Love him or loathe him

Posted by Helen Monday, December 18, 2006

Few British Prime Ministers evoke such passionate feelings on both sides than Harold Macmillan, 1st Earl of Stockton.

To some he is the hero of one-nation conservatism, the man who had seen the need to take Britain into the Common Market (now the European Union), the Tory toff who, not entirely illogically, believed in the state control of almost every part of British economy, thus, slightly less logically, defeating socialism.

To others, he is part of the British problem. His refusal to understand that "manging socialism better than Labour can" contributed to the crisis that was only partially solved by Thatcher's reforms (which he rather grandly criticized in his famous comments about the family silver).

There is no getting away from the fact that the man was a fascinating character, devious and secretive, fond of his buffoonish pretence and an excellent speaker. Tory Historian can recall a speech he made at the opening of the new History Department in Oxford, his rather doddery diction suddently acquiring strength and crispness when he came to criticizing people he disliked.

The Tory Reform Group has unearthed a recording of Lord Stockton making a speech at the group's 10th anniversary dinner in 1985. Our readers might well enjoy listening to it.

16 comments

  1. f.r. Says:
  2. How much time has to pass before people are judged fairly in their social, economic, historical etc. context ?

    I should imagine Macmillan's reputation has been:

    1. Excellent - during popular, successful career
    2. Poor - end of career, satire, sleaze
    3. Contemptible - during Thatcherite period
    4. Now ?????

    Surely a historian will put him in the context of WWI, the 1930s and WWII.

     
  3. Is it really twenty years since his death? In celebrating the life and contribution of this great Tory figure, we should always remember that his political life was greatly influenced by two events, namely the Great War and the Depression. When we recall Supermac and the "Actor Manager", it is all to easy to forget the young Captain who wounded on the Somme and the often rather lonely figure of the 1930s, haunted by the deprivation he saw in Stockton.

    His clear understanding about Britain's future in Europe and his deep sense of humanity make him a great Tory Prime Minister in my book.

     
  4. But why not in the context of the fifties and sixties, f.r.?

    In particular, of course, Britain's involvement in the European Union has been such a success for all concerned, Robert Buckland. Not to mention his refusal to understand basic economic laws.

    Still, I am glad to see that the theme of my posting has been proved by the two first comments. Many more, I hope.

     
  5. f.r. Says:
  6. I think the EU is a disaster and would leave tomorrow. However, although HM is the first politician I can remember, he is an historical figure. Is it fair to judge him from within an ongoing, bitter political battle about Europe. It must make more sense as Robert Buckland suggests to place him in the context of the Somme etc.

     
  7. I did mention other aspects of his premiership - those reforms that never happened and were left for Thatcher to carry out in a much more painful way.

    While I completely agree that WWI (or the beginning of the new hundred years' war) shaped much of HM's thinking, the apogee of his political activity was in the fifties and sixties. These years cannot be ignored.

     
  8. f.r. Says:
  9. Could Mrs. Thatcher have carried out the necessary economic reforms at all if the post war social reforms were not still in place to act as the safety net during the period of transition.

     
  10. There are plenty of Tories like me TH who still believe that Britian's membership of the EU is essential and that arguments about withdrawal are as arcane as female suffrage, so MacMillan is a visionary in my eyes.

    f.r. is quite right in seeking a judgement on HM that is in its proper historical context. The country was not ready for Thatcherite reform in the fifties and sixties - we were only slowly moving away from the rampant statism of the Attlee years. It is highly likely that a Tory party offering a wholesale reversal of the 45-51 approach would never have been elected, and that we would have had more years of increasing state control under Attlee or Gaitskell in the fifties.

     
  11. And that, dear Robert Buckland, is why the party you hope to represent is on a hiding to nothing. As a PPS you might like to have a look at what the EU is really and what the arguments about it are, instead of pronouncing fatuousely. By the way, you might like to look up what arcane means as well.

     
  12. If you want to be rude, then please learn how to spell "fatuously" first. I accept that opponents of Britain's membership of the EU would say that their arguments are clear and well understood, but I meant precisely what I said. I am sorry to have upset you TH, but you did anticipate a lively debate.

     
  13. Yup, sorry about the misspelling. But, at least, it is the right word. Whereas, I still don't think arcane is what you really meant. But then, who can tell? And what on earth makes you think you upset me? I am used to this sort of stuff from PPCs and thought you might like a response. My bad, as they say over the Pond. You clearly just want to hold forth.

     
  14. John Barnes Says:
  15. At least harold Macmillan told the truth over Europe which is more than can be said for the other harold in 1975 - and of course the Europe he wanted was Gaullist in nature. n whether he was right, I tend to think it is still too early to say. But the debate goes beyond Europe. Macmillan was a protectionist in the '30s and evolved into a full blown corporatist, hence the policies post 1961. Because in the hands of his successor they failed, we tend to think they could not have succeeded, and longer term I think that is always likely to be the case. But short term they came very close to accelearting our growth rate to levels that would make Gordon Brown green with envy. I tried to sketch an alternative scenario to what really happened in one of Iain's alternativ histories and if the Conservatives had won in 1964, which was certainly on, Macmillan might have had a very different reputation. Nor can one ignore the relatively smooth disengagment from the African Empire - not good for Africa, but inevitable in the context of the time and done without the dramas that might have accompanied. here Larry Siedentop's verdict still rings true. There is room for a fresh and much more critical look than the orne biography, but I suspect taht it will still give Macmillan many more credits than he enjoys at present.

     
  16. Perhaps it was his fear of less growth that made him reject Thorneycroft's proposals in 57/58? Haunted by the Depression? What if he had accepted the Thorneycroft/Powell/Birch position?

     
  17. John Barnes Says:
  18. Surely the fear in 1957/8 was that too sharp an attack on welfare programmes might lead to pressure for higher wages. Macmillan was not a monetarist, but keynesian in his economics.

     
  19. I think you're right. The TUC had expressed fierce opposition to any wage restraint, so the expenditure cuts would have been difficult politically.

    I agree that he was never a monetarist, but to be fair to HM, in his "never had it so good" speech, he referred to the problem of high prices and to the control of inflation.

    Another study would be very welcome - do you have the time, John?

     
  20. John Barnes Says:
  21. You do not have to be a monetarist to be against inflation, Robert. More interesting I suspect is that Macmillan genuinelythought you could disinflate the economy once and for all and then build expansion on the back of that policy.

     
  22. HM Stanley Says:
  23. My own favorite quote of HM's is the wrly/benignly anti-semitic toffish..."there are more Estonians than Etonians" in Mrs. T's cabinet...

     
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