Harold macmillan

Nothing compares with Chips Channon’s diaries for sheer exuberance

‘Why was he born so beautiful, why was he born at all?’ When ‘Chips’ Channon strolled into the House of Commons tea room in 1951, this was the chant with which encircling drunken Labour MPs mocked him. Politically, he was inessential they thought, and epicene. He admitted to being the best-dressed of MPs, but reckoned the young socialist Anthony Crosland to be the most beautiful. As a historical record keeper, though, he has cut a deeper and more ineffaceable mark than any of his tormentors. Nothing compares with the unexpurgated Channon diaries. They are rich, exuberant, copious and shatteringly honest. For those interested in the parliamentary politics of 20th-century England,

How Britain was misled over Europe for 60 years

Just as one is inclined to believe Carlyle’s point that the history of the world is but the biography of great men, so Christopher Tugendhat, in this level-headed account, is right to conclude that the history of the Conservative party in the past 60 or 70 years has been deeply affected by the biography of the movement for the European Union. And it would have shocked Carlyle that a great woman – Margaret Thatcher – played a central part and, according to Tugendhat, altered the course of the party’s relationship with Europe. She was certainly central to the debate, not least because rather too many Conservatives felt she had died

General de Gaulle’s advice to the young Queen Elizabeth

There were so many ear-catching moments in Peter Hennessy’s series for Radio 4, Winds of Change, adapted from his new book by Libby Spurrier and produced by Simon Elmes. Harold Wilson answering a journalist’s question after a sleepless night while awaiting the results of the 1964 election, quizzical, cheeky and so quick off the mark. When asked if he felt like a prime minister, he replied: ‘Quite honestly, I feel like a drink.’ Later he was waylaid at Euston station having just got off the morning train from Liverpool and was still unsure of the result. (Labour won by just four seats after 13 years of Conservative rule.) At 3.50

When the Grand Design met ‘le Grand Non’: Britain in the early 1960s

Peter Hennessy is a national treasure. He is driven by a romantic, almost sensual, fascination with British history, culture, and the quirky intricacies of British democracy and the government machine. His curiosity is insatiable, his memory infinitely capacious. His innumerable contacts confide in him freely because his discretion is absolute. His tireless work in the archives is spectacularly productive. His generosity towards his students is boundless. His books — 14 at the last count — are gossipy, erudite, discursive, intensely personal: not your conventional academic history, but all the better for that. His latest book — the third in a history of post-war Britain — ranges over the early 1960s.

Here’s who should be Mrs May’s cabinet supremo to tackle the housing shortage

Who should be housing supremo in what we all assume will be Mrs May’s new administration? Brandon Lewis and Gavin Barwell, recent junior ministers with that brief, achieved nothing — if we also assume the brief was to procure an adequate supply of new homes, in the private sector or ‘social’ one, which the ‘just about managing’ could afford. The number of affordable homes built in 2015-16 was just 32,000, half that built in the previous year and the lowest since 1992. But action is coming — apparently. ‘We will fix the broken housing market,’ declares Mrs May, mustard-keen on fixing broken markets, ‘to build a new generation of council

Rab Butler was too indecisive (and badly dressed) to be Prime Minister

‘The best prime minister we never had’ is not an epithet exclusive to Rab Butler. Widely applied to the late Denis Healey, it was also said of Hugh Gaitskell, Iain Macleod and Roy Jenkins. (More recent candidates would include Michael Heseltine and Kenneth Clarke.) All had arguably greater intellects than the prime ministers they ended up serving, all enjoyed significant popularity in the country and all were committed to the centre-ground of British politics. Yet while ‘The best PM we’ve never had’ is a club rather than a solitary designation, Rab Butler is pre-eminent among its members. The holder of all three great offices of state — a record shared

Premier league

At a large Tory breakfast meeting that David Cameron spoke to recently, the tables were named after all of the Conservative premiers of the past: the good, the bad and Ted Heath. So there were the Lord Salisbury, Harold Macmillan and Margaret Thatcher tables, for example. (I was delighted to be on the Winston Churchill table; the people on the Neville Chamberlain one looked suitably ill-favoured.) As Cameron — who was sat at the David Cameron table, appropriately enough — looked around the huge room that morning, he could be forgiven for wondering where he will wind up in the pantheon of past premiers. For as Cameron nears his tenth

Restoration drama

Yes   William Cook Rejoice! Rejoice! Fifty-four years after its destruction, Euston Arch has returned to Euston. Well, after a fashion. Four blocks from this lost portico, salvaged from a murky river bed in east London, have been deposited outside the station by Euston Arch Trust, a heroic pressure group that is campaigning to rebuild this much-lamented landmark. It’s only a tiny fragment of the original, but I can’t begin to tell you how much this small pile of rubble cheered me up. Wouldn’t it be terrific fun to reconstruct this splendid monument? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to bring old buildings such as Euston Arch back to life? Even by

Be different, be original: that’s what makes a popular politician

I sometimes try to imagine what it would be like being a political leader. I find this difficult because I would be so utterly ill suited to the role. I’m too lazy, too disorganised and too undisciplined to be remotely credible at it. But the area in which I would fail most completely would be in the projection of a suitable image. Not only would I be incapable of saying the right things at the right time; I don’t have the appearance or bearing or dress sense to convey calm, self-confidence and authority. I suppose you could say much the same of Adolf Hitler were it not for his gift

The art of political biography remains in intensive care if Giles Radice’s latest book is anything to go by, says Simon Heffer

With the odd exception — I think principally of Charles Moore’s life of Margaret Thatcher — the genre of political biography has known hard times lately. There are few faster routes to the remainder shop, other, of course, than the political memoir, most of which I presume are now written to create a tax loss for their publishers. This decline is not down to poor scholarship, but, I suspect, to the general distaste so many literate and inquiring people feel for politicians. Reading accounts of the New Labour years in particular is rather like touring an abattoir before the cleaners have been in. So those who want to write about

Those ancient Greeks were bores — but things are looking up

Thick snow is falling hard and heavy, muffling sounds and turning the picturesque village postcard beautiful. I am lying in bed listening to a Mozart version of ‘Ave Maria’, a heavenly soprano almost bringing tears to my eyes with the loveliness of it. This is the civilisation of our ancestors — one that gave us Mozart, Schubert and Beethoven and built cathedrals all over the most wondrous continent in the world. It is now being replaced by a higher one in which distinctions of ethnicity and religion will no longer be tolerated. The human race has a limitless capacity for self-improvement, and it shows where architecture, the arts and music

Snobbery, sneering and secret sniggers: the sad truth about the so-called ‘special relationship’

To the grand Herrera house on the upper east side of Manhattan for lunch in honour of Lord and Lady Linley. David Linley is over here to receive an award for his designs, which even a rube like myself where furniture is concerned finds wonderful. Princess Margaret’s son is talented, but he’s also a very nice man. His parents must have done something right, because he’s lived a scandal-free life (as has his sister) — something other British royals cannot claim. He also earns his own living, as rare among royals as a neoconservative marine. Our hostess Carolina Herrera is the best fashion designer in America, by far. She and

The gilded generation – why the young have never had it so good

[audioplayer src=”http://traffic.libsyn.com/spectator/TheViewFrom22_8_May_2014_v4.mp3″ title=”James Delingpole and Daniel Knowles discuss the gilded generation” startat=42] Listen [/audioplayer]No one likes being told they’ve never had it so good. When Lord Young of Graffham tried it three years ago, he was quickly forced out of his job as David Cameron’s enterprise adviser. And rightly so, you might think, for it was an affront both to the evidence before our eyes and to our most basic human instinct: that the past was golden and ahead of us lies only misery, penury, falling standards, overcrowding and the on-going destruction of our once green and pleasant land. This was the (hugely popular) theme of Danny Boyle’s London Olympics opening

Letters: Charles Saatchi’s challenge to Taki, and the battle over Benefits Street

On Benefits Street Sir: Fraser Nelson asserts that people in charities do not want to talk about what life is like on poverty (‘Britain’s dirty secret’, 18 January). To those of us who have experienced poverty or supported others stuck in it, there is no secret. We didn’t need a sensationalist pseudo-documentary to know that life with no money is grinding, miserable and soul-destroying. However, few answers to the problems of the poor are offered by low-paid workforces combined with flawed markets deciding the value of essential goods and services. The real means to help people out of this poverty trap would be to reduce rents, utilities and childcare costs

The Spectator book review that brought down Macmillan’s government

[audioplayer src=”http://traffic.libsyn.com/spectator/TheViewFrom22_16_January_2014_v4.mp3″ title=”Vernon Bogdanor discuss Iain Macleod’s ‘What Happened’ article” startat=1460] Listen [/audioplayer]Fifty years ago this week, a cover story in The Spectator helped to bring down a Conservative government. It was called ‘The Tory Leadership’ and was written by the editor, Iain Macleod, who had been a senior minister in Harold Macmillan’s government. Purporting to be the review of a book by Randolph Churchill on how Lord Home had ‘emerged’ in October 1963 as Macmillan’s successor, it claimed that Macmillan had fixed the succession so as to scupper the chances of the natural candidate, R.A. Butler, who had been deputy prime minister in all but name. In those days,

The men who demolished Victorian Britain

Anyone with a passing interest in old British buildings must get angry at the horrors inflicted on our town centres over the last half-century or so. Gavin Stamp is wonderfully, amusingly, movingly angry. And he has been ever since the early 1960s when, as a boy at Dulwich College, he saw workmen hack off the stiff-leaf column capitals in the school cloisters. He reserves particular rage for that ‘cynical, philistine Whig’ Harold Macmillan for murdering the Euston Arch. Not that Stamp’s a ranting fogey, reserving his anger only for the demolition of Victorian buildings. A former chairman of the Twentieth Century Society, he is deeply upset by the demolition of

Don’t hug me! (Even though sometimes it’s rather nice)

When, in 1957, Harold Macmillan accepted the Queen’s invitation to become prime minister, following the resignation of Sir Anthony Eden, he returned from the Palace, marched up Downing Street to where Eden was waiting for him, and gave his old rival a man-hug, right there in front of the Pathé news cameras. No, of course he didn’t. But we have come a long way since then. Indeed, at the party conferences they were all at it: MPs, ministers, party activists, hug, hug, hug — and not a hoodie in sight. After the Mayor of London delivered his speech he was rewarded with a bear-hug from the Prime Minister, no less.

The birth of modern Britain

‘Does history repeat itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce?’ asked Julian Barnes in A History of the World in 10½ Chapters. ‘No, that’s too grand, too considered a process. History just burps, and we taste again that raw-onion sandwich it swallowed centuries ago.’ Reading David Kynaston’s densely detailed new book — in a ‘projected sequence of books about Britain between 1945 and 1979’ with the slightly magniloquent general title of Tales of a New Jerusalem — there isn’t half a whiff of onions. We have an Old Etonian prime minister with a chancellor ideologically hellbent on belt-tightening; we have a poisonous and sometimes violent debate

Cleared on all counts

Since the main purpose on earth of the Conservative party was, and still should be, to keep Britain’s ancient and well-proven social and political hierarchy in power — give or take a few necessary upward mobility adjustments — Harold Macmillan must rank very high in the scale of successful Conservative prime ministers; just below Benjamin Disraeli, whose skill in sugaring the pill of inequality and humanising the face of privilege is never likely to be bettered. Earlier biographies of Macmillan, blinded by the egalitarian zeitgeist, have never done justice to this particular dimension of his genius, preferring to see his successful manoeuvring to pass the torch on to a 14th