy, events.
    • Response to a journalist when asked what is most likely to blow governments off course.


  • Introducing SuperMac.
    • Cartoon by Victor Weisz ("Vicky"), Evening Standard, 6 November 1958.