Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Rt Hon. Harold Wilson
|First term||October 16, 1964 - June 19, 1970|
|Preceded by||Alec Douglas-Home|
|Succeeded by||Edward Heath|
|Second term||March 4, 1974 - April 5, 1976|
|Preceded by||Edward Heath|
|Succeeded by||James Callaghan|
|Date of birth||March 11 1916|
|Place of birth||Huddersfield, Yorkshire|
|Date of death||May 24, 1995|
|Place of death||London|
|Retirement honours:||Knighthood of the Garter|
Life Barony (Wilson of Rievaulx)
James Harold Wilson, Baron Wilson of Rievaulx, KG, OBE, PC (March 11, 1916 – May 24, 1995) was one of the more successful Labour Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom and a 1960s icon. Wilson is regarded by many as probably one of the more intellectual politicians of the century.
Birth and Early Life
Wilson was born in Huddersfield in 1916, an almost exact contemporary of his great rival, Edward Heath. He came from a political family, his father Herbert having been active in the Liberal Party and then joined the Labour Party. When Harold was eight he visited London and was photographed standing on the doorstep of 10 Downing Street.
Wilson passed the 11-plus examination and won a scholarship to attend the local grammar school. His education was disrupted in 1931 when he contracted typhoid fever after drinking contaminated milk on a Scouts' outing and took months to recover. The next year his father, working as an industrial chemist, was made redundant and moved to the Wirral to find work. Wilson attended the sixth form at the local grammar schol, Wirral Grammar School for Boys, where he became head boy. Wilson did well at school and won a scholarship to study history at Jesus College, Oxford from 1934.
At Oxford Wilson was moderately active in politics as a member of the Liberal Party but was later influenced by G. D. H. Cole to join the Labour Party After his first year, he changed his degree to philosophy, politics and economics, and he graduated with an outstanding first class degree. He continued in academe, becoming one of the youngest Oxford University dons of the century.
Wilson became research assistant to William Beveridge on unemployment and the trade cycle while lecturing on e–conomics at New College and economic history at University College. On the outbreak of World War II he volunteered for service but was classed as a specialist and moved into the Civil Service instead. Most of his war was spent as a statistician and economist for the coal industry.
As the war drew to an end, he began searching for a seat to fight at the impending general election. Eventually he was selected for Ormskirk, which was then held by Stephen King-Hall . Wilson accidentally agreed to be adopted as the candidate immediately rather than delay until the election was called, and was therefore compelled to resign from the Civil Service. He used the time in between to write 'A New Deal for Coal' which used his wartime experience to argue for nationalization of the coal mines on the basis of improved efficiency.
In the 1945 general election, Wilson won his seat in line with the Labour landslide. To his surprise he was immediately appointed to the Government as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works. Two years later he became Secretary for Overseas Trade, in which capacity he made several trips to the Soviet Union to negotiate supplies. Opponents would later class these trips as suspicious.
On October 14, 1947, Wilson was appointed President of the Board of Trade and became the youngest member of the Cabinet in the 20th century. He took a lead in abolishing some of the wartime rationing, which he referred to as a "bonfire of controls". In the general election of 1950, his constituency was altered and he was narrowly elected for the new seat of Huyton.
Wilson was becoming known as a left-winger and joined Aneurin Bevan in resigning from the government in April 1951 in protest at the introduction of NHS medical charges in order to meet the financial demands imposed on the budget by the Korean War. After the Labour Party lost the general election later that year, he was made Chairman of Bevan's "Keep Left" group, but shortly thereafter he distanced himself from Bevan. By coincidence, it was Bevan's further resignation from the Shadow Cabinet in 1954 that put him back on the front bench.
He soon proved a very effective Shadow Minister. One of his procedural moves caused the loss of the Government's Finance Bill in 1955, and his speeches as Shadow Chancellor from 1956 were widely praised for their clarity and wit. He coined the term "Gnomes of Zurich" to describe Swiss bankers whom he accused of pushing the pound down with speculation. In the meantime he conducted an inquiry into the Labour Party's organisation following its defeat in the 1955 general election, which made several useful recommendations for improvements. Unusually Wilson combined the job of Chairman of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee with that of Shadow Chancellor from 1959.
Wilson was still identified with the Left, and launched an opportunistic but unsuccessful challenge to the Leader Hugh Gaitskell in 1960 after the Labour Party's 1959 defeat and Gaitskell's unpopular move to ditch Clause Four. He also challenged for the Deputy Leadership in 1962 but was defeated by George Brown . Because of these challenges he was moved to the position of Shadow Foreign Secretary.
Hugh Gaitskell died suddenly in January 1963, just as the Labour Party had begun to unite and look like it had a good chance of being elected to government. Wilson became the left candidate for the leadership, and defeated Brown. He coordinated Labour's response to the Profumo Affair, in which he made some political capital without getting the party involved in the less salubrious aspects. At the Labour Party conference later in 1963, he made a very significant speech in which he claimed "the Britain that will be forged in the white heat of (the scientific and technical) revolution will have no place for restrictive practices and outdated measures on either side of industry". This speech did much to set Wilson's reputation as a classless technocrat.
In 1964, Wilson narrowly won the general election with a majority of 5 and became prime minister. This was not sufficient to last for a full term and after a short period of competent government, in March 1966 he won re-election with a landslide majority of 99. He was soon a familiar figure, known for his pipe-smoking, his Gannex raincoat, and his habit of taking holidays in the Isles of Scilly. As prime minister, his opponents accused him of deviousness, especially over the matter of devaluation of the pound in November 1967. Wilson had rejected devaluation for many years, yet in his broadcast had seemed to present it as a triumph.
During his first period of office, Wilson's government set up the Open University, which he would come to regard as his own greatest achievement.
Overseas, Wilson was troubled by crises in several of Britain's former colonies, especially Rhodesia and South Africa. Wilson gave diplomatic support but resisted pressure for military support to America in the Vietnam War. In addition to the damage done to its reputation by devaluation, Wilson's government suffered from the perception that its response to industrial relations problems was inadequate. A six-week strike of members of the National Union of Seamen, which began shortly after Wilson' re-election in 1966, did much to reinforce this perception, along with Wilson's own sense of insecurity in office.
In 1967 Wilson sued pop group The Move for libel after the band's manager published a promotional postcard for the single "Flowers In The Rain", which featured a cartoon caricature that depicted Wilson in bed with his reputed mistress. Wilson won the case and all royalties from the song (composed by Roy Wood), were assigned to a charity of Wilson's choosing. Remarkably, this arrangement remains in place a decade after Wilson's death.
By 1969 the Labour Party was suffering serious mid-term electoral reverses. In June 1970, Wilson responded to an apparent recovery in his government's popularity by calling a general election, but, to the surprise of almost all observers, was swept from power on a tide of anti-Labour feeling. Despite the shock defeat, Wilson survived as leader of the party and returned to Downing Street in 1974, after his successor, Edward Heath, had failed to deal adequately with similar problems to those he had faced.
Wilson coined the term Selsdon Man to refer to the anti-interventionist policies of the Conservative leader Edward Heath developed at the Selsdon Park Hotel in early 1970. This phrase is the genesis of the habit of British political commentators of describing political developments by suffixing the word man (eg Essex Man), comparable with the (originally American) practice of identifying scandals by suffixing the word gate. Wilson's most famous attributed quote is 'A week is a long time in politics' around the time of the devaluation of the pound - this is taken to mean that a government doing badly at the begining of a week may be doing well at the end and vice-versa. Other memorable phrases attributed to Wilson include the comment he made to attempt to reassure the British public after the 1967 devaluation of the pound: "This does not mean that the pound here in Britain -- in your pocket or purse -- is worth any less...", usually now quoted as "the pound in your pocket".
On March 16, 1976, Wilson shocked the nation by announcing his resignation as prime minister and his intention to retire from politics altogether. He claimed that this was a step he had always planned to take when he reached the age of sixty and that he was physically and mentally exhausted. In reality he was probably aware that he was suffering from the first stages of early-onset Alzheimer's disease as both his memory and powers of concentration, which up until this point had been excellent, were now starting to fail him drastically.
Wilson's resignation honours list included many businessmen and showbusiness stars along with his political supporters, and caused lasting damage to his reputation when it was revealed that the first draft of the list had been written by Marcia Williams on lavender notepaper (it became known as the Lavender List). Some of those Wilson honoured were later revealed to have been corrupt, including Lord Kagan who went to jail for fraud and Sir Eric Miller who committed suicide while under investigation.
Six candidates stood in the first ballot to replace him: Tony Benn, James Callaghan, Anthony Crosland, Michael Foot, Denis Healey and Roy Jenkins. Jenkins was initially tipped as the favourite but only came third on the initial ballot. In the final ballot, on the evening of 5 April, Callaghan defeated Foot by 176-137 parliamentary votes and became Wilson's successor as Prime Minister and leader of the Labour Party.
As Wilson wished to remain an MP after leaving office he was not offered the customary peerage offered to retired prime ministers, but instead was created a Knight of the Garter. On leaving the House of Commons in 1983 he was created Lord Wilson of Rievaulx.
Apparently in 1963, Soviet defector Anatoliy Golitsyn secretly claimed that Wilson was a KGB agent. The majority of intelligence officers did not believe that Golitsyn was a genuine defector but a significant number did (most prominently James Jesus Angleton, CIA deputy director of counter-intelligence) and factional strife broke out between the two groups. The book Spycatcher (an exposť of MI5) alleged that 30 MI5 agents then collaborated in an attempt to undermine Wilson. The author Peter Wright (a former member of MI5) later claimed that his ghostwriter had written 30 when he had meant 3. Many of Wright's claims are controversial, and a Ministerial statement has been made that an internal investigation failed to find any evidence to support the allegations.
Harold Wilson's First Cabinet 1964-1970
- Harold Wilson - Prime Minister
- Lord Gardiner - Lord Chancellor
- Lord Longford (1964-1965) - Lord Privy Seal
- Frank Soskice (1965-1966)
- Earl of Longford (1966-1968)
- Lord Shackleton (1968)
- Fred Peart (1968)
- Lord Shackleton (1968-1970)
- George Brown (1964-1966) - First Secretary of State
- Michael Stewart (1966-1968)
- Barbara Castle (1968-1970)
- Herbert Bowden (1964-1966) - Lord President of the Council
- Richard Crossman (1966-1968)
- Fred Peart (1968-1970)
- James Callaghan (1964-1967) - Chancellor of the Exchequer
- Roy Jenkins (1967-1970)
- Jack Diamond (1968-1970) - Chief Secretary to the Treasury
- George Brown (1964-1966) - Secretary of State for Economic Affairs
- Michael Stewart (1966-1967)
- Peter Shore (1967-1969)
- Patrick Gordon Walker (1964-1965) - Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
- Michael Stewart (1965-1966)
- George Brown (1966-1968)
- Michael Stewart (1968-1970) - Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
- Frank Soskice (1964-1965) - Secretary of State for the Home Department
- Roy Jenkins (1965-1967)
- James Callaghan (1967-1970)
- Fred Peart (1964-1968) - Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
- Cledwyn Hughes (1968-1970)
- Arthur Greenwood (1964-1965) - Secretary of State for the Colonies
- Earl of Longford (1965-1966)
- Frederick Lee (1966-1967)
- Arthur Bottomley (1964-1966) - Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs
- Herbert Bowden (1966-1967)
- George Morgan Thompson (1967-1968)
- Denis Healey (1964-1970) - Secretary of State for Defence
- Michael Stewart (1964-1965) - Secretary of State for Education and Science
- Anthony Crosland (1965-1967)
- Patrick Gordon Walker (1967-1968)
- Edward Short (1968-1970)
- Richard Crossman (1968-1970) - Secretary of State for Health and Social Security
- Richard Crossman (1964-1966) - Minister of Housing and Local Government
- Arthur Greenwood (1966-1969)
- Barbara Castle (1964-1965) - Minister for Overseas Development
- Arthur Greenwood (1965-1966)
- Arthur Bottomley (1966-1967)
- Ray Gunter (1964-1968) - Minister of Labour
- Barbara Castle (1968-1970) - Secretary of State for Employment
- Douglas Houghton (1964-1966) - Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
- George Morgan Thompson (1969-1970)
- Anthony Crosland (1969-1970) - Secretary of State for Local Government and Regional Planning
- Lord Shackleton (1968) - Paymaster-General
- Judith Hart (1968-1969)
- Harold Lever (1969-1970)
- Douglas Houghton (1966-1967) - Minister without Portfolio
- Patrick Gordon Walker (1967)
- George Morgan Thompson (1968-1969)
- Peter Shore (1969-1970)
- Frederick Lee (1964-1966) - Minister of Power
- Richard Marsh (1966-1968)
- Ray Gunter (1968)
- Roy Mason (1968-1969)
- William Ross (1964-1970) - Secretary of State for Scotland
- Frank Cousins (1964-1966) - Secretary of State for Technology
- Tony Benn (1966-1970)
- Douglas Jay (1964-1967) - President of the Board of Trade
- Anthony Crosland (1967-1969)
- Roy Mason (1969-1970)
- Thomas Fraser (1964-1965) - Minister of Transport
- Barbara Castle (1965-1968)
- Richard Marsh (1968-1969)
- Jim Griffiths (1964-1966) - Secretary of State for Wales
- Cledwyn Hughes (1966-1968)
- George Thomas (1968-1970)
Harold Wilson's Second Government March 1974 - April 1976
- Harold Wilson - Prime Minister
- Lord Elwyn-Jones - Lord Chancellor
- Edward Short - Lord President of the Council
- Lord Shepherd - Lord Privy Seal
- Denis Healey - Chancellor of the Exchequer
- James Callaghan - Foreign Secretary
- Roy Jenkins - Home Secretary
- Fred Peart - Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
- Roy Mason - Secretary of State for Defence
- Reginald Prentice - Secretary of State for Education and Science
- Michael Foot - Secretary of State for Employment
- Eric Varley - Secretary of State for Energy
- Anthony Crosland - Secretary of State for the Environment
- Barbara Castle - Secretary of State for Health and Social Security
- Tony Benn - Secretary of State for Industry
- Harold Lever - Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
- Merlyn Rees - Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
- Shirley Williams - Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection
- Peter Shore - Secretary of State for Trade
- John Morris - Secretary of State for Wales
- Robert Mellish - Chief Whip
- October 1974 - John Silkin although working to the Secretary of State for Environment enters the cabinet as Minister of Planning and Local Government.
- June 1975 - Fred Mulley succeeds Reginald Prentice as Secretary for Education and Science. Prentice becomes Secretary for Overseas Development. Tony Benn succeeds Eric Varley as Secretary for Energy. Varley succeeds Benn as Secretary for Industry.
|- style="text-align: center;" | width="30%" |Preceded by:
Hugh Gaitskell | width="40%" style="text-align: center;" |Leader of the British Labour Party
1963–1976 | width="30%" |Succeeded by:
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