The second biggest Cabinet purge in British history

Harold Macmillan’s dismissal of seven members of his Cabinet in 1962 was unprecedented. On July 24, Boris Johnson sacked eleven. Alistair Lexden described what is now the second biggest Cabinet purge in a letter in The Times on July 26.

Sir, Boris Johnson sacked 11 ministers at “perfunctory" meetings (“Johnson the Godfather takes his retribution in summer massacre”, Jul 25). Harold Macmillan parted with the seven victims of his Night of the Long Knives in July 1962 at “terribly difficult and emotional” interviews (one of them lasting more than an hour and a half) even though nearly all the casualties had told him that they wanted to retire during the preceding months. His famous wit did not desert him. Lord Kilmuir, axed as lord chancellor, protested that a even cook would have been given more notice. Macmillan replied that it was easier to find lord chancellors than cooks. Not to be outdone, Rab Butler quipped: “I feel my neck all the time to see if it is still there.”

Lord Lexden
Conservative Party historian