The Conservative Leadership Crisis of 1963

Date / time: 29 November, 5:00 pm - 6:30 pm

The Conservative leadership crisis in October 1963 marks a pivotal moment in the party’s history and is striking for its high drama, personal intrigue and bitter recriminations. When Harold Macmillan’s decision to resign was announced during the Tory party conference, there was no formal procedure for selecting a new leader, only vague ‘customary processes’. Among the leadership contenders, the 2nd Viscount Hailsham (Quintin Hogg) was ready from the outset to disclaim his peerage by means of the recent reform won by Anthony Wedgwood Benn, whereas the 14th Earl of Home (Alec Douglas-Home) had given Cabinet colleagues the impression that he had no intention of seeking the leadership.

The party conference come to resemble an American-style nominating convention, as allies of the front-runners, Rab Butler, Quintin Hailsham and Reggie Maudling, canvassed support. Home’s eventual emergence as leader fueled the suspicion that Macmillan had been determined all along to thwart Butler. In protest, two rising Tory stars, Iain Macleod and Enoch Powell, refused to serve in Home’s Government; whereas Edward Heath, who had backed Home, was rewarded with promotion. Three months later, Iain Macleod wrote an excoriating attack on ‘The Magic Circle’ who, he claimed, had thwarted Butler.

The Tories lost the 1964 election, and the following summer Douglas-Home stood down. In July 1965, Heath was elected leader by a secret ballot of Tory MPs, a method intended to prevent any repetition of the 1963 crisis – though perhaps one which has led to crises of different kinds. Rob Shepherd, author of biographies of key figures involved in the Tory crisis of 1963, will present this talk.

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