Macmillan conservatism:far cry from Thatcherism

HE believed in consensus politics. She believes in convictionist - some say confrontationist - politics. A scion of the family that founded the Macmillan Publishing Company, he received a traditional aristocratic upbringing: Eton; Balliol College, Oxford; the Grenadier Guards; marrying the daughter of a duke. He once boasted he had six Etonians in his Cabinet.

She is the daughter of a provincial grocer, and married an industrialist. She represents the new breed of Tory - enterprising, self-motivated, often lower middle class go-getters, who lack the grouse-shooting image conveyed by the landed gentry.

He is Harold Macmillan, the Earl of Stockton, Britain's elder statesman and most prominent prime minister since Winston Churchill. She is Margaret Thatcher, leader of the current Conservative government in Britain. Macmillan's passing on Monday highlights the great gulf between his Conservative government and that of Mrs. Thatcher.

Harold Macmillan was highly intellectual, loved to play with ideas, and after his premiership became Chancellor of Oxford University.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is an intelligent leader who prefers action to ideas, and whose government's cutbacks to education prompted Oxford University, her alma mater, to deny her an honorary doctorate.

Macmillan was horrified at the Thatcher government's policies of privatization, the selling off of state assets, which he likened in a famous speech to selling ``off the family silver.... First the Georgian silver goes, then all that nice old furniture in the [billiard] saloon.''

``Supermac,'' as Macmillan was popularly called, believed in cooperating with the trade unions. Thatcher sees the trade unions as the root of Britain's economic problems, and has done more than any other prime minister to clip their wings.

Macmillan, in another famous House of Lords speech, said he was saddened by the 1984-85 coal strike, and dubbed the miners as some of the finest men in Britain who had helped defeat Adolf Hitler. Thatcher regarded the leadership of the National Union of Miners who organized the one-year strike, the most bitter industrial dispute in Britain's history, as the ``enemy within.''

Macmillan's elegant, languid, unflappable manner (``It's a great mistake to get yourself into a nervous state all the time'') is the counterpoint to Thatcher's direct, domineering, no-holds-barred style.

If Macmillan came over as the avuncular, non-puritanical university chancellor, Thatcher is seen as the bossy head mistress of the nation, determined to inculcate Victorian virtues into her wayward students.

But her prescriptions for the nation's economic ills have also been radically different from Macmillan's.

Though Thatcher paid generous tribute to Macmillan, his passing will remove a powerful irritant. On the miners' strike, unemployment, and privatization, the Earl of Stockton was a powerful critic of Thatcher's policies. But his reputation, pedigree, and the affection he commanded from the British public, inhibited the government from criticizing him.

Yet the Thatcher government views the golden age of ``Supermac'' - when he made his famous aside, later used as his campaign slogan, ``You've never had it so good'' - with some cynicism. There is also the feeling within the Thatcher government that some of Britain's present-day economic ills can be laid at the door of the Macmillan government.

Although Britain's decline as a major power followed World War II, it was not fully apparent at the time of Macmillan's premiership.

Macmillan was a commanding figure of the world stage and displayed an air of sagacity and reassuring imperturbability. When then-Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev stood up, pounded the table, and noisily interrupted Macmillan's speech in the UN General Assembly, the British prime minister said, without breaking stride, ``I would like it translated.''

During the 1961 Cuban missile crisis, President Kennedy contacted Macmillan for his advice several times a day.

At first sight, these two Western leaders played an incongruous pair: Kennedy's youthful idealism and boyish athleticism contrasting with Macmillan's walrus-like, world-weary appearance.

Yet there was an intellectual meeting of the minds, and together they believed they could usher in a new world order. The two were instumental in preparing the way for the 1963 Test Ban Treaty.

A statesman and historian, Macmillan had an acute awareness that Britain must adapt to a changing world.

Though a committed believer in the ``special relationship'' between the United States and Britain, he also saw that Britain's economic future lay with Europe. But when he tried to bring Britain into the European Community he suffered the humiliation of Gen. Charles De Gaulle's non in the 1960s, and it was left to his hard working prot'eg'e Edward Heath to negotiate Britain's successful entry a decade later.

Macmillan was also the first British prime minister to recognize the end of the colonial era. In his famous ``winds of change'' speech, he told the South African Parliament in Cape Town in 1960 that South Africa must adapt to changing circumstances.

His contribution to the domestic political situation, however, is viewed less favorably by the current Thatcher government whose policies are well to the right of Macmillan.

The consumer boom that brought Britain an unprecendented standard of living during the Macmillan years is blamed by Thatcherites as contributing to the much higher inflation that followed.

Although the consensus politics of either Macmillan or James Callaghan, a Labour premier, was broad enough to win the popular backing of either Labour or Conservative voters, Thatcher has brought a sharp polarization to the British political scene that was anathema to Macmillan.

Thatcher, however, believes consensus and conciliation, more popularly known as a ``fudge,'' resulted in wishy-washy government.

To her, it was the obvious reason why Britain was failing to grasp the nettle of its economic malaise and to root it out by curbing trade union power and rolling back the frontiers of the state.

Though Macmillan was distressed by high unemployment, Thatcher viewed it as necessary if Britain is to regain its economic competitiveness in the world market.

And though Macmillan viewed privatization as short-sided folly, Thatcher has embraced it as an essential element in her vision of a free-enterprise culture.

Although ill health resulting in an operation forced Macmillan to resign in 1963, it was the Profumo affair that began his political downfall.

John Profumo's relationship with a high-society call girl, Christine Keeler, while he was minister of war, aroused consternation that he had compromised the nation's security.

Macmillan subsequently became a respected elder statesman, vastly more appreciated in retirement than while in office.

He once said, ``When I die, they might say I was a statesman.''

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