#ThrowbackThursday: Harold MacMillan’s ‘never had it so good’ speech

Harold MacMillan 'never had is so good' speech
Prime Minister Harold Macmillan addressing a rally of Bedfordshire Conservatives at the Bedford Town football ground, July 20th 1957. (Photo by J. Wilds/Keystone/Getty Images)

Today we launch a new series of articles for #ThrowbackThursday will take a look at moments in Bedford Borough’s history.

Local writer Harry McPhail, looks at moments on our doorstep that had an impact for people of the time and beyond.

Harold MacMillan: “never had it so good”

Bedford has always been a town of political debate and in recent times often called a ‘swing’ seat where the story of a General Election can be told.

It is therefore no surprise that many Prime Ministers and senior politicians have made visits to Bedford. You never know we may soon see a visit soon from our new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.

Nicknamed ‘Supermac‘, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan came to Bedford on 20 July 1957 to deliver a speech to fellow Conservatives.

This was only a handful of months after he had been made Prime Minister.

Similar to Johnson, Macmillan had come to the Conservative Party leadership as a result of his predecessor, Anthony Eden’s resignation.

Eden was forced from office in January 1957 as a result of the Suez Crisis.

In 1957, two years prior to the 1959 UK General Election, Harold Macmillan came to Bedford and delivered a speech with the phrase Britons have “never had it so good”.

“Indeed let us be frank about it. most of our people have never had it so good.

“Go around the country, go to the industrial towns, go to the farms and you will see a state of prosperity such as we have never had in my lifetime, nor indeed in the history of this country.” – Harrold MacMillan, Bedford 1957

It’s thought he had been influenced by a 1952 political slogan by the Democratic Party in the US.

However, he popularised the term and it has gone down in political history. Many say this optimistic view helped the Tories to a surprising, yet convincing, win in the 1959 General Election.

He was in Bedford to speak at a Tory rally marking 25 years’ of service by Alan Lennox-Boyd, the Colonial Secretary (a cabinet role which was cut in 1966), as MP for Mid-Bedfordshire.

Incidentally, the event took place at the old Bedford Town football club in Queens Park.

Mr Macmillan presented a very positive view of Britain in 1957, in particular he emphasised the economy.

He recognised how increased steel, motor car and coal production had all collectively helped investment in British industry.

This in turn had led to a perceived economic boom in the post-war British economy and a rise in the standard of living.

Conservative Campaign Poster 1959
Conservative Campaign Poster 1959

The 1959 General Election was one where many onlookers would have expected a Labour win. Why? Put simply there was a loss of trust in the Government after the Suez Crisis, which forced previous Conservative PM Eden to resign.

This caused many people to doubt the Tories and their credentials when it came to running the country.

It is therefore against the odds that Macmillan was able to maintain the Conservative reputation in the latter period of the 1950s and go on to win the 1959 Election.

To come back to the famous quote “most of our people have never had it so good”, I would like to mention how this has gone down in history.

Whether Macmillan knew it or not, this was a ‘sound-bite’ which would resemble his positive outlook of Britons’ standard of living and be a lasting legacy of his Prime Ministerial reign.

I came across this particular story in a Politics lesson when studying modern Conservative Prime Ministers.

Many have heard the quote “never had it so good” but from people I have spoken to, very few actually realised it was popularised by MacMillan in Bedford.