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).
An immensely sincere and straightforward figure, he appeared to be out of touch with political realities as prime minister. A poor public speaker and television performer, he was unfortunate to encounter Harold Wilson as leader of the opposition. His upper‐class, ‘grouse moor’ image was another drawback, while the refusal of both Iain Macleod and Enoch Powell to serve under him undermined his credibility. He 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.
After the controversy about the way in which he had become prime minister, and given that the queen could not choose a Tory leader while the party was in opposition, 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.
Subjects: British History.