To use the sort of vernacular phrase of which Macmillan was fond, his premiership was ‘a game of two halves’. His Chief Whip, Martin Redmayne, thought that the turning point came in the autumn of 1960; before that little went wrong, after that almost everything that could go wrong did so.1 To some extent this was the result of complacency. With three election victories in a row and Labour thoroughly trounced, Rab Butler thought it quite in order to tell the new Tory MPs that ‘if the Party played its cards well, we would be in power for the next twenty-five years’.2 The economics of the consensus, with their Keynesian demand management and government intervention to ensure high employment, had delivered affluence, and even some Labour theorists were beginning to argue that the old ‘class-based’ politics had had their day; the problems of the future, Anthony Crosland claimed, would be about how to distribute affluence more evenly, not about how to make enough money. With a Prime Minister whose pose as a world statesman helped obscure some of the uncomfortable reality of Britain’s decline, and a united party behind him at home, it did indeed seem that only some bad handling of the cards could bring the Conservatives down; but as a lover of classical literature, Macmillan might have remembered the fate that the gods have in store for those who suffer from such hubris.
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