In the UK, 'the night of the long knives' usually refers to Harold MacMillan's brutal but bloodless purge of his cabinet on July 13, 1962. MacMillan's Conservative Party had won the 1959 general election by a landslide, although as the 1960s progressed, it became apparent that Britain's economy was being outpaced by old WW2 enemies Germany and Japan.

Rising inflation, an old-fashioned image, and a disastrous by-election defeat in March 1962 led to MacMillan sacking seven of his ministers in one go - one-third of his cabinet, including Chancellor of the Exchequer John Selwyn-Lloyd. This display of desperation, coupled with the Profumo affair, dismantled MacMillan's government, and in 1964 it was beaten by the Labour party under Harold Wilson.

Jeremy Thorpe, leader of what was then the Liberal party, is reported to have commented that "greater love than this hath no man that he should lay down his friends for his life".