Alexander Frederick Douglas-Home Baron Home of the Hirsel

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Home, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, 14th earl of [S] (1903–95). Prime minister. Douglas-Home succeeded to the earldom in 1951 but relinquished it in 1963 to re-enter the Commons as prime minister, in succession to Harold Macmillan. In 1974 he returned to the House of Lords as Lord Home of the Hirsel. He was first elected in 1931 and served as private secretary to Neville Chamberlain (1937–40), minister of state at the Scottish Office (1951–5), Commonwealth secretary (1955–60), and foreign secretary (1960–3). He also served as deputy leader (1956–7), then leader of the House of Lords and lord president of the council (1959–60). Between 1964 and 1965 he was leader of the opposition.

As foreign secretary Lord Home was a convinced anti-communist. He had spent the years 1940–2 flat on his back as a result of an injury and had read widely on current affairs. In particular, he had studied the theory and practice of communism and retained a deep suspicion and hostility towards the Soviets. Nor was he worried about nuclear weapons, telling an audience in April 1963: ‘The great advantage of the nuclear bomb is that at last ordinary decent men have been given a weapon which can stop the wicked from achieving their ends by war.’ On the other hand, he was deeply involved in the negotiations which led to the Test Ban treaty that same year.

An immensely sincere and straightforward figure, he appeared to be almost out of touch with political realities as prime minister. A poor public speaker and television performer (he confessed to ‘counting with matchsticks’ during a TV discussion on economics), he was unfortunate to encounter Harold Wilson's brilliance as leader of the opposition. His upper-class, ‘grouse moor’ image was another political drawback, while the refusal of both Iain Macleod and Enoch Powell to serve under him undermined his political credibility. They objected to the way in which Sir Alec had emerged as prime minister, believing that the cabinet favourite for the job, R. A. Butler, should have become premier. Both believed that Sir Alec had ruled himself out as a candidate. Yet, as Macleod was to write in a famous article in the Spectator, the ‘magic circle’ of Tory grandees had manœuvred Sir Alec into the job. It was a charge which the new prime minister deeply resented. He also clearly resented the attacks on his upbringing. In a famous speech, he pointed out that if he was the 14th earl of Home, Mr Wilson was ‘the fourteenth Mr Wilson’.

None the less, after a year of almost non-stop electioneering, Sir Alec, who concentrated on foreign and defence affairs, lost the 1964 election to Labour by the most slender of margins. Given the legacy of economic problems and scandals he had inherited from Macmillan, this was no small testament to his character. The British public clearly recognized him as a ‘true gent’, someone who could be trusted, but doubted his competence to modernize the economy or accept social change.

Given the controversy aroused by the way in which he had become prime minister, given that the queen could not choose a Tory leader while the party was in opposition, and given the need for a new leader after the party's defeat, Sir Alec arranged that his successor as party leader should be elected. This turned out to be Edward Heath under whom he served as foreign secretary between 1970 and 1974. Relations between them were smooth, unlike those between Heath and his successor a decade later. As foreign secretary, Sir Alec was one of those who helped take Britain into the Common Market in 1973. All in all, he was a decent, if not a notably successful, political figure.

Andrew Sanders

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Douglas-Home, Sir Alec ( Alexander Frederick) (1903–95) British statesman, prime minister (1963–64). He entered Parliament in 1931, and served as parliamentary private secretary (1937–39) to Neville Chamberlain. He joined the House of Lords as Lord Home of the Hirsel (1951), and had a succession of cabinet posts, including foreign secretary (1960–63). Douglas-Home renounced his peerage to succeed Harold Macmillan as Conservative prime minister. He was also foreign secretary (1970–74) under Ted Heath.

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Home, Sir Alec Douglas- (1903–95) See Douglas-Home, Sir Alec (Alexander Frederick)