The Winds of Change by Peter Hennessy review – resonant history of the early 1960s

By | 2019-09-25 | including 3 items |
At the beginning of 1961 a Conservative prime minister, an Old Etonian, was trying to convince his party and his country of the merits of a radical “Grand Design” that would change for ever Britain’s relations with its closest neighbours in Europe. Harold Macmillan, a veteran of the Somme, was troubled by the economic rise of the six EEC nations, led by France and Germany. He knew that their union, ratified by the recent Treaty of Rome, would inevitably diminish Britain’s already declining influence in an uncertain world dominated by the cold war powers of the Soviet Union and the United States. Our only hope of retaining our voice in the postwar consensus and animating our moribund economic performance, Macmillan believed, was to be at Europe’s top table. That meant persuading his party and nation of the benefits of joining the new European project, with its ambitious goals of borderless trade and zero tariffs and federal co-operation. Macmillan’s “Grand Design”, cooked up while convalescing from an illness that new year, suggested that such persuasion was possible – but only if President De Gaulle in Paris and Chancellor Adenauer in Berlin agreed to Britain entering the EEC while retaining its existing trading relationships with the Commonwealth. In other words, that we should be allowed to have our cake and eat it, too. Peter Hennessy’s inside story of the shuttle diplomacy and party politicking that resulted from Macmillan’s fevered vision is told with his characteristic storyteller’s brio. The account not only establishes one of the key contexts for the historian’s narrative of a formative three years in our national life, but also sounds a resonant alarm over our present follies.