On July 13, 1962, the United Kingdom was undergoing political upheaval – sounds familiar, huh? Theresa May’s assumption of the role of Prime Minister after these past few weeks of chaos and uncertainty following Brexit parallels nicely to the anniversary of the turmoil that became known as the Night of the Long Knives.
Conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillan found himself in an embattled position. The UK was in an economic downturn, widely blamed on the old-school Conservatives and that young, upstart John Kennedy had won the United States Presidency showing that youth could overcome experience. On top of that, Conservatives had lost several key seats to challengers in what had once been safe Tory seats. Macmillan discussed a shakeup of his cabinet to demonstrate to the country that the government was responding to the times. His confidant was Home Secretary Rab Butler, who later spoke to a journalist about the PM’s plans. With the secrets proclaimed on the front page of London newspapers, Macmillan had to act. On July 13, he called seven members of his cabinet and “replaced” them. The actions did not have the desired impact. Instead, the papers began calling him “Mac the Knife” and calling the action the Night of the Long Knives – an event from Nazi history when, in 1934, Hitler consolidated his power by executing several rivals within the part. Macmillan would hang on for another year as Prime Minister, but his influence was severely damaged.