Biography of the Leading Personalities of the British Imperial Political Elite Establishment, Presiding Over the Decolonisation Policy of the British Empire, and its Wider Implications

Biography of the Leading Personalities of the British Imperial Political Elite Establishment, Presiding Over the Decolonisation Policy of the British Empire, and its Wider Implications

Macmillan, M. Harold. Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, April-December, 1955, Prime Minister, 1957-63.

Having been educated at Balliol and served in the 1914-18 War with distinction and gallantry in the Grenadier Guards, Harold Macmillan was elected to Parliament in 1924. At the age of forty-six he was appointed by Churchill as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply and two years later to his first important responsibility as Minister resident in North Africa. Owning to his independence of mind in the pre-war years, he spent his time in political wilderness and he did not obtain junior office until he was forty-six. He had always had a reputation for independence of thought and action. This was, no doubt, one reason why he was never made a minister until 1940. For example, he resigned the Conservative Whip for the last year of Baldwin’s administration (1936-37). He felt that the Government by abandoning sanctions against Italy were breaking the promises made at the General Election. (He resumed the Whip when Neville Chamberlain took over). By the time he became Prime Minister he had been Minister of Defence, Foreign Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer, the most skillful, the most decisive and the most ambitious member of the Cabinet. Macmillan like Eden, believed co-operation with the United States should not be put before British policy. This was so even before he became the Prime Minister. For example, during the Suez Canal Crisis he was in favour of not consulting the Americans, believing as Eden did, that consulting the USA may result in the American domination of the Canal zone. Moreover, like Churchill and Eden too, Macmillan believed that Britain did not belong to Europe but a close co-operation with Europe was necessary, which became his third policy when he was Prime Minister, after the “special relationship” and the evolution of the Commonwealth. However, although still rejecting the subordination of British policy to American policy, when he became Prime Minister, as a result of the Suez Crisis he took a moderate line and re-established a close relationship with the Americans, as he, like Churchill, thought that the “special relationship” was fundamental to Britain, her interests and security. Nevertheless, despite the close relationship that Macmillan established when he became Prime Minister, he still did not wish to rely entirely on the American “umbrella”, and thus, after some hard negotiations, he managed to retain an independent nuclear capacity for Britain by obtaining Polaris.

Harold Macmillan, similar to Douglas-Home, had long been troubled by the threat from communism. Thus he had concluded that in view of the communist expansion and British economic crisis in the post-war period, the only practical solution to safeguard British interests would be to proceed with the decolonisation in conjunction with the creation of the Modern Commonwealth, as well as having close relationships with the USA and Western Europe. In fact he began by re-establishing a personal relationship with Eisenhower, which he successfully continued, as a wise elder statesman, with Kennedy (though this damaged his third major initiative, UK entry into the EEC). Undoubtedly however, the most important feature of Macmillan’s leadership was the deliberate acceleration of decolonisation which came by appointing Iain Macleod as Colonial Secretary in 1959, on the basis of reaching agreement with nationalist leaders and retaining institutionalised ties between the former Colonies and the “mother country”.

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