British Prime Minister – Harold MacMillan

British Prime Minister - Harold MacMillan

British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan represented the archetypal centrist conservative. He opposed state socialism and supported the market-based economy but he believed in the safety net of the welfare state and in public health and education as a means towards achieving national cohesion. MacMillan was Conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 10 January 1957 to 18 October 1963. 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. Rising to high office as a protégé of wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill, he believed in the post-war settlement and the necessity of a mixed economy, and in his premiership pursued 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 retirees, and a reduction in the standard workweek 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 of 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.

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