No, not Hitler's but Macmillan's whose fiftieth anniversary we remembered yesterday. A couple of days ago the Conservative History Group was addressed by the man who knows absolutely everything about that day, the historian D. R. Thorpe, author of a trilogy or prime ministerial biographies, Eden, Macmillan and Douglas-Home as well as that of Selwyn Lloyd, the Chancellor of the Exchequer who was, in some ways, the cause of it all.

As an amusing incidental point, it needs to be mentioned that Supermac won the Orwell Prize last year. What would George Orwell have made of that?

Richard Thorpe's knowledge of the events of that evening 50 years ago is such that he thinks it would be his special subject on Mastermind, should such an event occur in his life. Most of his knowledge is there in the books he has written but one or two interesting points can be made on the basis of his talk.

The roots of that night, he said, lay in the William Wallace case of 1931, the first in legal history when a conviction for murder was overturned on appeal. It was largely because of that case that Selwyn Lloyd, then a young lawyer, became a fervent abolitionist and, subsequently, joined Sidney Silverman's campaign against capital punishment. It also meant that under Macmillan he could take any job but that of Home Secretary, as he explained to the Prime Minister. So, when Macmillan decided, probably erroneously, in 1962 in the wake of disastrous by-election results, to get rid of his "sound money" Chancellor of the Exchequer, Selwyn Lloyd and put in an expansionist one, Reginald Maudling, he had a problem on his hands. Selwyn Lloyd had been Foreign Secretary under Eden and, briefly, under Macmillan so the Home Office would have been the obvious place to move him to but that could not be done. What to do?

Macmillan's answer was to offer the man a peerage (though not the Lord Chancellorship as he did not think Selwyn Lloyd was a notable enough lawyer, an ironic idea given subsequent developments) and the chairmanship of Martin's Bank. Whether the latter was in the Prime Minister's gift is unclear and it was never tested as both offers were refused and Selwyn Lloyd retired to the back benches, to the applause of all.

However, Macmillan found that he had to bring the reshuffle forward by some months because of RAB Butler's deliberate indiscretion to a friendly journalist and also he extended it in order not to make it seem like a simple sacking of the Chancellor. Seven Cabinet Ministers were sacked and thirty-nine posts were affected. All in all fifty-two people were moved around and a great deal of bitterness trailed the Prime Minister thereafter. And RAB Butler lost the slender chance he might have had of succeeding as leader of the party. But then, in my opinion, he did not have what it takes to be a Prime Minister.

One final thought: it is extraordinary how potent satire is. My own image of Selwyn Lloyd has always been the bumbling fool portrayed by John Wells. It was salutary to find out that he was a man of principle and strong convictions as well as one of the better Chancellors this country has ever had.


  1. Thanks for this Helen. Very much wanted to attend the CHG evening but had another meeting at same time. Good to get a "flavour" as idiot BBC presenters say of the talk.

  2. Helen Says:
  3. I assumed there must have been a very good reason for your absence, Tricia. It was excellent.

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