British Conservative politician, prime minister 1957–63; foreign secretary 1955 and chancellor of the Exchequer 1955–57. In 1963 he attempted to negotiate British entry into the European Economic Community (EEC), but was blocked by the French president Charles de Gaulle. Much of his career as prime minister was spent defending the UK's retention of a nuclear weapon, and he was responsible for the purchase of US Polaris missiles in 1962.
Macmillan was MP for Stockton 1924–29 and 1931–45, and for Bromley 1945–64. As minister of housing 1951–54 he achieved the construction of 300,000 new houses a year. He became prime minister on the resignation of Anthony Eden after the Suez Crisis, and led the Conservative Party to victory in the 1959 elections on the slogan ‘You've never had it so good’ (the phrase was borrowed from a US election campaign). Internationally, his realization of the ‘wind of change’ in Africa advanced the independence of former colonies. Macmillan's nickname Supermac was coined by the cartoonist Vicky.
Macmillan, a member of a family of publishers, was born in London and educated at Eton public school and Oxford University; he served with distinction in World War I. He entered Parliament as a Unionist in 1924. During the interwar years, he was one of the severest critics of his party leaders' foreign appeasement policy, and in 1936 he voted against the National Government's decision to abandon the sanctions towards Italy that its aggressive Ethiopian policy had prompted. Macmillan was also interested in social reform, his views being generally in advance of his party at the time. He set out his ideas on combating poverty in The Middle Way (1938).
He was parliamentary undersecretary at the ministry of supply from 1940 to 1942, when he became parliamentary undersecretary for the colonies. Later that same year he was made minister resident at Allied headquarters in northwestern Africa, a position he held until 1945, when he became a conspicuous member of the Conservative opposition. When the Conservatives returned to power in 1951, he was appointed minister of housing and local government. He was minister of defence 1954–55, and then became foreign secretary. He held this post only until December 1955, when he was appointed chancellor of the Exchequer in succession to R A Butler. His 1956 budget, although intended to rectify the unstable economic situation at that time, was popularly remembered for the introduction of Premium Savings Bonds.
When Eden resigned the premiership in January 1957, Macmillan was appointed his successor in preference to the more senior Butler. However, his party's division over the Suez issue combined with inflationary pressures to cause domestic discontent. Between taking office and the general election of 1959, Macmillan made a highly successful Commonwealth tour and also visited Moscow and Washington, DC, becoming an influential figure in world politics.
Meanwhile, in the UK, tax reductions and industrial expansion pushed inflation into the background. Macmillan fought the 1959 election on the theme of belief in an affluent society, and actually increased the Conservative majority. However, his government suffered a subsequent series of setbacks: in 1961 the ‘wages pause’, an early attempt to control pay rises, caused bitterness but failed to halt inflation; Britain's failure to enter the EEC left the government in a virtual policy vacuum; and the Profumo scandal of June 1963 almost brought the government down. In October 1963 Macmillan was forced to resign through ill health and was succeeded by Alec Douglas-Home. He remained in the Commons until the general election of October 1964, when he announced his retirement from politics. He became chancellor of Oxford University in 1960.
Macmillan, (Maurice) Harold
1894-1986 British statesman, prime minister (1957-63). Macmillan became a Conservative MP in 1924. He held a succession of cabinet posts,...
Subject: administration Area: UK In the ‘Night of Long Knives’, the British prime minister Harold Macmillan dismisses seven of his cabinet, includi
Born in India, where his father was a member of the Indian Civil Service, he obtained first class honours in history and...