Harold Macmillan

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Harold Macmillan, 1960

Maurice Harold Macmillan, 1st Earl of Stockton OM PC (10 February 189429 December 1986) was a British Conservative politician and publisher who served six years as Prime Minister (1957–1963). As Prime Minister, he worked to decolonize the British Empire in Africa and repair United Kingdom–United States relations after the Suez Crisis. He also led the Conservative Party to accept the post-war consensus of Keynesian economics and the welfare state. However, he was forced to resign by the Profumo affair and France's veto of British entry into the European Economic Community.


First World War[edit]

  • Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about a modern battlefield is the desolation and emptiness of it all... One cannot emphasise this point too much. Nothing is to be seen of war or soldiers—only the split and shattered trees and the burst of an occasional shell reveal anything of the truth. One can look for miles and see no human being. But in those miles of country lurk (like moles or rats, it seems) thousands, even hundreds of thousands of men, planning against each other perpetually some new device of death. Never showing themselves, they launch at each other bullet, bomb, aerial torpedo, and shell. And somewhere too (on the German side we know of their existence opposite us) are the little cylinders of gas, waiting only for the moment to spit forth their nauseous and destroying fumes. And yet the landscape shows nothing of all this—nothing but a few shattered trees and 3 or 4 lines of earth and sandbags; these and the ruins of towns and villages are the only signs of war anywhere visible. The glamour of red coats—the martial tunes of flag and drum—aide-de-camps scurrying hither and thither on splendid chargers—lances glittering and swords flashing—how different the old wars must have been.
    • Letter to his mother (13 May 1916), quoted in Harold Macmillan, Winds of Change, 1914–1939 (1966), pp. 82-83
  • We need not so much the gallantry of our fathers; we need (and in our army at any rate I think you will find it) that indomitable and patient determination which has saved England over and over again. If any one at home thinks or talks of peace, you can truthfully say that the army is weary enough of war but prepared to fight for another 50 years if necessary, until the final object is attained.
    • Letter to his mother (13 May 1916), quoted in Harold Macmillan, Winds of Change, 1914–1939 (1966), p. 83

Backbench MP[edit]

  • The only answer to Socialism was to build up by every means a property-owning democracy. Socialism promised to build up a great pauper State by its schemes for State relief, nationalization and doles, while the Conservative Party promised to build up a great property-owning, thrifty, and industrious State.
    • Speech ('The Future of Conservatism') to the 1912 Club (16 February 1926), quoted in The Times (18 February 1926), p. 9
  • In the course of some ninety years, the wheel has certainly turned full circle. The Protectionist case, which seemed to most of our fathers and grandfathers so outrageous, even so wicked, has been re-stated and carried to victory. Free Trade, which was almost like a sacred dogma, is in its turn rejected and despised... [M]any acute and energetic minds in the ’forties “looked to the end.” They foresaw what seemed beyond the vision of their rivals—that after the period of expansion would come the period of over-production... [Disraeli] perceived only too clearly the danger of sacrificing everything to speed. Had he lived now, he would not have been surprised. The development of the world on competitive rather than on complementary lines; the growth of economic nationalism; the problems involved in the increasing productivity of labour, both industrial and agricultural; the absence of any new and rapidly developing area offering sufficient attractive opportunities for investment; finally, the heavy ensuing burden of unemployment, in every part of the world—all these phenomena, so constantly in our minds as part of the conditions of crisis, would have seemed to the men of Manchester nothing but a hideous nightmare. Disraeli would have understood them. I think he would have expected them.
    • ‘Preface’ to Derek Walker-Smith, The Protectionist Case in the 1840s (1933), pp. vii-viii
  • 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.
    • Letter resigning the Government whip (29 June 1936), quoted in "Mr H. Macmillan M.P.", The Times (8 July 1936), p. 8
  • It is not enough to deplore and condemn the political excesses and the economic inadequacies of the totalitarian states. We must prove that democracy can do better.
    • The Middle Way (1938), quoted in SuperMac: The Life of Harold Macmillan p. 119

Chancellor of the Exchequer[edit]

  • I cannot forget the twenty-five years when I sat for a Tees-side constituency. I cannot forget those terrible times when some 17,000 out of 25,000 able-bodied men in my constituency walked the streets looking for jobs.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (20 February 1956)
  • Forever poised between a cliché and an indiscretion.
    • Macmillan's description of the role of the Foreign Secretary, a job he held in 1955, quoted in Newsweek (30 April 1956)
  • [Macmillan] said that another round of wage increases such as there had been in the past two years could be disastrous... Such increases would not bring any benefit to anyone. They would only benefit men in a particular industry if they were the only ones to get them. But they would not be. If one industry started, others would follow. No one would gain anything, except more and more paper money, which would buy less and less.
    • Speech in Newcastle (25 May 1956), quoted in The Times (26 May 1956), p. 6
  • We must export to get necessities. We could not produce more than perhaps half our food. We had no raw materials, except coal and iron. Now we were importing both. We were even bringing coals to Newcastle, at least figuratively. All these imports must be paid for by exports... At first our main competitors—Germany and Japan—were out of the race. Now they were coming along very fast. We must not relax; on the contrary, we must make even greater efforts.
    • Speech in Newcastle (25 May 1956), quoted in The Times (26 May 1956), p. 6

Prime Minister[edit]

  • The masses now took prosperity for granted... The country simply did not realize that we were living beyond our income, and would have to pay for it sooner or later.
    • Letter to Nigel Nicolson (26 June 1957), quoted in Alistair Horne, Harold Macmillan, Volume II: 1957–1986 (London: Macmillan, 1989), p. 64
  • Indeed, let us be frank about it. Most of our people have never had it so good. Go around the country, go to the industrial towns, go to the farms, and you will see a state of prosperity such as we have never had in my life time—nor indeed ever in the history of this country. What is beginning to worry some of us is, is it too good to be true?—or perhaps I should say, is it too good to last? ... Our constant concern to-day is, can prices be steadied while at the same time we maintain full employment in an expanding economy? Can we control inflation? This is the problem of our time.
    • Speech at Bedford (20 July 1957), quoted in "More production 'the only answer' to inflation", The Times (22 July 1957), p. 4
  • If inflation priced us out of world markets we should be back in the old nightmare of unemployment. What folly to risk throwing away all that we have gained... Our first duty at a time when there is more money about than goods to spend it on is to keep down Government expenditure... The second duty of the Government is to frame policies which encourage saving and discourage spending... [I]n the long run there is only one answer to the 64,000 dollar question—to increase production. That is the answer. That is where the real hope lies.
    • Speech at Bedford (20 July 1957), quoted in "More production 'the only answer' to inflation", The Times (22 July 1957), p. 4
  • 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.
    • Statement to the press at Heathrow Airport (7 January 1958), quoted in "Mr Macmillan sets out", The Times (8 January 1958), p. 8
    • Macmillan was refusing to postpone a Commonwealth tour despite the resignation of the entire Treasury team of ministers.
  • I rather enjoy patronage. I take a lot of trouble over it. At least it makes all those years of reading Trollope seem worthwhile.
    • Speech in Oxford (June 1959), quoted in D. R. Thorpe, Supermac: The Life of Harold Macmillan (2010), p. 507
  • Nonsense, there are no clubs around Victoria.
    • Reacting to the charge that state secrets were being sold in clubs around Victoria, quoted in Strange Days: Cold War Britain
  • 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. Our national policies must take account of it. This means, I would judge, that we must come to terms with it. I sincerely believe that if we cannot do so we may imperil the precarious balance between East and West on which the peace of the world depends.
  • I'd like that translated, if I may.
    • 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, quoted in "Mr Macmillan seeks end to world fear", The Times (30 September 1960), p. 12
  • 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.
    • Opening to Conservative Party political broadcast (24 January 1962), quoted in "Call for 'A little extra effort'", The Times (25 January 1962), p. 6
    • 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.'
    • Speech to the Conservative Party Conference in Blackpool, having some fun at the expense of the opposition Labour Party (13 October 1962), quoted in "Mr Macmillan Denies Threat to Britain's Sovereignty", The Times (15 October 1962), p. 6
  • It's a good thing to be laughed at. It's better than to be ignored.
    • In a handwritten note to the Postmaster General, who wanted to take action against "That Was The Week That Was", a satirical program.
    • Taken from letters-of-note.com

Later life[edit]

  • Best of all was the summer term of 1914, more than two years before greats (the final school) had to be faced; a term, therefore, devoted almost wholly to enjoyment. It was, as so often again in a year of dramatic events, a perfect English summer. Oxford, not yet an industrial town or crowded with the buildings which science has brought in its train, was hardly changed from the Oxford of past centuries. The only concession to modernity (apart from the railway, which was some way from the town) were the trams. But these were horse-drawn. All that summer we punted on the river, bathed, sat in the quad, dined and argued with our friends, debated in the Union, danced at the Commemoration Balls.
    • Winds of Change, 1914–1939 (1966), p. 45
  • So I approach the date on which my story of the Fifty Years Revolution begins. The old world ended, with its strange mixture of beauty and ugliness, happiness and sorrow, good and evil—so much to be proud of; so much, looking back, of which perhaps to be ashamed. Yet the most rabid radical or the most caustic critic of the Britain that had fought and won a twenty-year battle for freedom a century before, that for a hundred years had helped to keep the peace of the world, and spread civilisation to its distant corners, cannot but feel that if, in this sequence of rapid change, much has been gained, something, too, has been lost.
    • Winds of Change, 1914–1939 (1966), p. 46
  • Of one thing I was glad. It was not an election fought on "Tranquillity"; it was an election fought upon a positive plan—protection against cheap industrial imports threatening British wage standards and jobs. Baldwin's message was easy to explain to those already unemployed or in fear of unemployment. Cheap imports were beginning to flood into the country, even of billets and bars, still more of manufactured iron and steel products. Surely we needed a tariff, if only for bargaining with other countries. Thus it was not difficult to preach protection with sincerity. I felt all the time that our policy attracted many trade unionists who would only not vote for us because of pressure or a false sense of solidarity. After all, before the rise of the Labour Party, the working class had traditionally been Tory; the tradesmen, the shopkeepers, and the middle classes had generally been Liberal... Meanwhile, the memory of massive unemployment began to haunt me then and for many years to come.
    • Winds of Change, 1914–1939 (1966), p. 146
  • The introduction after the First War by Lloyd George's Government of a national system of unemployment relief, however circumscribed by various rules and conditions, undoubtedly saved us from something like revolution when the Great Depression came.
    • Winds of Change, 1914–1939 (1966), p. 161
  • In later years I was to find economists and newspaper editors arguing against the principle of full employment, to which after the Second War all political parties attached so much importance. While I recognise the dangers of "over-employment", I have little sympathy with those who, writing from pleasant suburban retreats or comfortable editorial chairs, dilate upon the disciplinary values of pre-war conditions. It was my fate to live with the problems of heavy unemployment for fifteen years. They were not substantially eased by any conscious effort either in the industrial or economic field. Rearmament under Hitler's pressure and ultimately under war brought their own grim solution.
    • Winds of Change, 1914–1939 (1966), p. 162
  • The events of 1931 had struck a formidable blow to the hopes of a return to the pre-1914 "normalcy". Of course we had all known that there must be great changes resulting from the war: changes in economic and financial methods; still more, changes in concepts of social justice. But up to 1931 there was no reason to suppose that these would not, or could not, follow the same evolutionary pattern which had resulted from the increased creation and distribution of wealth throughout the nineteenth century. We had only to remove the hindrances to trade artificially created by the war and its aftermath. The rest would follow. Now, after 1931, many of us felt that the disease was more deep-rooted. It had become evident that the structure of capitalist society in its old form had broken down, not only in Britain but all over Europe and even in the United States. The whole system, therefore, had to be reassessed. Perhaps it could not survive at all; it certainly could not survive without radical change... [I]n the thirties, something like a revolutionary situation had developed, not only at home but overseas.
    • Winds of Change, 1914–1939 (1966), p. 283
  • British opinion was sadly confused. Throughout all these years, until just before the catastrophe, British people refused even to consider the possibility of another war. The last war had been so terrible in its devastations that it was "unthinkable" that this degrading and humiliating internecine strife between civilised countries could be repeated. War was not only intolerable, it was incredible. After all, the German people, whom our occupying troops had found to be decent and respectable folk, had not really wanted war. It was just the Kaiser and the militarists. We forgot, alas, how easily the Germans have succumbed to such leadership throughout history, and how readily they have applauded wars, so long as they were—as under Bismarck's guidance—short and successful.
    • Winds of Change, 1914–1939 (1966), pp. 384-385
  • It is no doubt true that you cannot "draw an indictment against a whole people". Yet the story of Prussian policy through many generations is dark indeed. "Prussia's whole policy", declared Metternich, "consisted in the enlargement of her territory and the extension of her influence; to attain it, she was willing to adopt any manner of means and pass over the law of nations and the universal principles of morality." What Frederick the Great began was followed by his successors at the end of the century, and continued by Bismarck. It inspired the Kaiser and his advisers in 1914. It was soon to be surpassed in cynicism and crime by Hitler.
    • Winds of Change, 1914–1939 (1966), p. 388
  • 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.
    • Maiden speech in the House of Lords on the miners' strike (13 November 1984), "Great Parliamentary Speeches" CD
  • I have long realised that the great figures in my old party have long ago given up Toryism and have adopted Manchester Liberalism of about 1860.
    • Speech in the House of Lords (23 January 1985)
  • It is very common with individuals or estates when they run into financial difficulties, to find that they have to sell some of their assets. First, the Georgian silver goes, then all that nice furniture that used to be in the saloon. Then the Canalettos go.
    • Speech to the Tory Reform Group (8 November 1985), quoted in "Stockton attacks Thatcher policies", The Times (9 November 1985), p. 1
    • 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.

    • Speech in the House of Lords (14 November 1985), quoted in Hansard, House of Lords, 5th series, vol. 468, cols. 390-1
  • What I do not see is the argument...that we ought somehow to go on a quite different issue, a purely economic issue, to this new extreme which seems, greatly to my regret, to have inspired part of my party. There are no longer the principles of Lord Shaftesbury, Mr. Disraeli or Mr. Churchill. We are reverting to a form of neo-Cobdenism based upon the worst elements of the Manchester school, supported by aphorisms that would have done honour to that popular writer, Dr. Samuel Smiles. The paternalist elements and traditions of the Tory Party that come from its very roots are now unpopular. We are making a great error. It is because the people as a whole trusted those whom they regarded as their natural leaders to help them, support them and protect them that we have had the great authority in the past in our country.
    • Speech in the House of Lords on the Shops Bill that would have liberalised government regulation of Sunday shopping in England and Wales (21 January 1986)


  • Events, dear boy, events.
    • Response to a journalist when asked what is most likely to blow governments off course.
    • The quote is also given as "Events, my dear boy, events", with the word "my", but it may never have been uttered at all.
      • Knowles, Elizabeth M. (2006). What they didn't say: a book of misquotations. Oxford University Press. pp. vi, 33. 

Quotes about Macmillan[edit]

  • Macmillan was himself very much of the small 'l' liberal wing of the Conservative party, a loyal creature of the so-called "post-war consensus", an appeaser by deepest instinct, especially in matters of industrial conflict. His political speciality as Prime Minister (and one emulated by his Labour successor, Harold Wilson) would be to dose the populace with a comforting mixture of warm opium and treacle rather than dunk them in a cold but invigorating bath. Safe in his hands, therefore, would be the "managed economy", cosily complete with exchange controls and Exchequer-inflated, union-empowering "full employment". Safe too would be the welfare state, though ever more greedy in its demands on the taxpayer, ever more corrupting in its encouragement of dependency. In 1957, after all, a general election was in the offing, and Macmillan was the last man at such a time to snatch the warm teat of state maternalism out of a sucking voter's mouth.
    • Correlli Barnett, The Verdict of Peace: Britain Between Her Yesterday and the Future (2001), p. 515
  • I have listened to Harold Macmillan in the House of Commons many times and, however much I may have disagreed, I could never deny that throughout his life he has been consistent in his detestation of unemployment and in his belief that government has a major role to play in solving this human problem.
  • During the 1980s the most effective opposition to the principle of privatisation in fact came not from the Labour party, whose defence of the public sector seemed merely a reflex function of its backward-looking dependence on the trade unions, but from her [Margaret Thatcher's] own side. A single phrase in a characteristically nostalgic speech by Harold Macmillan did more damage to the idea of privatisation than all the outraged anathemas of Neil Kinnock and Roy Hattersley. Speaking to the Tory Reform Group at the Carlton Club in November 1985, the former Prime Minister was said to have likened privatisation to a once-wealthy family fallen on hard times "selling the family silver". In fact, as is so often the case with famous phrases, Macmillan never used the words reported. What he actually said was: "First the Georgian silver goes. And then all that nice furniture that used to be in the saloon. Then the Canalettos go..." Despite the remoteness from most voters' experience of the aristocratic world he conjured up, Macmillan's words touched a cord. Quite ordinary families have some inherited "family silver", little used but which they do not like to sell. The image of minsters like a lot of dodgy house-strippers, knocking down the nation's heirlooms at a cost well below their true worth subtly undermined Mrs Thatcher's carefully created reputation for thrifty housekeeping. In vain the Government's supporters retorted that the industries being sold off were not assets at all, but liabilities which the Treasury was well rid of.
    • John Campbell, Margaret Thatcher, Volume Two: The Iron Lady (2003), p. 240
  • The two greatest men of our time – you and Jack. How marvellous you were with him...he always kept in his office a picture of you.
    • Jacqueline Kennedy to Macmillan (31 January 1964), quoted in D. R. Thorpe, Supermac: The Life of Harold Macmillan (2010), p. 586
  • He represented a generation of Tories who recognized duty and pursued the objective of one nation.
    • Neil Kinnock, The Independent (30 December 1986), quoted in Stephen Evans, 'Thatcher and the Victorians: A Suitable Case for Comparison?', History, Vol. 82, No. 268 (October 1997), p. 610
  • This divide between the American and British attitudes to diplomacy was not absolute, of course. Diplomats on both sides were skeptical about letting their leaders loose at the summit, and not all Americans believed that dialogue with the Soviets was pointless. But Republican exploitation of the Cold War and of the Yalta myths made it particularly difficult for U.S. policymakers to show much flexibility in the 1950s, whatever their inclinations. Consequently the initiative for summitry tended to come from Europe. On the Western side in the late 1950s it was Harold Macmillan, the British prime minister, who made the run for a summit— rather surprisingly, it might seem, considering his past. In 1938 he had been one of the few Tory opponents of Munich. He felt Yalta had been “a failure and a disaster” because “in an atmosphere of fervid rush and hurry, vast decisions were reached in a few crowded days.” And he noted in his diary in February 1957, weeks after taking office: “I am said to have lost touch with public opinion in England because I have not already set out for Moscow to see Khrushchev. All this is pure Chamberlainism. It is raining umbrellas.” But, as Churchill once observed, “how much more attractive a top-level meeting seems when one has reached the top!” Once into his stride as premier, Macmillan saw the political benefits of summitry and in February 1959 he contrived a personal visit to Moscow. Politically the trip was a great success, helping Macmillan win an election by a landslide later that year. But Britain, like France, was no longer a serious presence at the top table. The real momentum for a summit in the late 1950s came not from Western capitals but from the Kremlin.
    • David Reynolds, Summits: Six Meetings That Changed the World (2007), p. 168-169
  • I know the PM personally (he has been my publisher for twenty years) and think that I know his character. I know him as a gay, cavalier figure, ready for battle, fond of life and an occasional skirmish, and, above all, a rebel: a rebel against the Establishment. He was a rebel in the Tory party in the 1930s, and, in a sense, he is a rebel still. In this sense he is very like Winston Churchill, whom he greatly admires. Throughout his career, as throughout Winston's, the official Tory party has been against him, or at least (even when, ultimately, accepting him as its leader) has distrusted him. This is one reason why I admire him. He is in the great tradition of Disraeli and Winston as opposed to that other tradition of Bonar Law and Baldwin – men who, by their mediocrity, really represented instead of commanding the dull, impersonal, conventional, respectable forces of the Establishment.
    • Hugh Trevor-Roper to Wallace Notestein (23 March 1960), quoted in Letters from Oxford: Hugh Trevor-Roper to Bernard Berenson, ed. Richard Davenport-Hines (2006; 2007), p. 297
  • Introducing SuperMac.
    • Cartoon by Victor Weisz ("Vicky"), Evening Standard (6 November 1958)

External links[edit]

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