The Crown and Conservative Party Leadership: The Political Crisis of 1963 in Britain

Catterall, Pippa 2020. The Crown and Conservative Party Leadership: The Political Crisis of 1963 in Britain. in: Viceregalism: The Crown and its Representatives in Political Crises in the Post-War Commonwealth Basingstoke Palgrave Macmillan.

Chapter titleThe Crown and Conservative Party Leadership: The Political Crisis of 1963 in Britain
AuthorsCatterall, Pippa
Abstract

It is all too simple to reduce the process of appointing a Conservative leader prior to the reforms of 1965 to being merely a matter of consulting those Iain Macleod collectively described as the ‘magic circle’. This implies, as Macleod maliciously intended, that the process was primarily determined by an internal party oligarchy. Oddly, however, this notion of the ‘magic circle’ is not generally invoked in other twentieth-century examples of changes of Conservative leadership when in government, even in the controversial cases of 1923 or 1940. In both of those instances, as also in the rather different circumstances of 1931, contemporaries and historians have focused more on the role of the Crown in choosing a Prime Minister. This raises the question of what was different about 1963, especially given that Macmillan was seemingly determined to follow established procedure, retain the Crown prerogative of appointing the Prime Minister and avoid any embarrassment for the monarch herself. Importantly, however, 1963 was different, and not just because of Macleod’s input, but actually because of the very way in which Macmillan choose to manage the process from his hospital bed. In 1923, 1940 and 1957 there were two key candidates, one of whom became the clear recommendation to the palace. In 1963 the defeated candidate from 1957 was considered by Macmillan only one of a host of potential Premiers. Butler was to be defeated again, but only after a candidate had emerged whose peerage would probably have ruled him out in any previous contest since 1923. Notwithstanding Macmillan’s apparent solicitude for retaining the Crown’s constitutional role in choosing the Prime Minister, the key determinant of the choice of Home over Butler seems to have been which candidate would be best for uniting the Conservative Party, rather than leading the country. In recommending to the Queen that she should invite Home to first seek to establish whether he could form a government, Macmillan also reflected a penchant for early nineteenth rather than early twentieth century practice, and in the process ran the risk of involving the monarchy in resolving the internal tensions of his party. By comparing and contrasting these various episodes of changes of Tory leadership when in government, this paper will explore the changing attitudes of the party to the role of the Crown to ministerial appointments and re-assess the role of the 1963 controversy in the leadership reforms instituted in 1965.

KeywordsConservative Party, Elizabeth II, Harold Macmillan, Commonwealth, Political Crisis, Prime Ministership
Book titleViceregalism: The Crown and its Representatives in Political Crises in the Post-War Commonwealth
Year2020
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Place of publicationBasingstoke

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