Mr Harold Macmillan M.P.

Harold Macmillan, 1st Earl of Stockton, 1934,© National Portrait Gallery[1]
Maurice Harold Macmillan, 29, (1894-1986) was a junior member of the eponymous family publishing firm, Tory MP for Stockton and future Prime Minister and Earl of Stockton. It is most probable that his presence at the dinner was primarily to do with the fact that Lady Rhondda’s autobiography was published by his family firm. The firm also published Rebecca West, had recently attracted Winifred Holtby into its stable for three novels (luring her away from Jonathan Cape, the only other publisher present). He was also the only sitting Member of the House of Commons at the dinner and that day had been supporting Keynesian policies for recovery in the House. Writing and publishing himself on the economic crisis, his own major book, The Middle Way, came out in 1938. On a personal note, he was not only the first Prime Minister I have met but more importantly, the only person at the dinner on 23rd March 1933 that I have met.


For a political debate he might have enjoyed talking to Stephen Gywnn, former Irish politician. For a current “client”, Winifred Holtby. He and Henry Andrews might have shared views on the economy, on banking and Germany. Our future PM was one of the youngest on the table, if not the youngest.


He’d spent part of his day disagreeing with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Neville Chamberlain. He might have wanted a break from all that though others may have wanted his backbencher’s perspective on the affairs of state. If he had business in mind he probably was wondering who else should he be publishing? Is this where he made a move for Winifred Holtby’s next book?


Maurice Harold Macmillan was born on 10th February 1894 at 52 Cadogan Place, London, the youngest of the three children of the Indiana-born Helen Artie Tarleton, née Belles (1856–1937), and Maurice Crawford Macmillan, (1853–1936), the publisher (and second son of the co-founder of the firm).

Educated at Eton and Oxford, Harold was wounded in the war, leaving injuries that would trouble him for the rest of his life. On leaving the army he entered the family firm as junior partner to his brother Daniel and cousin George, responsible for many leading authors (such as Kipling, Hardy, W. B. Yeats, Hugh Walpole, and Sean O’Casey). J. M. Keynes, whose ideas he supported, was a close friend and contemporary of his brother Daniel. In 1920 he married into society, to Lady Dorothy Evelyn Cavendish (1900–1966), the third of the five daughters of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire.

Harold Macmillan, 1st Earl of Stockton 1920 © National Portrait Gallery[2]
At the time of the dinner he was in his early days as a 29 year old backbencher, certainly making his mark. First elected in 1924 for Stockton-on-Tees, he lost his seat in 1929 during a time of high regional unemployment, and then regained it in 1931 – and didn’t let go (with the exception of 1945-51) until his retirement just before the 1964 election.[3] 1929 was also the year his personal life was shaken by his wife’s affair with Robert Boothby (which continued though his marriage regained stability). In 1930 he openly supported Sir Oswald Mosley’s economic ideas but didn’t join his party.

In 1932, he published The Next Step advocating massive credit expansion of credit and a state investment vehicle to ‘direct investment into the correct channels’. Not surprisingly The Spectator described these ideas as ‘not usually submitted by a Conservative Member of Parliament’[4]– but Macmillan’s Stockton seat was suffering from the recession and he’d only recently won it back.

On the very day of the dinner, 23rd March 1933, the MP for Stockton spoke in the Commons debate on the economy, championing a Keynesian strategy of tax cuts and the encouragement of government expenditure as the way to stimulate demand. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Neville Chamberlain, disagreed.[5] Harold continued his efforts to find interparty agreements to solve the economic crisis. March 1933 was, in hindsight, the time when the world was finally turning the corner from the Depression, with Roosevelt’s New Deal on the way. On March 3rd 1933 US banks had closed in the famous Bank Holiday. They had reopened ten days before the dinner. These were tricky times with much on the brink of change. A month later the US left the gold standard. Harold Macmillan was one seeking and supporting new ideas for recovery.


In 1931 he had become disillusioned with the National Government and in 1933 published Reconstruction: a Plea for a National Policy. He claimed that a return to free-market economics was ‘technically, politically and economically impossible’, and called for chosen providers to be given ‘monopoly powers in return for the acceptance of certain social responsibilities’.[6]

In October 1933 the young middle-of-the-road Tory started delivering socialist ideas it seems, to the Women’s Advertising Club, to the delight of the Daily Herald. Quite possibly the audience included Marion Jean Lyon and Alice Mortimer, members of the Club:

M.P. FORGETS HIS PARTY: “Production cannot be planned in relation to estimated demand while industries are organised on competitive lines.” This was one of the many Socialistic passages – all of which were cheered – that occurred in the speech which Mr. Harold Macmillan, Conservative M.P. for Stockton-on-Tees, made last night to the Women’s Advertising Club at the Trocadero Restaurant, W.[7]

Whatever next.


Reconstruction was reviewed in Time and Tide by Vera Brittain’s husband, the economist George Catlin, his views making the back cover of the Keynes 1938 book “The Middle Way”.: “In my opinion this is, in substance, the most important book of the year…. It is a suitable appendix to Sir Arthur Salter’s ‘Recovery’.”.


In 1933 Macmillans also published Keynes’s book “The Means to Prosperity” that year as well as his “Essays in Biography”, a collection of writings on major politicians and economists. From July 1934 until 1937 Harold also worked together with fellow dinner guest Sir Norman Angell on the so-called Next Five Years Manifesto, a cross-party initiative.[8]

In 1938 the family firm published Harold’s own major book “The Middle Way,” a kind of popular version of some of Keynes’s ideas”.[9] A recent reviewer[10] puts it well: “in [The Middle Way] he described the type of conditions found in Stockton as the ‘legacy of unrestrained competition and uneconomic waste’, and summarised his economic policy as follows:

“I shall advocate, all the more passionately on grounds of morality, of social responsibility, as well as of economic wisdom, a wide extension of social enterprise and control in the sphere of minimum human needs. The satisfaction of those needs is a duty which society owes to its citizens”.

Harold’s interventionist tendency in economic policy was matched by a similar bias in foreign policy.

The cover stresses the 1930s middle being between the extremes of the fasces of fascism and hammer and sickle of communism.


In between writing six tomes of “heavy going” autobiography and publishing his diaries, Harold went on to become Prime Minister (1957 to 1964) in the aftermath of the Suez Crisis – his Premiership perhaps most popularly remembered for his campaign slogan “you’ve never had it so good”, cartooned as “Supermac”, for his “winds of change” speech in South Africa, for his bid for UK membership of the EEC only to be rejected by De Gaulle’s “Non”, and for the Profumo affair (which brought him down), and a late moment in the spotlight, lambasting Mrs Thatcher’s privatisation in a speech as “selling the family silver”.  He tried to explain later that he didn’t mean he was totally against privatisation, but that is you sell off your assets you may raise some money but it’s a one-off gain and you forgo all future income from those assets.   But the phrase stuck and the subtle economic point was lost.

Harold Macmillan died on 29th December 1986, at home.[11] We might note the family firm – “the silverware?” – wasn’t sold until almost a decade after his death.


[1] Harold Macmillan, 1st Earl of Stockton, by Elliott & Fry, half-plate copy negative, 1942 (1934), NPG x81946 © National Portrait Gallery, London

[2] Harold Macmillan, 1st Earl of Stockton, by Bassano Ltd, for Camera Press: London: UK bromide print, 1920 NPG x194364 © National Portrait Gallery, London

[3] Past Prime Ministers

[4] Lewis David Betts, Harold Macmillan and appeasement: implications for the future study of Macmillan as a foreign policy actor, Contemporary British History, Volume 32, 2018 – Issue 2 Pages 169-189 | Published online: 5.1.2018, accessed 20.4.2019

[5] The Times, 23.3.1933 p7

[6] Lewis David Betts, Harold Macmillan and appeasement: implications for the future study of Macmillan as a foreign policy actor, Contemporary British History, Volume 32, 2018 – Issue 2 pp169-189 | Published online: 5.1.2018, accessed 20.4.2019

[7] Daily Herald, 11.10.1933 p20

[8] Ceadel, Martin, Living the Great Illusion, Sir Norman Angell, 1872 – 1967, OUP, 2009 p319

[9] Harold Macmillan, Winds of change, 1914–1939 (1966) p490

[10] Lewis David Betts, Harold Macmillan and appeasement: implications for the future study of Macmillan as a foreign policy actor, Contemporary British History, Volume 32, 2018 – Issue 2 Pages 169-189 | Published online: 5.1.2018, accessed 20.4.2019

[11] H.C.G.Matthew, Maurice Harold Macmillan, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, January 2011.

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