On the evening of 13 July 1962, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan removed seven Cabinet ministers, including his Chancellor of the Exchequer, Selwyn Lloyd. The action was so dramatic that the media quickly termed it after the Nazi’s ‘Night of the Long Knives’ in 1934.
Macmillan’s popularity had grown throughout the early 1950s, when ‘Supermac’ steered the country through the post-Suez era, increasing wealth and claiming ‘Life’s Better Under the Conservatives’.
By the early 1960s, however, the tune had changed. Financial troubles, a wage freeze and divided opinion over entry into the European Community led to a drop in the government’s popularity, and the Conservatives fared poorly in local elections and by-elections. By 1963, Macmillan faced a very different environment to that of the 1950s, and divisions within the Party put pressure on him to make changes.
On the evening of 13 July, Macmillan announced that he was dismissing seven members of his Cabinet:
- Lord Kilmuir — Lord Chancellor
- Selwyn Lloyd — Chancellor of the Exchequer
- David Eccles — Minister of Education
- Harold Watkinson — Minister of Defence
- John Scott Maclay — Secretary of State for Scotland
- Charles Hill — Minister of Housing and Local Government and Welsh Affairs
- Lord Mills — Minister without Portfolio
This Cabinet reshuffle, which left the National Liberals without a Cabinet position, marked the beginning of a large-scale government reorganisation that involved more than 50 people. Although Conservative press called it an act of ‘power and decision’ and Macmillan’s ‘greatest service to the Conservative Party’, many members of the public and the government deplored it as overly harsh and a sign of weakness. Macmillan’s public image was permanently damaged, and he resigned the following year due to ill health. Many members of his new Cabinet went on to influence government policy for decades.