11 JANUARY 1963, Page 7



WHILE others talk of his possible successors, and his possible successors congratulate him a little sharply on his continuing good health, Mr. Macmillan this week serenely enters his seventh year of office as Prime Minister. Fondly, at these moments, he contemplates the example set by his predecessors and represents himself as 'a stripling of not quite sixty-nine,' compared with Gladstone, who was Prime Minister at eighty-four, or Pa:merston, who died in office at eighty. When the Sunday Times a Year ago asked him whether he was ready for another five years in office, he replied, perhaps too characteristically :

Well, one of the nice things about this country is that it always has an eye for precedents. . .

He has not, so far, reminded us of the precedent set by Walpole.

If Mr. Butler was the dominant influence in the Conservative Party in the peace-time Forties, Mr. Macmillan has been it through most of the Fifties. More than anyone else, more than Mr. Butler himself or Sir Winston Churchill or Sir Anthony Eden, he will be identified with his Party's long and astonishing term of office in the middle of the century of the common man. His personal achievement has been remarkable ietiough, but his party's achievement has been no Less so; and they must, if either is to be under- stood, be considered together.

One must start, then, with the actual position Which Mr. Macmillan has occupied. and now

been, within the Conservative Party. it has oeen, and still is, a position of almost complete ascendancy. Only the other day a Minister (who holds no particular brief for him) described his authority inside his Government as 'supreme'; and the same, as far as one can tell, can be said of his position inside the party in the ,e,_°untrY, amongst prospective candidates, inside Lae party at Westminster and, above all, inside the machine itself. There is no evidence that Mr. Macmillan will, or could, be forced to go until he chooses. ., This may not always seem to be true from the utterances of some of the more articulate (litissidents within the party at Westminster. But mu"

Harry be pointed out that scarcely any of th

e—whether a spoiler by nature. like Sir a.rry Legge-Bourke, or a rejected former Minister, like Mr. Aubrey Jones--carry any real __weight within the Parliamentary Party. They may appear on television—producers like 'con- troy : Suggest performers—but I offer here two l.Iggestive rules: (I) any Conservative MP who appears with any regularity on television is not ?..1 serious weight within his party: and (2) this las doubly true of any Conservative MP who ,,13_13.ears on television when his party is in trouble 42:1 makes anything but loyal party noises. Any avoids who is anyone inside his party b:ids public exhibitions, knows other .ways of vo"c.!lery and will be occupied, anyhow, at il te's during peak-viewing hours, and after- wards at Pratt's. There is no question but that any Prime Min- ister today enjoys a greater ascendancy within his Government than ever before. The prevailing fashion is to suggest that we are moving to- wards a presidential system of government, but this is a view which seems to me misleading (rather than wholly mistaken), and I prefer Mr. John P. Mackintosh's cautious and more ac- curate assessment of the effect of recent changes:

Now the country is governed by the Prime Minister who leads, co-ordinates and maintains a series of ministers all of whom are advised and backed by the Civil Service.

(This may seem to be much the same as a presi- dential system. but there is much more to the presidential system than that which does not.

Spectator, 29.3.1957

and is unlikely ever to, exist here.) What, any- how, is agreed is that any Prime Minister today is bound to be, and to appear, a great deal more than prinuis infer pares.

This was shown dramatically by Mr. Mac- millan's sweeping changes in his Government in July: no previous Prime Minister in peace-time could have carried through such a revolution without defections. On the other hand, allowance must be made for the character of Mr. 'Mac- millan, which enabled him to envisage and carry through such an operation s ruthlessly; and for all the po/itical skill with which, beforehand, he had so arranged things that there was no obvious alternative to himself and, afterwards, there still was no alternative—

And this was scarcely odd, because He'd eaten every one.

There is a danger that the events of July 13 will be taken as proof of the almost unlimited power of a modern Prime Minister. But we will probably approach nearest to the truth if wc say only that Mr. Macmillan has had, during six years. the nerve and skill to push to the limit the opportunities available to a twenti.:th-century Prime Minister.

There are many qualities in the man which have counted in all this: his nervous, as well as his physical, resilience; his ability and willing- ness to play for long-term results (he is playing for them now, with astonishing coolness); his acute understanding of men's strengths and

failings (he often knows their sticking-point better than they do themselves); his exceptional sense of timing (which will probably again be vindi- cated when the effects of July 13 begin to be apparent); and his sixth sense for affairs, as the business of the State used to be called. But there is one thing which has mattered more than the rest: his unremitting attention to the state of his party.

There may not appear to be much public evidence of this. A week after the changes of July 13, he went to explain them to the 1922 'Committee, but stayed only about twenty minutes, and gave as his excuse for leaving so quickly that he had some constituents waiting for him. His meetings with his back-bench sup- porters are, in fact, rare; and he as often as not treats them with a peremptoriness which approaches disdain. This was true, for example, in February of last year, when he met their dis- quiet at the way in which the political situation was developing with a speech of (anyone else would have thought) inappropriate light-hearted- ness.

- It was then that he dismissed the Kuwait exercise with the remarkable phrase: 'We got the men in and we got them out.' But even this was not as impossible as his little joke that the Conservatives should fight the next election under the slogan: 'Conservative Planning Works.' This—at a time when every Conserva- tive MP was spending his weekends trying to justify the pay pause, and the breaches in it, to the country. Indeed, his remark about the pay pause must have seemed equally luckless to his expectant audience: 'Naturally enough, if you have a military line from here to Switzer- land, it will be breached in certain places and positions will be evacuated where there are per- haps less able commanders.'

All of these jaunty observations were made to a private meeting, and they were charac- teristic of much of Mr. Macmillan's private conversation. They may seem, to put it mildly, inadequate, but they have always done exactly what he expected of them. Mr. Macmillan does not trust much to oratory even on the floor of the House or on the platform, and he certainly has no faith in it in smaller gatherings. His personal interventions in meetings like those of the 1922 Committee are intended to produce an effect quite other than excitement or applause. Each of them is in the nature of a visitation, and Mr. Macmillan knows well how to make it and depart, his authority underlined.

But this is all on the surface. It is probably impossible to exaggerate the importance of his friendship with Mr. Edward Heath, who was then Chief Whip, before he became Prime Minister, or his reliance on Mr. Heath, who was still Chief Whip, during his first awkward year in 10 Downing Street. He has no similarly close relationship with Mr. Martin Redmayne, but everyone at Westminster knows that again he has a Chief Whip of unusual skill, persuasive- ness, knowledge and personal loyalty. Mr. Mac-

Millan's personal contacts with members of his party are slight—in July he appointed one of his more prominent Ministers by telephone—but his knowledge of them and their state of mind could Probably not be bettered.

But the real skill lies in his own mind arid in- tuition. He sees politics (and there are far worse ways of seeing them) as affairs which require dis- Posal: men and occasions must be judiciously handled, and everything depends on the correct Judgment of both men and occasions. Mr. Mac- millan has trained himself, over many years, to make his judgments correctly : he calculates, with astonishing accuracy, the weight of a man and the strength of his support. His attachment to history can easily be caricatured, but the conduct of affairs never substantially alters, and neither do the men involved, and Mr. Macmillan reads his history with an eye to precedent and example.

1 here are, as I will argue, disadvantages in this, but it can still be of untold value to a Politician, who has to move so much by guess- work. It increases his sensitivity to occasions and the characters of the individuals about him; It encourages a long vision and the patience Without which political effort is likely to prove futile; it assists him to weigh the chances and Mischances which beset any positive action. A Prime Minister who finds himself being pushed into some rash enterprise can do worse than happen across, say, Burnet' s cbrnments on Montrose and the Royalists in 1643: They were full of undertakings: But when they were pressed to show what concurrence might be depended on, nothing was offered but from the Highlanders: And on this wise men Could not rely.

Indeed. Many a politician (one thinks especially c't Lloyd George between 1918 and 1922) might have been saved from disaster if he had looked as sceptically as this at the• credentials of those offering themselves as allies.

Mr. Macmillan has been helped by the dramatic change in the composition and structure of the Conservative Party since 1939. Even if a Derby threatened to defect today, the leader of the Party would have no cause for alarm; no Alderman Salvidge could ever bring pressure to bear, for or against a policy, by promising or withholding the votes of a county or a city; and even a Cecil can now be shrugged out of the Cabinet and left to occupy himself with the Well, gentlemen, 1 think we fought a good fight. .

Speceatar, 16,10.1939

Monday Club. The centralisation of power within the party, against which Lord Sandwich has protested, certainly assists any party leader. But few men could have ridden his opportunities to such advantage as Mr. Macmillan.

There is, then, the consummate politician still. No one should imagine that he has lost any of his old qualities. To those who see a fair amount of him these days, he gives the impression of having again consulted his house- hold gods and been reassured by them that the aces will be placed up his sleeve in good time. 'It is a long time since he has been so lofty,' one of his colleagues said to me shortly before Christmas. No wonder the Labour Party presses so eagerly for his removal; it knows that he alone can restore the Conservatives' for- tunes and turn the tables on them once more.

But it is, after all, what he has made of his opportunities, of his ascendancy over his party and of his skills which matters, and this is the plane on which I, for one can reach no conclusive judgment. At times, he moves with vision and faultless judgment; at others, he seems impenetrably obtuse. At times, he acts and speaks with a clear sight and great composure; at others, he appears a vulgarian and a confidence trickster. He can elevate political discuSsinn; as can few others; he can also stoop lower than most.

So much of the impression made by a poli- tician depends on his public appearances that it is worth paying some attention to his oratory. Oratory is already a big word for some of his speeches. Mr. Macmillan, in fact, knows that he is not a natural orator, and this is one of the reasons why he deliberately cultivates a style which cannot lead him into irretrievable disaster. This is sensible enough. But the extreme simplifi- cation of the argument which it sometimes in- volves, its reduction to easily handled and easily uttered sentences of Only a single clause, inevit- ably leaves the impression that there may be some simplicity of mind as well as of grammar.

This—taken from a speech given to the National Conference of Young Conservatives on February 25, 1961—is the kind .of thing which occurs again and again whenever he speaks, and which unfortunately sticks in the memory:

Some things are not so good. We must strive to improve them. And what is bad must be eradicated.

Put like that, the effect is almost ludicrous: and it was not Beyond the Fringe or That Was The Week That Was which most successfully parodied this simpleton's language, but Mr. Macmillan himself, -almost a year later, in a tele- vision broadcast;

We have not done badly. We have done quite well even. But we have not done quite well enough. We have just got to make an extra effort now.

In the next sentence, he was talking about the national cake.

Yet Mr. Macmillan is capable, when his in- telligence is engaged, of speaking with con- vincing and even inspired force. His 'wind of change' speech to the South African Parliament could not have been bettered; nor could his re- markable speech to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; or the passage on British in-

volvement in Europe with which he began his speech at Llandudno this year. On these occa- sions he has a quite superb dignify, as if his mind was carrying itself with the right bearing, which still sets him apart from any other British politician.

The contrast in the oratory runs through the man and his policy. But it is best to return six years, to the tasks which confronted him when he succeeded Sir Anthony Eden. His im- mediate tasks were to restore Britain's relations with the . United States and the Common- wealth, to re-unite his own party and restore its morale, and to allow the time for the wounds caused by Suez to heal in the country. No one, though he may admit it only with chagrin, can deny the skill with which he accomplished all four of them in little more than a year.

But there was a more profound task which underlay all these, and only a year ago the Guardian acknowledged his willingness to face it: Future historians will surely see his Prime Ministership as the period when Britain at last awoke from her dreams of grandeur and came to terms with her new role as part of a de- veloping union of Europe. . One lesson of Suez was that Britain can no longer behave as an independent Great Power, except by courtesy of the United States. For a man of

Mr. Macmillan's generation that must have been a painful lesson; but there is little doubt that he learned it.

Soon after he became Prime Minister, indeed, he made a speech in which he pointed the lesson, arguing that Britain had been the strongest power in the world only during a comparatively short (and freakish) period in the nineteenth century: otherwise she had made herself power- ful only by forming alliances and coalitions.

Although he has sometimes dramatically, and then disastrously, ignored it, this has been the keynote of his term of office. He returned to it in the reniarkable passage, arguing the case for British involvement in Europe, which he ad- dressed to the Conservatives at Llandudno this year:

. What we could never rely on was our sheer size. In point of numbers we are and always have been a relatively weak country, not to be matched with the giants of Europe in the old days, nor with the giants of the world now. . . . Alone we should have had but little chance and that is why all through history we have sought allies and sought them well. . . . We were perhaps never so proud as when we stood alone during the last war. But in the end it was the enemy who stood alone and that was why we won..

Few British politicians have ever dealt more 'realistically with the romantic hangover from 1940 which still bedevils most of our attitudes.

His success in pursuing this realistic policy de- pended, first, on the support which he managed to maintain in a party which is, by . temper, resistant to ideas •of Britain's declining power; and, secondly, on the acceptance by the country . as a *hole, without chagrin or hysteria, of its changed position and role. In both, he has been remarkably successful. As the Guardian, again, said a year ago, of his attitude to the Common Market: . . . bearing in mind the party he leads, and the far worse record of the official Opposition, the wonder is that he had the courage to move .so fast.

But the success has not been complete. The Guardian has since then changed its mind about the Common Market—it may • seem unfair to burden Mr.' Macmillan with responsibility for' the Guardian's shallowness of conviction, but it is symptomatic; Mr. Gaitskell talks with ludicrous panache of 'a thousand years of his- tory'; and Lord Hailsham is applauded every time he beats the drum for England. The fault, like the success, has been Mr. Macmillan's.

Few Prime -Ministers—except Peel' and Bald- win—have so set and caught (the process is a. two-way one) the mood of their own times: Mr. Macmillan has a genius, indeed, for appear- ing to embody the spirit of the age. This is the basis of his success, but it also makes it doublY dangerous when he behaves with exactly the pre- tensions which, in his more profound moods, he has sought to eradicate in the nation. •None of these pretensions found a• place in the (for this reason) great speech which he made to the Conservatives at Llandudno. Given the audience, he could have been excused a fling for greatness. He did not make it.

Yet, two months later, he had set off on his personal visits to President de Gaulle and President Kennedy in the same public mood as, in 1959, he set off for Moscow and then, a year later, on the inevitably disastrous exercise 'I'd appreciate it, my dear Macleod, -whatever hap- pens, if you'd undertake to write my biography.'

Spectator, 1.12,1961

of the Summit. It might have been thought that he would have taken the care, before leaving, to explain to the British people that his visits were necessary because Cuba week had dramati- cally revealed the facts of the balance of power in the Western alliance. Instead, and his foolish reply to Mr. Dean Acheson contributed largely to this impression, he gave the appearance of once again wishing to play an exceptional role in the world.

This is, in a way, a tragedy. After the bitter- ness of the collapse of the Summit, after the exclusion of South Africa from the Common- wealth had shown exactly what kind of body it was going to be in future, Mr. Macmillan slowly felt his way to a policy based on a British alliance with the new Europe. It was in these terms –not in terms of the prices of tomatoes and kangaroo meat—that he announced to the House of Commons that Britain would apply for membership of the Common Market. For a year before this decision, his speeches revealed the conflict in his own mind and the painstaking honesty with which he was trying to resolve it. (If you can get used to the language, Mr. Mac- millan's speeches are always revealing, for he cannot, on any serious issue, avoid thinking aloud.) But, again and againi he is tempted by the deceptive notion that Britain's 'special rela- tionships' with the Commonwealth, Europe and the United States give her a special role in the world. The concept of the three circles of power, which he has taken over from Sir Winston Churchill, and frequently elaborated, is instructive only if they are seen as providing the support which 13ritain needs to maintain her independence and influence at all, and not as providing support for her to exercise some special influence. Mr. Macmillan has an acute historical insight: and history, in turn, will count the country fortunate that he led it during the years after Suez. But he can also read the wrong lessons from history, which is the danger of his seductive historical parallels, and the most fallacious lesson of all is that alliances today can give Britain the same kind of power as the grand alliances of the last century.

This could hardly have been demonstrated more clearly than by two almost identical his- torical references which he has made in the past three months. The first comes from the passage in his Llandudno speech, expounding the importance of alliances, some of which I have already quoted: How presumptuous we must have seemed to the great conquerors or rulers of Europe— Philip II, Louis XIV, Napoleon oreven Hitler. • This tiny island, defying their embattled might. And in a sense they were right.

The same conclusion follows: Alone we should have had but little chance, and that is why all through history we have sought allies and sought them well.

Compare this, now, with the reference to the same 'conquerors or rulers of Europe' in his reply to Mr. Dean Acheson, who had fallen into an error which has been made by quite a lot of people in the course of the last 400 years, including Philip of Spain, Louis XIV, Napoleon, the Kaiser and Hitler.

The parallel which, in October, he used to argue the case for alliances has become a plea for Spectator, 10.8.i.+4,2

Britain's special position, special role and special relationships.

. The same sort of conflict can be found in Mr. Macmillan's approach to domestic affairs. He has, as -he has shown again and again in his life, an unusually 'wide-awake social con- science: or, if conscience is too presuming a word, it is • Perhaps better to say that he is acutely sensitive to .the hopes, fears and wants of ordinary people. (There could be no more complete misjudgment of the man than to imagine that he would allow his .Ministers • to languish unnecessarily in taking steps to control :unemployment.) It is, indeed, in his understanding of the 'changing •needs and am- bitions of ordinary people that his political imagination flowers. He talks privately about the growing-points in our society with daring and exciting speculation.

It does not end there. Political observers are still much too inclined to see the Government changes of July 13 only as a series of vindic- -tive personal executions, designed to save Mr. Macmillan's own head. This is not their im- portance. Quite simply, faced with a revolt of his right-wing supporters in the country, Mr. Macmillan deliberately swung his Government far—very far, in Conservative terms-- - to the left. At any time during the past year, Mr. Macmillan could have fished back the revolt- ing Conservative voters into the party by policies which right-wing MPs at Westminster euphemistically describe as 'looking after our • own people.' He has never been tempted to do this. Not one sop of any significance has been given to the suburban, commuting and dormitory votes: instead, they find that the effect of their protest has been to bring into office Ministers who have hardly a shred of sympathy for them.

Whatever else this may be, it is political courage and decency of the highest. order. People ask for principle from politicians. Under the greatest pressure in the country to abandon principle, Mr. Isfacmillan has not merely re- fused to do so, but has reaffirmed it. July 13,

whether it saves his Government or not, will certainly save the Conservative Party. All that is nasty and mean in the electors has been re- sisted—and told to find its home, if it so

• wishes, in a poujadist, Liberal Party. Mr. Macmillan won, back support by the realism and candour of his conversion to the Common Market; he justified it by his steadfastness throughout last year in resisting the demand that the Conservative, Party should retrace the steps it has taken in the past seventeen years.

The conflict lies in his persistence in reading the wants and aspirations of ordinary people only in material terms. (He talks about educa- -tion with a great rgenerosity of mind and nature, but talks abont it only as what people want their „children to ger out of life in the improvement of their material conditions and status.) He seems unable to understand—and in this, as hs often been said, he resembles no one more titan Guizot—that 'Get rich' is, in the end, an unsatisfying— injunction to most People. Even the dissatisfied Voters of Orping- ton might accept the relative decline in their Prosperity and status if they were given some feeling about the purposes for which they are asked to make Their sacrifices.

The two sections whom he tends most to underestimate in this respect are the young and the educated. This is all the more astonishing • because he has personally a great liking for the Young, and enjoys having them round his table at Chelwood" Gate during the weekends, and is as intellectual a Prime Minister as this country has had since Asquith. But these per- sonal sympathies seem to vanish when he acts as a politician. I have, on a previous occasion, tried to explain this. There is in him, I think, an appallingly vulgar, commonplace streak; that would not surprise Bagehot, who expected to find it in all politicians. He can reduce him- self, in a sentence, not just to the level of the tap- room, but to that of the bar at a golf club.

All of this irritates, because the man is capable of so much more than on occasions he permits himself. It is not all his fault. 1 here is some decadent impulse–in British political life these days which seems to make either the lofty, and demanding patriotism of President de Gaulle, Or the compelling intelligence of President Kennedy, out of place. But Mr. Macmillan must know that he cannot again invite the British electors to come on a spree with him: they are 'far too disenchanted, after the past three Years, for that. - The most valuable quality in Mr. Macmillan i' a humane and civilised scepticism. When he allows this to play, he moves faultlessly and, as I have said, with his own dignity. It is when this scepticism tips into cynicism that the rot Starts: and when this cynicism is combined with a pretentiousness about the resources available te° him and the country which he knows to be "Ise, the danger signals are out. I doubt very much whether the Conservative Party could, at the moment, find a better Prime Minister (and I increasingly doubt whether the country can afford Mr. Gaitskell as Prime Minister, be- cause of the suspicion which he now arouses in (./tir European allies). But it would be encourag- tag if sometimes the voice of Balliol could be heard in him above the voice of Eton.