Facts and Events
Nicknamed "Supermac" and known for his pragmatism, wit and unflappability, Macmillan achieved note before the Second World War as a Tory radical and critic of appeasement. As a child, young teenager and later young man, he was an admirer of the policies and leadership of a succession of Liberal Prime Ministers, starting with Henry Campbell-Bannerman, who came to power near the end of 1905 when Macmillan was only 11 years old, and then H. H. Asquith, whom he later described as having "intellectual sincerity and moral nobility", and particularly of Asquith's successor, David Lloyd George, whom he regarded as a "man of action", likely to accomplish his goals.
Volunteering for active service in the First World War, Macmillan joined the Grenadier Guards and fought on the front lines in France, where the casualty rate was known to be high, as was the probability of an "early and violent death". The then-Prime Minister Asquith's own son, Raymond Asquith, was a fellow officer, and was killed in September 1916 in the Battle of Flers–Courcelette. Shot in the hand and receiving a glancing bullet wound to the head in the Battle of Loos in September 1915, Macmillan was sent to Lennox Gardens in England for hospital treatment, then joined a reserve batallion at Chelsea Barracks from January to March 1916, until his hand had healed. He then returned to the front lines in France. Leading an advance platoon in the Battle of the Somme in September 1916, he was severely wounded, suffering pain and partial immobility for the rest of his life.
After recovering sufficiently from his war wounds to be able to walk again, Macmillan joined his family business, then entered Parliament in the 1924 General Election, for the northern industrial constituency of Stockton-on-Tees. After losing his seat in 1929, he regained it in 1931, soon after which he spoke out against the high rate of unemployment in Stockton-on-Tees. However, he remained on the backbenches, as he was regarded as a "maverick" by the party whips, as he was frequently unwilling to follow his party's political line. He was even described by his political hero, and now Parliamentary colleague, the wartime Prime Minister David Lloyd-George, as a "born rebel".
Rising to high office as a protégé of wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Macmillan believed in the post-war settlement and the necessity of a mixed economy, and in his premiership pursued corporatist policies to develop the domestic market as the engine of growth. During his time as prime minister, average living standards steadily rose while numerous social reforms were carried out such as the 1956 Clean Air Act, the 1957 Housing Act, the 1960 Offices Act, the 1960 Noise Abatement Act, the Factories Act 1961, the introduction of a graduated pension scheme to provide an additional income to retirers, the establishment of a Child's Special Allowance for the orphaned children of divorced parents, and a reduction in the standard work week from 48 to 42 hours.
As a One Nation Tory of the Disraelian tradition, haunted by memories of the Great Depression, he championed a Keynesian strategy of public investment to maintain demand, winning a second term in 1959 with an increased majority on an electioneering budget. Benefiting from favourable international conditions, he presided over an age of affluence, marked by low unemployment and high if uneven growth. In his Bedford speech in July 1957 he told the nation they had 'never had it so good', but warned of the dangers of inflation, summing up the fragile prosperity of the 1950s.
In international affairs, Macmillan rebuilt the special relationship with the United States from the wreckage of the Suez Crisis (of which he had been one of the architects), and redrew the world map by decolonising sub-Saharan Africa. Reconfiguring the nation's defences to meet the realities of the nuclear age, he ended National Service, strengthened the nuclear forces by acquiring Polaris, and pioneered the Nuclear Test Ban with the United States and the Soviet Union. Belatedly recognising the dangers of strategic dependence, he sought a new role for Britain in Europe, but his unwillingness to disclose United States nuclear secrets to France contributed to a French veto of the United Kingdom's entry into the European Economic Community.
Near the end of his premiership, his government was rocked by the Vassall and Profumo scandals, which seemed to symbolise for the rebellious youth of the 1960s the moral decay of the British establishment. Resigning prematurely after a medical misdiagnosis, Macmillan lived out a long retirement as an elder statesman of global stature. He was as trenchant a critic of his successors in his old age as he had been of his predecessors in his youth.