'You've never had it so good' is the the phrase often attributed to the British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan although he never actually used those exact words.

The phrase derives from a speech made by Harold Macmillan on the 20th July 1957 at a Conservative rally held in Bedford to commemorate twenty-five years by Alan Lennox Boyd as the Member of Parliament for Mid-Bedfordshire. What in fact Macmillan said at the time was; "Go around the country, go to the industrial towns, go to the farms and you will see a state of prosperity such as we have never had in my lifetime - nor indeed in the history of this country. Indeed let us be frank about it - most of our people have never had it so good."

At the time Macmillan was at pains to introduce a note of caution and felt obliged to ask for "restraint and commonsense"; that is "restraint in the demands we make and commonsense on how we spend our income", whilst lambasting the the "doctrinaire nightmare" of socialism which of course had brought the country nothing but "rationing, shortages, inflation, and one crisis after another in our international trade". Although as it happens when when push came to a shove Macmillan was himself happier to risk inflation than do anything that might damage short-term prosperity.

Whether or not Macmillan was aware of the extent to which his choice of words had intruded on the public consciousness is unclear, but certainly he appears to have been attracted to the phrase as he used similar words in another speech he gave at Maidstone on the 15th November 1957 when he spoke of the British people; "They have never lived so well; they have never had it so good." In any event the phrase has come to define the age, as evidenced by the fact that Peter Hennessy's account of Britain in the 1950s is entitled Having It So Good whilst Dominic Sandford's similar work goes under the name of Never Had It So Good.

Some sources such as the Hutchinson Encyclopedia of World History even go so far as to claim that Macmillan "led the Conservative Party to victory in the 1959 elections on the slogan 'You've never had it so good’". Such claims are simply wrong, as the Conservatives actually campaigned in the 1959 General Election on the slogan 'Life's Better with the Conservatives - Don't Let Labour Ruin it'. Of course the sentiments are similar and indeed the appeal to material well-being did indeed form one of the major planks of the Conservative campaign as their manifesto did claim that "While we have been in charge of the nation's affairs, many more of the good things of life have been enjoyed by families large and small".

What few people are aware of is the fact that the phrase was borrowed from the Democratic Party, who used the slogan 'You never had it so good' in their (unsuccessful) 1952 Presidential campaign. Indeed according to the Oxford English Dictionary 'to have it (so) good' was originally an American colloquialism which it dates to 1946 and notes that it originated as a "sardonic response to complaints about the Army".


SOURCES

  • On this day: 20 July 1957, The BBC
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/july/20/newsid_3728000/3728225.stm
  • The Phrase Finder: You've never had it so good http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/423400.html
  • Macmillan, (Maurice) Harold (1894–1986)
    http://www.thehistorychannel.co.uk/site/encyclopedia/article_show/
    Macmillan_Maurice_Harold_18941986/m0010614.html
  • Dominic Sandbrook, Never Had It So Good: A History of Britain from Suez to the Beatles (Abacus, 2006)
  • Peter Hennessy, Having It So Good: Britain in the Fifties (Penguin Books Ltd (3 May 2007)
  • Yanek Mieczkowski, The Routledge Historical Atlas of Presidential Elections (Routledge, 2001)
  • Conservative Manifesto 1959 http://www.psr.keele.ac.uk/area/uk/man/con59.htm

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