The 3 main scandals of Macmillan (1957-1963)

The three main scandalous events during ther second premiership of Harold Macmillan which ultimately led to his downfall.

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Scandal 1-July 1962-Night of the Long Knives.

In 1962, in the face of a struggling economy, a rapidly changing British society and waning popularity, Harold Macmillan began to get desperate. He was afraid of the slowly growing problems of Keynesianism and "stop-go" economics. In order to try and combat this, Macmillan, overnight and without any warning, reshuffled the entire Prime Ministerial cabinet, replacing numerous ministers without prior warning. This included some of Macmillan's close friends such as the Chancellor, Selwyn Lloyd, whom was replaced by Reginald Maudling, thought to be a growing success in the party.


Maudling attempted to avoid the rising tide of unemployment through tax concessions and a policy of "expansion without inflation". The result of this tactic was that the balance of payments crisis continued to get worse and worse, with imports outrunning exports and rising inflation. This lost Macmillan a huge amount of support and weakened the economy for future governments (I.E Wilson).

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Scandal 2-Rejectionof British EEC application (Jan

In 1961, Macmillan and indeed much of Britain had realised that one of the best ways to move forward economically and internationally would be to join the EEC (European Economic Cooperation). The idea of increased exports across Europe was a large driving force behind this move, as well as certain international goals. Britain wanted to maintain influence in the 3 main global sectors: Europe, the Commonwealth and the USA. The Americans supported the British application but Britain was also determined to maintain relations and links to the Commonwealth,which made EEC negotiations very difficult.

The reasons for why Britain had not previously joined the EEC during the "open door period" in 1951-1957 are unclear. They could have been political or based on historic views of wartime Europe from Churchill and Eden, as they were men of the wartime generation.

Unfortunately, it was rather late for Britain to attend European integration as the EEC was already controlled by the Franco-German partnership. The French president and war hero, Charles de Gaulle, was determined to keep Britain and, by extension, American influences away from Europe, resullting in him vetoeing the application and rejecting it in 1963.


Macmillan lost support as people lost faith in his skills as an economist and international statesman. They also lost faith in the Conservative party, as they had not thought to join the EEC previously.

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Scandal 3-The Profumo Affair (March 1963)

This one is all about sex.

In 1963, John Profumo, the Defence secretary, was caught in a sex scandal which ended his (and by extension Macmillan's) career. He was found out as having had an affair with a "good-time girl", Christine Keeler. This scandalous event was worsened by the fact that Keeler had also been sleeping with a Russian spy named Ivanov, which raised panicks about the possibility of military secrets being traded in the Cold War. To try and protect himself, Profumo openly and directly lied to Parliament and Macmillan, which caused political and social uproar. While Keeler became a celebrity in the press, Profumo had to resign in disgrace. 


Macmillan's "fatherly image" was shattered as the world was exposed to a previously tabooed and dark side of society. People lost faith in Macmillan's leadership and government, which would lead to his resignation, no longer able to lead a Britain that did not trust him.

Moreover, this exposed Britain fully to the changing, liberalising attitudes to sex and gossip. The press found every opportunity to expose government "misbehaviour", reflecting a less sheltered Britain.

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It can be seen that these three scandals (among other things) acted as nails in the coffin of Macmillan's political career. Over the course of the early 60s, people lost more and more fiath in him. No longer was he the "Great Uncle of Great Britain", the theatrical showman or great economic genius. He was now simply viewed a an old, doddering man, who made very obvious mistakes., This signalled the end of his career and by extension, the thirteen years of Conservative government

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