Harold Macmillan

British politician and Prime Minister (1894–1986)

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).

Harold Macmillan, 1960


First World WarEdit

  • Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about a modern battlefield is the desolation and emptiness of it all...one cannot emphasize 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 three or four 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)

Backbench MPEdit

  • 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
  • America is “the new Roman empire and we Britons, like the Greeks of old, must teach them how to make it go.”

Chancellor of the ExchequerEdit

  • 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 MinisterEdit

  • 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.
  • 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 lifeEdit

  • Up to 1931 there was no reason to suppose that social changes would not, or could not, follow the same evolutionary pattern which had resulted from the increased creation and distribution of wealth during the nineteenth century. 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 had to be reassessed. Perhaps it could not survive at all; it certainly could not survive without radical change. Something like a revolutionary situation had developed, not only at home but overseas.
    • Harold Macmillan (1966) Winds of change, 1914-1939. p. 266 as cited in Brian Vickery (2005) "Coming of age in the 1930s" (online at archive.org)
  • 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 (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 (21 January 1986) on the Shops Bill that would have liberalised government regulation of Sunday shopping in England and Wales


  • 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 MacmillanEdit

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

External linksEdit

Wikipedia has an article about: