384. Telegram From the Embassy in the United Kingdom to the Department of State0

2295. Deptel 3184.1 Will answer first paragraph later. Re 2nd paragraph, you have given me a difficult task in asking (1) Macmillan’s personal views about topics mentioned (2) evaluating his political future. Let me take up latter topic first.


I am neither an intimate nor a friend of the PM. Few apparently are. His play, to use a gambling expression, is close; and his inmost thoughts are seldom open to penetration. He is a political animal, shrewd, subtle in maneuver, undisputed master in his cabinet house. I have never heard of his being addressed with levity on serious governmental matters by subordinates or acquaintances, other than partisan opponents. If so, those heavily lidded eyelids would lift, and a contemptuous glance would stare them down.

His opponents think him a cold-blooded but formidable individual. Some liken him to Disraeli, though he lacks the flamboyance of a man who would change from a morning to an afternoon walking stick as the noon bell tolled at Gibraltar. Nor does he have Disraeli’s fondness for exotic dress; rather his clothes are sometimes compared with those of English dukes who have been accused of dressing in the cast-off garments of Irish beggars, though this does Macmillan a sartorial injustice.

At times, he gives the impression of being shot through with Victorian langour. It would be a mistake to infer from this that he is lacking in force or decisiveness, as it would be to deduce from what is called his “balliol shuffle” that he is not capable of swift action. In fact, he can featly spring onto his toes like a ballet dancer, and is quick gun in the shooting field.

Whether his emphasis on the importance of a close American relationship is associated with having had an American mother matters little. Like Churchill, he has made the maintenance of close ties with the US a cardinal point of policy, though occasionally he has departed on an independent course, as when he made a lone wolf journey to Moscow, and returned with an empty sack.

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But this is no mean man. He represents Edwardian and eighteenth century England in the grand tradition of the establishment, and also has an extensive appreciation of contemporary public opinion. He has charm, politeness, dry humor, self-assurance, a vivid sense of history, dignity, and character. To what extent he would bend conviction to comport with expediency one cannot say. He has had long experience in judging men and events. Unable to succeed as middle man between the US and USSR, no longer on a basis of old friendship with the President of the United States, realizing that a revival of the classical balance of power in Europe with Great Britain weighing the scales is no longer possible, my guess is that he will go far to suit otherwise discordant notes to the US President’s harmony.

As to his political future, much will depend on Thursday’s debate here on the Congo. The Labour Party is in hot and optimistic pursuit of the Tories, many of whom will skirt and babble without joining the pack. This controversy, I was informed today by Harold Wilson, Foreign Minister in the Shadow Cabinet, is the most dramatic parliamentary issue since Suez. Few expect resultant scars to heal quickly, though the Prime Minister has great resiliency, and will remain in command of the Tories unless, as is unlikely, he in overthrown on a vote of censure or no confidence. Undoubtedly, the passions aroused in the UK by the UN policy in the Congo will impair Tory discipline, [and] regardless of the merits or the outcome will probably affect the party’s future adversely. This is an instance where, in terms of domestic politics, it is preferable to criticize than to be responsible for decisions.

Re PM’s personal views on reftel items, I will have to engage in wild surmise.
Berlin Complex. He thinks a negotiation is necessary, in order to condition his countrymen to accept sterner measures if it fails. He may believe that the west will come so close to de facto recognition of East Germany that the Soviets will compensate US for it by a paper and plausible agreement over access.
(A) European integration and (B) special problems of US-UK relations.
I believe he sincerely desires UK entry into Common Market with concomitant assumption of political obligations. British economy is laggard, and should be improved by membership. Also, he must be conscious of possibility that after Adenauer and de Gaulle pass off scene, UK might well be political spokesman for bloc potentially as powerful as US or USSR.
Believe he will make all reasonable concessions to maintain at least public appearance of US-UK concord on mutual problems, and sincerely holds to close US-UK special relationship.

Nuclear Testing. PM wishes to continue test conference. Will argue at Bermuda that resumption by US of tests, unless they are essential, will in world opinion equate US with the USSR. If Soviet tests have demonstrated important progress this would make a difference; it would be easier for the UK if it were plain that Soviet tests had advanced development of anti-missile missiles.

Same applies to Christmas Island. At Bermuda PM will have to be convinced that proposed tests fit the criteria explained by him in the House of Commons debate.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.41/12–1261. Secret; Priority; Limit Distribution. Drafted by Bruce.
  2. Telegram 3184, December 11, suggested that the main topics for the forthcoming meeting between the President and Macmillan at Bermuda should be Berlin, European integration, and nuclear testing. Since this would be an “extremely important meeting” telegram 3184 asked for Bruce’s estimate of Macmillan’s views on these topics and his political future. (Ibid., 611.41/12–1161)