Alec Douglas-Home

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Alec Douglas-Home in 1986

Alexander Frederick Douglas-Home, Baron Home of the Hirsel (2 July 19039 October 1995) was a British Conservative politician who served one year as Prime Minister after renouncing his hereditary peerage and gaining re-election to the House of Commons. Long service in the governments of the 1950s (including as Foreign Secretary, July 1960–October 1963) led to his emergence as a compromise candidate in the feverish negotiations of 1963, but he narrowly failed to rebuild the Conservatives' popularity sufficiently to win the 1964 general election. He returned as Foreign Secretary in the government of Edward Heath (June 1970–March 1974) and received a life peerage at the end of 1974.



Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations

  • We do not wish to keep out immigrants of good type from the 'old' Dominions.
    • Cabinet document from 1955, quoted in The Times (3 January 1986), p. 3

Foreign Secretary


Prime Minister

  • I suppose, when you come to think of it, he is the fourteenth Mr Wilson.
    • David Butler and Gareth Butler, "Twentieth Century British Political Facts", p. 292.
    • Television interview with Kenneth Harris, 21 October 1963, responding to Wilson (see below).
  • If I learnt anything as Foreign Secretary, it is that there is the most direct relationship between wealth and power and influence. But, before wealth is shared, it must be earned. Our aim, therefore, must be a steady expansion of the national wealth. The situation for Britain today is almost startlingly clear. It lies in called automation, and what that really means is simply this: We must make the maximum use of the machine and have the maximum efficiency in the use of management and labour. ... Rising prices against the consumer are Britain's deadliest enemy. If we must have growth, we must have it against inflation.
    • Speech to the Lord Mayor's Banquet at Guildhall (11 November 1963), quoted in The Times (12 November 1963), p. 12
  • Why do we need wealth? Security and peace. This is our goal and we passionately seek it because it is the way of life which we are charged by our religion to practise.
    • Speech to the Lord Mayor's Banquet at Guildhall (11 November 1963), quoted in The Times (12 November 1963), p. 12
  • There is no alternative for Britain but to keep power on her side, which means the power of the United States. There is in my opinion no alternative for Britain other than to retain a nuclear capacity and arm under her ultimate control so that she can contribute to collective defence and claim an influence and authority wherever and whenever matters of nuclear peace or war are weighed in the scales.
    • Speech in Grantham (29 November 1963), quoted in The Times (30 November 1963), p. 8
  • Now you can see me in the flesh, and I don't really look as I'm made to look on television.
    • D.E. Butler and Anthony King, "The British General Election of 1964", p. 147.
    • Remark frequently made during the 1964 general election campaign.
  • Our philosophy is to use what is good from the past to create a future which is better. But these pages are not an introduction to an easy, sheltered life. No country has an inherited right to wealth or influence. Prosperity has to be worked for. The future will be assured only if our people recognize the simple economic rules which must be kept by a country dependent on earning its living in a competitive world. This manifesto points the way.
    • Preface to the Conservative Party manifesto Prosperity with a Purpose (17 September 1964), quoted in The Times (18 September 1964), p. 16
  • Throughout, you will find a constant theme. It is the creation of a social and economic climate in which men and women can develop their personalities and talents to their country's benefit as well as their own. Conservatives believe that a centralized system of direction cramps the style of the British people. Only by trusting the individual with freedom and responsibility shall we gain the vitality to keep our country great.
    • Preface to the Conservative Party manifesto Prosperity with a Purpose (17 September 1964), quoted in The Times (18 September 1964), p. 16
  • What had been a trickle of immigrants from the Commonwealth was developing into a flood. We saw that if it was not brought under control it would create very serious social and economic problems—problems of employment, housing and education, for instance. So we brought in legislation. The socialists—aided by the Liberals—opposed it all along the line.
    • Speech in Bradford (6 October 1964), quoted in The Times (7 October 1964), p. 12

Leader of the Opposition

  • We also believe that we should have the power to assist voluntary repatriation, that the dependents must be counted against the limits on numbers, and that the total should be further reduced. ... Without the measures outlined, those of us who have studied this question at close quarters are increasingly fearful that an intractable racial problem will be introduced into Britain and may become endemic if we are not careful. This, in our view, must not be allowed. Therefore it is time to bring this problem into the open and not be afraid to talk about it. Those who speak about it in a responsible way should not be charged with racial prejudice.
    • Speech in Hampstead (3 February 1965), quoted in The Times (4 February 1965), p. 12

Later life

  • Russia's intention has been to build up her military forces everywhere to a point where she puts the maximum economic strain on democracies, and through that economic strain she weakens the political will of the democracies to defend themselves. ... The lesson seems to me to be clear. NATO must be underpinned by the maximum financial subvention, and that is best raised by the countries who are partners in the Economic Community. And not only that; in Europe we must have the will to defend our own way of life which we have chosen for ourselves which is only born out of and nourished in political unity. Therefore, I myself look upon the political side of the European Community as perhaps the most important of all.
    • Speech in the House of Lords (21 April 1975)
  • There is the chance, too, if we have the imagination to see it, to resurrect the vitality of European civilisation and give to our new generation of Europeans the inspiration to set against the alien but undeniably dynamic, almost religious, creed of Communism. At this point in time when we are seeking reconciliation and yet are faced with increasing evidence of militancy everywhere, I look to an active European Community as a necessary complement to the NATO Alliance.
    • Speech in the House of Lords (21 April 1975)
  • Britain is not earning her living. We are not keeping pace with the economic performance of our European and North American neighbours, and we are certainly not achieving the potential that is in us. ... At the end of a war of prolonged sacrifice we were left with much obsolete industrial plant, and a short-fall in the capital necessary to scrap and renew it. For a century we had lived on cheap food and raw materials imported from overseas. They are not and will not in future be available to us. ... We cannot continue to live beyond or ability or our willingness to earn. That is the one basic fact with which Britain has yet to come to terms.
    • 'Foreword' (June 1977), Patrick Hutber (ed.), What's Wrong with Britain? (Sphere, 1978), p. 7
  • “Wealth has to be created before it can be shared.” Starting from there, the emphasis is placed firmly on creating the political and economic climate where the men with the ideas and the men with the capital are given a chance to do so. Circumstances may have made the ownership of some industries by the State inevitable, but the unanimous verdict is that bureaucracy cramps, cripples and confines. That is no good for Britain. One sentence is devastating. “Socialised industries tend to produce inferior products at high prices by dissatisfied workers.” That is too near the truth for our comfort.
    • 'Foreword' (June 1977), Patrick Hutber (ed.), What's Wrong with Britain? (Sphere, 1978), p. 8
  • There is one question, fundamental to everything, which has yet to be convincingly answered. “Will a democracy of one man-one vote faced with a choice always go for the softer of two options?” ... If the answer to the question...were to be ‘yes’ then Britain and the democracies of Europe and America would go under, and we should be supplanted by another political, military and economic philosophy. But there is evidence that the people of Britain are beginning to tumble to the fact that if they want to enjoy the fruits of life then rights must be balanced by duties and individual effort must be made.
    • 'Foreword' (June 1977), Patrick Hutber (ed.), What's Wrong with Britain? (Sphere, 1978), p. 9
  • I think there is a strong reason for having PR as the method of election to the House of Lords because I do not think anyone would want to reproduce the House of Commons of the day in the second Chamber.
    • Press conference at Conservative Central Office (20 March 1978), quoted in The Times (21 March 1978), p. 2


  • Douglas-Home: Can you not make me look better than I do on television? I look rather scraggy, like a ghost.
    Make-up girl: No.
    Douglas-Home: Why not?
    Make-up girl: Because you have a head like a skull.
    Douglas-Home: Doesn't everyone have a head like a skull?
    Make-up girl: No.
    • Michael Cockerell, "Live from Number 10", p. 105.
    • A story told by Douglas-Home about going on television in the 1964 election.
  • In 1940, he was diagnosed with spinal tuberculosis and was immobilised for two years. Afterwards, he said that it was the first time in medical history that they had succeeded in inserting a backbone into a politician.

Quotes about Douglas-Home

  • Most people, contrary to the conventional wisdom, retain the political beliefs they formed as young men. Home's earliest position of importance was anti-Communism. This has remained the thread throughout his connection with foreign affairs. It can be seen partly in his attitude to Munich, but became very explicit in his celebrated attack on the Yalta agreement, when he interrupted Churchill with great determination in the House of Commons. He does not see Russia as a Russian threat but as a Communist threat.
    • John Biffen, remarks to Hugo Young (12 November 1970), quoted in Hugo Young, The Hugo Young Papers: Thirty Years of British Politics – Off the Record, ed. Ion Trewin (2008), p. 14
  • He was a votary of the esoteric Eton religion, the kind of graceful tolerant sleepy boy who is showered with favours and crowned with all the laurels, who is liked by the masters and admired by the boys without any apparent exertion on his part, without experiencing the ill effect of success himself or arousing the pangs of envy in others. In the eighteenth century he would have become Prime Minister before he was thirty; as it was he appeared honourably ineligible for the struggle of life.
  • Sir Alec Douglas-Home was the nicest of them all—a real gentleman whose manner on television belied the shrewd geopolitical thinker he was. He might have counted with matchsticks as he candidly admitted, but he had more solid sense than many cerebral ministers on both front benches.
    • Lee Kuan Yew, From Third World to First: Singapore and the Asian Economic Boom (2000; 2011), p. 377
  • Lord Home is clearly a man who represents the old governing class at its best... He is not ambitious in the sense of wanting to scheme for power, although not foolish enough to resist honour when it comes to him... He gives that impression by a curious mixture of great courtesy, and even if yielding to pressure, with underlying rigidity on matters of principle... This is exactly the quality that the class to which he belongs have at their best because they think about the question under discussion and not about themselves.
    • Harold Macmillan's draft memorandum to The Queen (October 1963), quoted in D. R. Thorpe, Alec Douglas-Home (1996), p. 301
  • I always regarded Alec as that rarest thing in politics — a politician whose word one could trust.
  • That “something better” was what Churchill had worked for at Yalta. The alternative was a divided, hostile Europe—in short, Cold War. The government whips had favored an adjournment debate about Yalta, which would allow the Commons to ventilate its feelings without a vote. But Churchill, as always in the war, believed that a full-scale division was the best way to deter critics by making it, in effect, a vote of confidence in his government. Even so, critics put down an amendment regretting “the decision to transfer to another power the territory of an ally.” On March 1 the government had a majority of 396 to 25 on the amendment, but those numbers concealed the depth and significance of the opposition—eleven government ministers abstained and one resigned. The most vocal critics of Yalta had been strong backers of Munich, including Lord Dunglass (Alec Douglas-Home), Chamberlain’s parliamentary private secretary in 1938. After his speech, Churchill chuckled with Harold Nicolson, a fellow anti-appeaser, about the way “the warmongers of the Munich period have now become the appeasers, while the appeasers have become the warmongers.” but he was “overjoyed” by the final vote—in Nicolson’s words “like a schoolboy.”
    • David Reynolds, Summits: Six Meetings That Changed the World (2007), p. 146
  • I think he read everything, thought about everything and, as he would start to speak to you, he would speak with a depth, speak not in party political terms, but in depth of the history of England...of the United Kingdom and of the Empire... [He] was an extremely nice person but...not one the populace could take to... Television isn't kind to some people, although no one ever inspired more loyalty than Alec Douglas-Home.
    • Margaret Thatcher, interview with Charles Moore, quoted in Charles Moore, Margaret Thatcher. The Authorized Biography, Volume One: Not For Turning (2013), p. 169
  • This is a counter-revolution. After half a century of democratic advance, of social revolution, of rising expectations, the whole process has ground to a halt with a fourteenth Earl.
    • "Labour would reject move to postpone M.P.s' return", The Times, 21 October 1963, p. 6.
    • Harold Wilson speaking at Manchester, 19 October 1963, shortly after Douglas-Home's appointment as Prime Minister.
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