‘A LITTLE local difficulty” is a wonderful political phrase that conveys so much with so little.

It is humiliatingly dismissive of those who have inconvenienced a Prime Minister, yet it is enveloped in obfuscation because you know, deep down, the Prime Minister is in deep, deep doo-dah.

In his wonderful new autobiography, Harold Evans claims authorship of the phrase for one of his political heroes, Harold Macmillan. It seems odd, from the distance of 50 years, that Mr Evans, the Lancashire son of a railway driver, should have arrived in Darlington in 1961 so enamoured of the Tory toff PM.

It was the regional credentials of the Eton and Oxford-educated Macmillan that impressed Mr Evans.

Macmillan is one of only two British Prime Ministers to have been seriously wounded in battle – in 1916, he lay in a trench on the Somme for a day, a bullet in his pelvis, reading Aeschylus, in Greek, until he was rescued.

He knew nothing of the traditionally Liberal Stockton-on-Tees when he first stood in 1923, and lost by 73 votes. Next year, the Liberals collapsed, and he was in – the start of Stockton’s status as a marginal seat.

Its proximity to the ailing Durham coalfield caused him to write about the “middle land”

between the “unrestricted individualism” of true Toryism and the mass control of socialism.

But unemployment was soaring and in 1929, Stockton preferred the Labour candidate.

In a double blow, Macmillan discovered that his wife preferred a bisexual Scottish MP for whom Ronnie Kray procured young boys.

Undeterred, Macmillan fought for his wife and his seat. He stuck with the former throughout his life, despite her continued cross-benching, and regained the latter in 1931.

But he was too maverick for mainstream Conservatives – until Hitler forced the creation of Winston Churchill’s National Government.

Macmillan had a good political war controlling the Mediterranean. But the national mood was changing. He refused the offer of a safe seat, saying he did not want “to give up Stockton without even a fight”, and was walloped by Labour’s George Chetwynd by 8,664 votes.

The Conservatives of Bromley soon had him back in the House, and became Chancellor of the Exchequer, presenting one Budget, in 1956, which introduced Premium Bonds.

The Suez crisis unexpectedly propelled him to the premiership, enabling him to try out his “middle way” economics formed in Stockton.

He wanted public spending to create employment; his Chancellor wanted £153m of cuts to bolster the pound. Macmillan refused. His entire Treasury team – Peter Thorneycroft, Nigel Birch and Enoch Powell – resigned, but Macmillan continued his foreign visit, dismissing the devastating departures as “a little local difficulty”.

In 1958, Macmillan became the first PM to give a television interview before the first election of the TV age, 1959. Naturally shy, he manufactured an image of unruffled control for the cameras, and his glorious phrase captured his unflappability in just four words.

He also coined “the wind of change” and threw Margaret Thatcher’s housekeeping phrases back at her by likening her Eighties privatisations to “selling the family silver”.

But when asked about the biggest danger facing a politician, he never said the most famous phrase attributed to him: “Events, dear boy, events.” Less snappily, he replied: “The opposition of events.”

He became the 1st Earl of Stockton in 1984, and a month before his death in 1986 he reflected ruefully: “Sixty-three years ago . . . the unemployment figure (in Stockton) was 29 per cent. Last November . . . the unemployment (there) was 28 per cent. A rather sad end to one’s life.”