When Harold Macmillan published The Middle Way in 1938, its title at once entered the political lexicon. As he anticipated, his message that there was an alternative to socialism and political individualism received a frosty reception from right and left. Even the Macmillan family nanny said ‘Mr Harold is a dangerous pink’. Yet correctives such as Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom in 1944 did not immediately dampen the impact of Macmillan’s philosophy. ‘In this illogical island,’ Harold Nicolson wrote to Hayek, ‘there exists an infinite capacity for finding middle ways’. Sixty years later, concepts such as President Clinton’s ‘triangulation’, Anthony Giddens’ ‘Third Way’ and the first ten years of New Labour showed the durability of the hare that Macmillan set running. The Middle Way is still an established vision of political Nirvana, despite Lady Thatcher’s view that consensus was ‘the process for abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies’. The centre ground of British politics is today a very crowded place.
Tony Blair was seen by some as heir to Thatcher, and Cameron as heir to Blair. But the parallels with Macmillan are stronger. Much is made of the similarities between Harold Macmillan and David Cameron. Eton and Oxford are obvious parallels, as is their determination to ‘detoxify’ the party, broadening its support by educating the Conservatives away from their ingrained prejudices. Macmillan effaced memories of the Thirties by presiding over a period in the late 1950s of full employment and price stability, seeing Toryism as a form of paternal socialism. Part of the secret of his success was that Macmillan was not really a Tory at all. Despite his aristocratic image, he was a business man, a distinguished publisher, who believed that politicians should, as Coriolanus put it, know ‘a world elsewhere’. His experience in the trenches and in his inter-war constituency of Stockton-on-Tees gave him a genuine understanding of what Disraeli called ‘the condition of the people’.