Friday, 13 July 2012

"Night of the Long Knives": 50th Anniversary

Harold Macmillan
Today is the 50th anniversary of the "Night of the Long Knives", the day when Conservative Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, in the face of his party's increasing unpopularity, decided to sack seven Cabinet ministers (one third of the entire Cabinet), including his Chancellor of the Exchequeur, Selwyn Lloyd. The sackings caused a furore within Macmillan's party, damaging his own reputation in the process. Two years later, the Conservatives lost the next General Election.

The Liberal MP, Jeremy Thorpe, famously commented "Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his friends for his life." The term "Night of the Long Knives", mockingly applied to the  sacking of the seven Tory Cabinet Ministers, was a reference to the original "Night of the Long Knives" of 1934, in which Adolf Hitler brutally removed hundreds of political opponents in Germany through murder and mass arrest.

D.R. Thorpe writes: "The Night of the Long Knives was the moment when luck began to run out for Macmillan. His reputation for unflappability was gone for ever and the unprecedented events gave a focus for the discontent of the awkward squad on the backbenches. Lloyd was received with acclamation in the Commons the following Tuesday, Macmillan with silence." Read the rest of Thorpe's dramatic account here.

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