Harold Wilson
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1964–1970 and 1974–1976)
Harold Wilson
James Harold Wilson, Baron Wilson of Rievaulx, KG, OBE, FRS, FSS, PC was a British Labour politician and Leader of the Labour Party. He was twice Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during the 1960s and 1970s, winning four general elections, including a minority government after the February 1974 General Election resulted in a hung parliament. He is the most recent British Prime Minister to have served non-consecutive terms.
Harold Wilson's personal information overview.
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ANDREW PIERCE: MPs persuade Beeb to catch a falling Star - Daily Mail
Google News - over 5 years
When Harold Wilson was Labour Prime Minister in the Seventies, it was rumoured there was a Communist Party cell operating in Downing Street. Well, it seems that cell is still operating in the Westminster village. A few weeks ago,
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Editor's Choice: Tony Benn on why spirit of famous shipyard work-in can sink ... - Scottish Daily Record
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Despite Benn's enthusiasm for the work-in, Labour leader Harold Wilson took more convincing. Benn said: “Harold was very doubtful. But then Harold went to Glasgow himself and got caught up in the whole thing and came out in support of it
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Manufacturing week: How we got here - Telegraph.co.uk
Google News - over 5 years
Harold Wilson went further after moving to Downing Street in 1964, talking ambitiously about a technological revolution and the creation of groups with a global reach to match the US giants. He set up the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation (IRC),
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Hotels-London.co.uk - University of London makes an exhibition of itself - The Open Press (press release)
Google News - over 5 years
The exhibition will take place at the University's Senate House Library, located just off Russell Square in Bloomsbury, and also features notes on former Prime Minister Harold Wilson along with rare photographs of the construction work carried out on
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Choose your celebrities carefully - Vancouver Sun
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In 1956, when he was shadow chancellor (and happily coined the expression "gnomes of Zurich"), Harold Wilson began wearing a rubberized outer garment known as a Gannex mac. This was manufactured by a Yorkshire crony called Joseph Kagan
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Former Cabrini staffer no-show at rape sentencing; warrant issued - Times Herald-Record
Google News - over 5 years
Harold Wilson, 60, pleaded guilty in April and previously had his sentencing postponed because he was hospitalized. Ulster County Court Judge Donald Williams, who issued the warrant, said he will sentence Wilson on Monday morning whether the defendant
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Local sheriff uses Facebook to make arrest - WPSD Local 6
Google News - over 5 years
Replaying Tuesday's events in him mind, Harold Wilson said, "I probably couldn't say how mad I was then." Wilson said he has cooled a lot in the days since but he still cannot believe someone had the nerve to come on his farm and steal his equipment,
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Secret war on Scientologist 'mafia' launched by Harold Wilson government in 1970s - Daily Mail
Google News - over 5 years
Ministers of Harold Wilson's Labour Government agreed to begin undermining the group, and a 1976 document entitled Action To Curb Scientologists reads: 'Police forces should build up as detailed a composite picture as possible of the organisation's
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Lord Marsh - Telegraph.co.uk
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Lord Marsh, who died on July 29 aged 83, was in the Cabinet aged 38 and seen as a future prime minister until Harold Wilson dramatically sacked him; he went on to head British Rail and the Newspaper Publishers' Association. Firmly on Labour's Right and
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NEWS ANALYSIS; Finding The Secret 11 Words
NYTimes - over 5 years
Sam Roberts is the urban affairs correspondent for The New York Times. AFTER all 7,000 pages of the Pentagon Papers were released last month, a parlor game was born: Find the 11 words that the government didn't want you to read. Those 11 words, on a single page, were supposed to be redacted when the papers were made public in their entirety by the
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Mrs Cameron's diary - The Guardian
Google News - over 5 years
And when Dave went calm down dear, Harold Wilson had his moments I believe, Perkins said that compared with Mr Coulson Mr Kagan was a gentleman and a scholar and she'd emigrate to Saudi before she served that ginger hussy another Moscow Mule,
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Allan Massie: Pressing for change is nothing new - Scotsman
Google News - over 5 years
Lord Rees-Mogg tells a story in his memoirs of an evening with Harold Wilson. Roy Thomson , proprietor of the Sunday Times (and The Scotsman) was seeking to buy the Times. The prime minister made it clear that he would not have the proposed deal
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Driest six months since 1976...but still no hosepipe ban - Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph
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The year 1976 saw Harold Wilson resign as Prime Minister, Steve Jobs form Apple and punk legends The Ramones release their first album. It also saw Northamptonshire basking in a heatwave and dry spell which had never been equalled – until now
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Greece's euro exit can now only be a matter of time - Financial Times
Google News - over 5 years
This was the story of Harold Wilson's long but vain attempt to stave off the 1967 devaluation of sterling. It was the story of the attempt of successive US presidents to maintain the fixed official dollar price of gold. In the final few years it only
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Learn about memorable moments in the evolution of Harold Wilson
  • 1995
    His memorial service was held in Westminster Abbey on 13 July 1995.
    More Details Hide Details It was attended by the Prince of Wales, former Prime Ministers Edward Heath, James Callaghan, and Margaret Thatcher, serving Prime Minister John Major, and also a future Prime Minister, Tony Blair. Wilson was buried at St Mary's Old Church, St. Mary's, Isles of Scilly, on 6 June. His epitaph is (Time the Commander of Things). Wilson regarded himself as a "man of the people" and did much to promote this image, contrasting himself with the stereotypical aristocratic conservatives who had preceded him. Features of this portrayal included his working man's Gannex raincoat, his pipe (the British Pipesmokers' Council voted him Pipe Smoker of the Year in 1965 and Pipeman of the Decade in 1976, though in private he smoked cigars), his love of simple cooking and fondness for popular British relish HP Sauce, and his support for his home town's football team, Huddersfield Town. His speech showed a Yorkshire accent at times. Eschewing continental holidays, he returned every summer with his family to the Isles of Scilly. His first general election victory relied heavily on associating these down-to-earth attributes with a sense that the UK urgently needed to modernise, after "thirteen years of Tory mis-rule ". These characteristics were exaggerated in Private Eye's satirical column "Mrs Wilson's Diary".
  • 1994
    He continued regularly attending the House of Lords until just over a year before his death; the last sitting he attended was on 27 April 1994.
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  • 1987
    In July 1987, Labour MP Ken Livingstone used his maiden speech to raise the 1975 allegations of a former Army Press officer in Northern Ireland, Colin Wallace, who also alleged a plot to destabilise Wilson.
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  • 1986
    His last speech was in a debate on marine pilotage in 1986, when he commented as an elder brother of Trinity House.
    More Details Hide Details In the same year, he played himself as Prime Minister in an Anglia Television drama, "Inside Story".
  • 1984
    Wilson was not especially active in the House of Lords, although he did initiate a debate on unemployment in May 1984.
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  • 1980
    Wilson appeared on the show again in 1980.
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  • 1978
    At Christmas 1978, Wilson appeared on the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special.
    More Details Hide Details Eric Morecambe's habit of appearing not to recognise the guest stars was repaid by Wilson, who referred to him throughout as 'Morry-camby' (the mis-pronunciation of Morecambe's name made by Ed Sullivan when the pair appeared on his famous American television show).
  • 1976
    In addition, by 1976 he might already have been aware of the first stages of early-onset Alzheimer's disease, which was to cause both his formerly excellent memory and his powers of concentration to fail dramatically.
    More Details Hide Details Queen Elizabeth II came to dine at 10 Downing Street to mark his resignation, an honour she has bestowed on only one other Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill. Wilson's Prime Minister's Resignation Honours included many businessmen and celebrities, along with his political supporters. His choice of appointments caused lasting damage to his reputation, worsened by the suggestion that the first draft of the list had been written by his political secretary Marcia Williams on lavender notepaper (it became known as the "Lavender List"). Roy Jenkins noted that Wilson's retirement "was disfigured by his, at best, eccentric resignation honours list, which gave peerages or knighthoods to some adventurous business gentlemen, several of whom were close neither to him nor to the Labour Party." Some of those whom Wilson honoured included Lord Kagan, the inventor of Gannex, who was eventually imprisoned for fraud, and Sir Eric Miller, who later committed suicide while under police investigation for corruption.
    On 16 March 1976, Wilson announced his resignation as Prime Minister (taking effect on 5 April 1976).
    More Details Hide Details He claimed that he had always planned on resigning at the age of 60, and that he was physically and mentally exhausted. As early as the late 1960s, he had been telling intimates, like his doctor Sir Joseph Stone (later Lord Stone of Hendon), that he did not intend to serve more than eight or nine years as Prime Minister. Roy Jenkins has suggested that Wilson may have been motivated partly by the distaste for politics felt by his loyal and long-suffering wife, Mary. His doctor had detected problems which would later be diagnosed as colon cancer, and Wilson had begun drinking brandy during the day to cope with stress.
    The matter was still unresolved at the time of Wilson's resignation in 1976.
    More Details Hide Details By 1969, the Labour Party was suffering serious electoral reverses, and by the turn of 1970 had lost a total of 16 seats in by-elections since the previous general election. By 1970, the economy was showing signs of improvement, and by May that year, Labour had overtaken the Conservatives in the opinion polls. Wilson responded to this apparent recovery in his government's popularity by calling a general election, but, to the surprise of most observers, was defeated at the polls by the Conservatives under Heath.
    A period of economic crisis was now beginning to hit most Western countries, and in 1976 Wilson suddenly announced his resignation as Prime Minister.
    More Details Hide Details Wilson's own approach to socialism was moderate, with emphasis on increasing opportunity within society, for example through change and expansion within the education system, allied to the technocratic aim of taking better advantage of rapid scientific progress, rather than on the more controversial socialist goal of promoting wider public ownership of industry. He took little action to pursue the Labour Party constitution's stated dedication to such nationalisation, though he did not formally disown it. Himself a member of the Labour Party's "soft left", Wilson joked about leading a Cabinet that was made up mostly of social democrats, comparing himself to a Bolshevik revolutionary presiding over a Tsarist cabinet, but there was arguably little to divide him ideologically from the cabinet majority.
  • 1975
    In 1975 Wilson secretly offered Libya's dictator Muammar Gaddafi £14 million (£500 million in 2009 values) to stop arming the IRA, but Gaddafi demanded a far greater sum of money.
    More Details Hide Details This offer did not become publicly known until 2009.
  • 1974
    In May 1974, when back in office as leader of a minority government, Wilson condemned the Unionist-controlled Ulster Workers Council Strike as a "sectarian strike", which was "being done for sectarian purposes having no relation to this century but only to the seventeenth century".
    More Details Hide Details However he refused to pressure a reluctant British Army to face down the loyalist paramilitaries who were intimidating utility workers. In a televised speech later, he referred to the loyalist strikers and their supporters as "spongers" who expected Britain to pay for their lifestyles. The strike was eventually successful in breaking the power-sharing Northern Ireland executive. On 11 September 2008, BBC Radio Four's Document programme claimed to have unearthed a secret plan – codenamed Doomsday – which proposed to cut all of the United Kingdom's constitutional ties with Northern Ireland and transform the province into an independent dominion. Document went on to claim that the Doomsday plan was devised mainly by Wilson and was kept a closely guarded secret. The plan then allegedly lost momentum, due in part, it was claimed, to warnings made by both the then Foreign Secretary, James Callaghan, and the then Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Garret FitzGerald who admitted the 12,000-strong Irish army would be unable to deal with the ensuing civil war.
    He gained a three-seat majority in another election later that year, on 10 October 1974.
    More Details Hide Details One of the key issues addressed during his second period in office was the referendum on British membership of the EEC (see Europe, above). The Second Wilson Government made a major commitment to the expansion of the British welfare state, with increased spending on education, health, and housing rents. To pay for it, it imposed controls and raised taxes on the rich. It partially reversed the 1971 reduction in the top rate of tax from 90% to 75%, increasing it to 83% in the first budget from new chancellor Denis Healey, which came into law in April 1974. Also implemented was an investment income surcharge which raised the top rate on investment income to 98%, the highest level since the Second World War. Despite its achievements in social policy, however, Wilson's government came under scrutiny in 1975 for the rise in the unemployment rate, with the total number of Britons out of work passing 1,000,000 by April of that year.
    As Heath was unable to persuade the Liberals to form a coalition, Wilson returned to 10 Downing Street on 4 March 1974 as Prime Minister of a minority Labour Government.
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    He lost his energy and drive in his second government 1974-76 and accomplished little as the leadership split over Europe and trade union issues began tearing Labour apart.
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  • 1973
    Wilson survived as leader of the Labour party in opposition. In the summer of 1973, holidaying on the Isles of Scilly, he tried to board a motor boat from a dinghy and stepped into the sea.
    More Details Hide Details He was unable to get into the boat and was left in the cold water, hanging on to the fenders of the motor boat. He was close to death before he was saved by passers by. The incident was taken up by the press and resulted in some embarrassment for Wilson; his press secretary, Joe Haines, tried to deflect some of the comment by blaming Wilson's dog for the problem. Economic conditions during the 1970s were becoming more difficult for Britain and many other western economies as a result of the ending of the Bretton Woods Agreement and the 1973 oil shock, and the Heath government in its turn was buffeted by economic adversity and industrial unrest (notably including confrontation with the coalminers which led to the Three-Day Week) towards the end of 1973, and on 7 February 1974 (with the crisis still ongoing) Heath called a snap election for 28 February.
  • 1972
    He was instrumental as Prime Minister in appointing Claus Moser as head of the Central Statistical Office, and was president of the Royal Statistical Society in 1972–73.
    More Details Hide Details As the war drew to an end, he searched for a seat to fight at the impending general election. He was selected for the constituency of Ormskirk, then held by Stephen King-Hall. Wilson agreed to be adopted as the candidate immediately rather than delay until the election was called, and was therefore compelled to resign from his position in the Civil Service. He served as Praelector in Economics at University College between his resignation and his election to the House of Commons. He also used this time to write A New Deal for Coal, which used his wartime experience to argue for nationalisation of the coal mines on the grounds of the improved efficiency he predicted would ensue.
  • 1971
    Out of office in the autumn of 1971, Wilson formulated a 16-point, 15-year programme that was designed to pave the way for the unification of Ireland.
    More Details Hide Details The proposal was not adopted by the then Heath government.
  • 1970
    Wilson was known for his strong pro-Israel views. He was a particular friend of Israeli Premier Golda Meir, though her tenure largely coincided with Wilson's 1970–1974 hiatus.
    More Details Hide Details Another associate was West German Chancellor Willy Brandt; all three were members of the Socialist International. The British "retreat from Empire" had made headway by 1964 and was to continue during Wilson's administration. The Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland came to present serious problems. Southern Rhodesia, which had been the economic powerhouse of the Federation, was not granted independence, principally because Wilson refused to grant independence to the white minority government headed by Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith which not willing to extend unqualified voting rights to the native African population. Smith's defiant response was a Unilateral Declaration of Independence, on 11 November 1965. Wilson's immediate recourse was to the United Nations, and in 1965, the Security Council imposed sanctions, which were to last until official independence in 1979. This involved British warships blockading the port of Beira to try to cause economic collapse in Rhodesia. Wilson was applauded by most nations for taking a firm stand on the issue (and none extended diplomatic recognition to the Smith régime). A number of nations did not join in with sanctions, undermining their efficiency. Certain sections of public opinion started to question their efficacy, and to demand the toppling of the régime by force. Wilson declined to intervene in Rhodesia with military force, believing the British population would not support such action against their "kith and kin". The two leaders met for discussions aboard British warships, in 1966 and in 1968.
    A wide range of liberal measures were introduced during Wilson's time in office. The Matrimonial Proceedings and Property Act 1970 made provision for the welfare of children whose parents were about to divorce or be judicially separated, with courts (for instance) granted wide powers to order financial provision for children in the form of maintenance payments made by either parent.
    More Details Hide Details This legislation allowed courts to order provision for either spouse and recognised the contribution to the joint home made during marriage. That same year, spouses were given an equal share of household assets following divorce via the Matrimonial Property Act. The Race Relations Act 1968 was also extended in 1968 and in 1970 the Equal Pay Act 1970 was passed.
  • 1969
    In 1969, a married couple with two children were 11.5% per cent richer in real terms, while for a couple with three children, the corresponding increase was 14.5%, and for a family with four children, 16.5%.
    More Details Hide Details From 1965 to 1968, the income of single pensioner households as a percentage of other one adult households rose from 48.9% to 52.5%. For two pensioner households, the equivalent increase was from 46.8% to 48.2%. In addition, mainly as a result of big increases in cash benefits, unemployed persons and large families gained more in terms of real disposable income than the rest of the population during Wilson's time in office. As noted by Paul Whiteley, pensions, sickness, unemployment, and supplementary benefits went up more in real terms under the First Wilson Government than under the preceding Conservative administration: “To compare the Conservative period of office with the Labour period, we can use the changes in benefits per year as a rough estimate of comparative performance. For the Conservatives and Labour respectively increases in supplementary benefits per year were 3.5 and 5.2 percentage points, for sickness and unemployment benefits 5.8 and 30.6 percentage points, for pensions 3.8 and 4.6, and for family allowances -1.2 and -2.6. Thus the poor, the retired, the sick and the unemployed did better in real terms under Labour than they did under Conservatives, and families did worse.”
  • 1968
    Shortly afterward, in January 1968, Wilson announced that the proposed timetable for this withdrawal was to be accelerated, and that British forces were to be withdrawn from Singapore, Malaysia, and the Persian Gulf by the end of 1971.
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    In 1968, the Nurseries and Child-Minders Regulation Act 1948 was updated to include more categories of childminders. A year later, the Family Law Reform Act 1969 was passed, which allowed people born outside marriage to inherit on the intestacy of either parent.
    More Details Hide Details In 1967, homosexuality was decriminalised by the passage of the Sexual Offences Act. The First Wilson Government also introduced a thirty-year rule for access to public records, replacing a previous fifty-year rule. Despite the economic difficulties faced by the first Wilson government, it succeeded in maintaining low levels of unemployment and inflation during its time in office. Unemployment was kept below 2.7%, and inflation for much of the 1960s remained below 4%. Living standards generally improved, while public spending on housing, social security, transport, research, education and health went up by an average of more than 6% between 1964 and 1970. The average household grew steadily richer, with the number of cars in the United Kingdom rising from one to every 6.4 persons to one for every five persons in 1968, representing a net increase of three million cars on the road. The rise in the standard of living was also characterised by increased ownership of various consumer durables from 1964 to 1969, as demonstrated by television sets (from 88% to 90%), refrigerators (from 39% to 59%), and washing machines (from 54% to 64%).
    1968 saw the introduction of aggregation of the investment income of unmarried minors with the income of their parents.
    More Details Hide Details According to Michael Meacher, this change put an end to a previous inequity whereby two families, in otherwise identical circumstances, paid differing amounts of tax "simply because in one case the child possessed property transferred to it by a grandparent, while in the other case the grandparent's identical property was inherited by the parent." In the 1969 budget, income tax was abolished for about 1 million of the lowest paid and reduced for a further 600,000 people, while in the government's last budget (introduced in 1970), two million small taxpayers were exempted from paying any income tax altogether.
    Due to austerity measures following an economic crisis, prescription charges were re-introduced in 1968 as an alternative to cutting the hospital building programme, although those sections of the population who were most in need (including supplementary benefit claimants, the long-term sick, children, and pensioners) were exempted from charges.
    More Details Hide Details The widow's earning rule was also abolished, while a range of new social benefits was introduced.
  • 1967
    Part of the price paid by Wilson after talks with President Johnson in June 1967 for US assistance with the UK economy was his agreement to maintain a military presence East of Suez.
    More Details Hide Details In July 1967 Defence Secretary Denis Healey announced that Britain would abandon her mainland bases East of Suez by 1977, although airmobile forces would be retained which could if necessary be deployed in the region.
  • 1966
    On 28 June 1966 Wilson 'dissociated' his Government from American bombing of the cities of Hanoi and Haiphong.
    More Details Hide Details In his memoirs, Wilson writes of "selling LBJ a bum steer", a reference to Johnson's Texas roots, which conjured up images of cattle and cowboys in British minds.
    Among the most damaging of the numerous strikes during Wilson's periods in office was a six-week stoppage by the National Union of Seamen, beginning shortly after Wilson's re-election in 1966, and conducted, he claimed, by "politically motivated men".
    More Details Hide Details With public frustration over strikes mounting, Wilson's government in 1969 proposed a series of changes to the legal basis for industrial relations (labour law), which were outlined in a White Paper "In Place of Strife" put forward by the Employment Secretary Barbara Castle. Following a confrontation with the Trades Union Congress, which strongly opposed the proposals, and internal dissent from Home Secretary James Callaghan, the government substantially backed-down from its intentions. The Heath government (1970-1974) introduced the Industrial Relations Act 1971 with many of the same ideas, but this was largely repealed by the post 1974 Labour government. Some elements of these changes were subsequently to be enacted (in modified form) during the premiership of Margaret Thatcher. Wilson's government made a variety of changes to the tax system. Largely under the influence of the Hungarian-born economists Nicholas Kaldor and Thomas Balogh, an idiosyncratic Selective Employment Tax (SET) was introduced that was designed to tax employment in the service sectors while subsidising employment in manufacturing (the rationale proposed by its economist authors derived largely from claims about potential economies of scale and technological progress, but Wilson in his memoirs stressed the tax's revenue-raising potential). The SET did not long survive the return of a Conservative government. Of longer term significance, Capital Gains Tax (CGT) was introduced across the UK on 6 April 1965. Across his two periods in office, Wilson presided over significant increases in the overall tax burden in the UK.
  • 1964
    In 1964, when Wilson took office, the mainstream of informed opinion (in all the main political parties, in academia and the media, etc.) strongly favoured the type of technocratic, "indicative planning" approach that Wilson endeavoured to implement.
    More Details Hide Details Radical market-orientated reforms, of the kind eventually adopted by Margaret Thatcher, were in the mid-1960s backed only by a 'fringe' of enthusiasts (such as the leadership of the later-influential Institute of Economic Affairs), and had almost no representation at senior levels even of the Conservative Party. Fifteen years later, disillusionment with Britain's weak economic performance and troubled industrial relations, combined with active spadework by figures such as Sir Keith Joseph, had helped to make a radical market programme politically feasible for Thatcher (which was in turn to influence the subsequent Labour leadership, especially under Blair). An opinion poll in September 2011 found that Wilson came in third place when respondents were asked to name the best post-war Labour Party leader. He was beaten only by John Smith and Tony Blair. in 2009 historian Christopher Andrew’s official history of MI5, Defend the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 included a chapter (section E part 4) specifically debunking the idea that there was any plot against Wilson in the 1970s.
    American military involvement in Vietnam escalated continuously from 1964 to 1968 and President Lyndon Johnson brought pressure to bear for at least a token involvement of British military units.
    More Details Hide Details Wilson consistently avoided any commitment of British forces, giving as reasons British military commitments to the Malayan Emergency and British co-chairmanship of the 1954 Geneva Conference. His government offered some rhetorical support for the US position (most prominently in the defence offered by the Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart in a much-publicised "teach-in" or debate on Vietnam). On at least one occasion the British government made an unsuccessful effort to mediate in the conflict, with Wilson discussing peace proposals with Alexei Kosygin, the Chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers.
    Overseas aid, however, bore a major brunt of the austerity measures introduced by the first Wilson government in its last few years in office, with British aid as a percentage of GNP falling from .53% in 1964 to .39% in 1969. Various changes were also made to the tax system which benefited workers on low and middle incomes. Married couples with low incomes benefited from the increases in the single personal allowance and marriage allowance. In 1965, the regressive allowance for national insurance contributions was abolished and the single personal allowance, marriage allowance and wife's earned income relief were increased.
    More Details Hide Details These allowances were further increased in the tax years 1969–70 and 1970–71. Increases in the age exemption and dependant relative's income limits benefited the low-income elderly. In 1967, new tax concessions were introduced for widows. Increases were made in some of the minor allowances in the 1969 Finance Act, notably the additional personal allowance, the age exemption and age relief and the dependent relative limit. Apart from the age relief, further adjustments in these concessions were implemented in 1970.
    The Travel Concessions Act of 1964, one of the first Acts passed by the First Wilson Government, provided concessions to all pensioners travelling on buses operated by municipal transport authorities.
    More Details Hide Details The Transport Act 1968 established the principle of government grants for transport authorities if uneconomic passenger services were justified on social grounds. A National Freight Corporation was also established to provide integrated rail freight and road services. Public expenditure on roads steadily increased and stricter safety precautions were introduced, such as the breathalyser test for drunken driving, under the 1967 Road Traffic Act. The Transport Act gave a much needed financial boost to British Rail, treating them like they were a company which had become bankrupt but could now, under new management, carry on debt-free. The act also established a national freight corporation and introduced government rail subsidies for passenger transport on the same basis as existing subsidies for roads to enable local authorities to improve public transport in their areas. The road building programme was also expanded, with capital expenditure increased to 8% of GDP, "the highest level achieved by any post-war government". Central government expenditure on roads went up from £125 million in 1963/64 to £225 million in 1967/68, while a number of road safety regulations were introduced, covering seat belts, lorry drivers’ hours, car and lorry standards, and an experimental 70 mile per hour speed limit. In Scotland, spending on trunk roads went up from £6.8 million in 1963/64 to £15.5 million in 1966/67, while in Wales, spending on Welsh roads went up from £21.2 million in 1963/64 to £31.4 million in 1966/67.
    In the five years from 1964 up until the last increases made by the First Wilson Government, pensions went up by 23% in real terms, supplementary benefits by 26% in real terms, and sickness and unemployment benefits by 153% in real terms (largely as a result of the introduction of earnings-related benefits in 1967).
    More Details Hide Details Under the First Wilson Government, subsidies for farmers were increased. Farmers who wished to leave the land or retire became eligible for grants or annuities if their holdings were sold for approved amalgamations, and could receive those benefits whether they wished to remain in their farmhouses or not. A Small Farmers Scheme was also extended, and from 1 December 1965, 40,000 more farmers became eligible for the maximum £1,000 grant. New grants to agriculture also encouraged the voluntary pooling of smallholdings, and in cases where their land was purchased for non-commercial purposes, tenant-farmers could now receive double the previous "disturbance compensation." A Hill Land Improvement Scheme, introduced by the Agriculture Act of 1967, provided 50% grants for a wide range of land improvements, along with a supplementary 10% grant on drainage works benefitting hill land. The Agriculture Act 1967 also provided grants to promote farm amalgamation and to compensate outgoers.
    Social security benefits were markedly increased during Wilson's first two years in office, as characterised by a budget passed in the final quarter of 1964 which raised the standard benefit rates for old age, sickness and invalidity by 18.5%.
    More Details Hide Details In 1965, the government increased the national assistance rate to a higher level relative to earnings, and via annual adjustments, broadly maintained the rate at between 19% and 20% of gross industrial earnings until the start of 1970.
    According to A.B. Atkinson, social security received much more attention from the first Wilson government than it did during the previous thirteen years of Conservative government. Following its victory in the 1964 general election, Wilson's government began to increase social benefits.
    More Details Hide Details Prescription charges for medicines were abolished immediately, while pensions were raised to a record 21% of average male industrial wages. In 1966, the system of National Assistance (a social assistance scheme for the poor) was overhauled and renamed Supplementary Benefit. The means test was replaced with a statement of income, and benefit rates for pensioners (the great majority of claimants) were increased, granting them a real gain in income. Before the 1966 election, the widow's pension was tripled.
    Housing was a major policy area under the first Wilson government. During Wilson's time in office from 1964 to 1970, more new houses were built than in the last six years of the previous Conservative government.
    More Details Hide Details The proportion of council housing rose from 42% to 50% of the total, while the number of council homes built increased steadily, from 119,000 in 1964 to 133,000 in 1965 and to 142,000 in 1966. Allowing for demolitions, 1.3 million new homes were built between 1965 and 1970, To encourage home ownership, the government introduced the Option Mortgage Scheme (1968), which made low-income housebuyers eligible for subsidies (equivalent to tax relief on mortgage interest payments). This scheme had the effect of reducing housing costs for buyers on low incomes and enabling more people to become owner occupiers. In addition, house owners were exempted from capital gains tax. Together with the Option Mortgage Scheme, this measure stimulated the private housing market. Significant emphasis was also placed on town planning, with new conservation areas introduced and a new generation of new towns built, notably Milton Keynes. The New Towns Acts of 1965 and 1968 together gave the government the authority (through its ministries) to designate any area of land as a site for a New Town.
    Government intervention in industry was greatly enhanced, with the National Economic Development Office greatly strengthened, with the number of "little Neddies" was increased, from eight in 1964 to twenty-one in 1970.
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    This partly reflected the preceding government's expansive fiscal policy in the run-up to the 1964 election, and the incoming Wilson team tightened the fiscal stance in response.
    More Details Hide Details Many British economists advocated devaluation, but Wilson resisted, reportedly in part out of concern that Labour, which had previously devalued sterling in 1949, would become tagged as "the party of devaluation". In the latter half of 1967, however, an attempt was made to prevent the recession in activity from going too far in the form of a stimulus to consumer durable spending through an easing of credit, which in turn prevented a winter rise in unemployment. After a costly battle, market pressures forced the government into devaluation in 1967. Wilson was much criticised for a broadcast in which he assured listeners that the "pound in your pocket" had not lost its value. It was widely forgotten that his next sentence had been "prices will rise". Economic performance did show some improvement after the devaluation, as economists had predicted. The devaluation, with accompanying austerity measures, successfully restored the balance of payments to surplus by 1969. This unexpectedly turned into a small deficit again in 1970. The bad figures were announced just before polling in the 1970 general election, and are often cited as one of the reasons for Labour's defeat.
    Labour won the 1964 general election with a narrow majority of four seats, and Wilson became Prime Minister, the youngest person to hold that office since Lord Rosebery 70 years earlier.
    More Details Hide Details During 1965, by-election losses reduced the government's majority to a single seat; but in March 1966 Wilson took the gamble of calling another general election. The gamble paid off, because this time Labour achieved a 96-seat majority over the Conservatives, who the previous year had made Edward Heath their leader. In economic terms, Wilson's first three years in office were dominated by an ultimately doomed effort to stave off the devaluation of the pound. He inherited an unusually large external deficit on the balance of trade.
    Labour's 1964 election campaign was aided by the Profumo Affair, a ministerial sex scandal that had mortally wounded Harold Macmillan and hurt the Conservatives.
    More Details Hide Details Wilson made capital without getting involved in the less salubrious aspects. (Asked for a statement on the scandal, he reportedly said "No comment... in glorious Technicolor!"). Sir Alec Douglas-Home was an aristocrat who had given up his peerage to sit in the House of Commons and become Prime Minister upon Macmillan's resignation. To Wilson's comment that he was out of touch with ordinary people since he was the 14th Earl of Home, Home retorted, "I suppose Mr. Wilson is the fourteenth Mr. Wilson".
  • 1963
    In 1963 on Macmillan's orders following the Profumo Affair, MI5 bugged the cabinet room, the waiting room, and the prime minister's study until the devices were removed in 1977 on Callaghan's orders.
    More Details Hide Details From the records it is unclear if Wilson or Heath knew of the bugging, and no recorded conversations were retained by MI5 so possibly the bugs were never activated. Professor Andrew had previously recorded in the preface of the history that "One significant excision as a result of these requirements (in the chapter on The Wilson Plot) is, I believe, hard to justify" giving credence to these new allegations. A portrait of Harold Wilson, painted by the famous Scottish portrait artist Cowan Dobson, hangs today at University College, Oxford. Two statues of Harold Wilson stand in prominent places. The first, unveiled by the then Prime Minister Tony Blair in July 1999, stands outside Huddersfield railway station in St George's Square, Huddersfield. Costing £70,000, the statue, designed by sculptor Ian Walters, is based on photographs taken in 1964 and depicts Wilson in walking pose at the start of his first term as Prime Minister. His widow, Mary requested that the eight-foot tall monument did not show Wilson holding his famous pipe as she feared it would make the representation a caricature.
    Among the more challenging political dilemmas Wilson faced was the issue of British membership of the European Community, the forerunner of the present European Union. An entry attempt was vetoed in 1963 by French President Charles de Gaulle.
    More Details Hide Details The Labour Party in Opposition had been divided on the issue, with former party leader Hugh Gaitskell having come out in 1962 in opposition to Britain joining the Community. After initially hesitating over the issue, Wilson's Government in May 1967 lodged the UK's second application to join the European Community. It was vetoed by de Gaulle in November 1967. After De Gaulle lost power, Conservative prime minister Edward Heath negotiated Britain's admission to the EC in 1973. Wilson in opposition showed political ingenuity in devising a position that both sides of the party could agree on, opposing the terms negotiated by Heath but not membership in principle. Labour's 1974 manifesto included a pledge to renegotiate terms for Britain's membership and then hold a referendum on whether to stay in the EC on the new terms. This was a constitutional procedure without precedent in British history.
    At the Labour Party's 1963 Annual Conference, Wilson made both his best-remembered speech, on the implications of scientific and technological change.
    More Details Hide Details He argued that "the Britain that is going to be forged in the white heat of this revolution will be no place for restrictive practices or for outdated measures on either side of industry". This speech did much to set Wilson's reputation as a technocrat not tied to the prevailing class system.
  • 1961
    Wilson would later be moved to the position of Shadow Foreign Secretary in 1961, before he challenged for the deputy leadership in 1962 but was defeated by George Brown.
    More Details Hide Details Gaitskell died in January 1963, just as the Labour Party had begun to unite and appeared to have a very good chance of winning the next election, with the Macmillan Government running into trouble. Wilson was adopted as the left-wing candidate for the leadership, defeating Brown and James Callaghan to become the Leader of the Labour Party and the Leader of the Opposition.
  • 1960
    Wilson's predecessor as leader, Hugh Gaitskell, had tried in 1960 to tackle the controversy head-on, with a proposal to expunge Clause Four (the public ownership clause) from the party's constitution, but had been forced to climb down.
    More Details Hide Details Wilson took a characteristically more subtle approach. He threw the party's left wing a symbolic bone with the renationalisation of the steel industry, but otherwise left Clause Four formally in the constitution but in practice on the shelf. Wilson made periodic attempts to mitigate inflation through wage-price controls, better known in Britain as "prices and incomes policy" (as with indicative planning, such controls—though now generally out of favour – were widely adopted at that time by governments of different ideological complexions, including the Nixon administration in the United States). Partly as a result of this reliance, the government tended to find itself repeatedly injected into major industrial disputes, with late-night "beer and sandwiches at Number Ten" an almost routine culmination to such episodes.
    Bevan had died in July 1960, so Wilson established himself as a leader of the Labour left by launching an opportunistic but unsuccessful challenge to Gaitskell's leadership in November 1960.
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  • 1959
    Much needed improvements were made in junior hospital doctors' salaries. From 1959 to 1970, while the earnings of manual workers increased by 75%, the salaries of registrars more than doubled while those of house officers more than trebled.
    More Details Hide Details Most of these improvements, such as for nurses, came in the pay settlements of 1970. On a limited scale, reports by the National Board for Prices and Incomes encouraged incentive payments schemes to be development in local government and elsewhere. In February 1969, the government accepted an "above the ceiling" increase for farmworkers, a low-paid group. Some groups of professional workers, such as nurses, teachers, and doctors, gained substantial awards.
    Gaitskell's leadership was weakened after the Labour Party's 1959 defeat, his controversial attempt to ditch Labour's commitment to nationalisation by scrapping Clause Four, and his defeat at the 1960 Party Conference over a motion supporting unilateral nuclear disarmament.
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    Unusually, Wilson combined the job of Chairman of the House of Commons' Public Accounts Committee with that of Shadow Chancellor from 1959, holding that position until 1963.
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  • 1955
    He conducted an inquiry into the Labour Party's organisation following its defeat in the 1955 general election, which compared Labour's organisation to an antiquated "penny farthing" bicycle, and made various recommendations for improvements.
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    One of his procedural moves caused a substantial delay to the progress of the Government's Finance Bill in 1955, and his speeches as Shadow Chancellor from 1956 were widely praised for their clarity and wit.
    More Details Hide Details He coined the term "Gnomes of Zurich" to ridicule Swiss bankers for selling Britain short and pushing the pound down by speculation.
    Gaitskell appointed him Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1955, and he proved to be very effective.
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    Despite his earlier association with Bevan, in 1955 he backed Hugh Gaitskell, the right-wing candidate in internal Labour Party terms, against Bevan for the party leadership.
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  • 1952
    At the bitter Morecambe Conference in the autumn of 1952, Wilson was one of the Bevanites elected as constituency representatives to Labour's National Executive Committee (NEC), whilst senior right-wingers such as Dalton and Herbert Morrison were voted off. Wilson had never made much secret that his support of the left-wing Aneurin Bevan was opportunistic. When Bevan resigned from the Shadow Cabinet (elected by Labour MPs when the party was in opposition) in spring 1954 over Labour's support for the setting-up of SEATO, Wilson, who had been runner-up in the elections, stepped up to fill the vacant place.
    More Details Hide Details He was supported in this by Richard Crossman but his actions angered Bevan and the other Bevanites. Wilson's course in intra-party matters in the 1950s and early 1960s left him neither fully accepted nor trusted by the left or the right in the Labour Party.
  • 1951
    After the Labour Party lost the 1951 election, he became the Chairman of Keep Left, Bevan's political group.
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    Wilson was becoming known in the Labour Party as a left-winger and joined Aneurin Bevan and John Freeman in resigning from the government in April 1951 in protest at the introduction of National Health Service (NHS) medical charges to meet the financial demands imposed by the Korean War.
    More Details Hide Details At this time, Wilson was not yet regarded as a heavyweight politician: Hugh Dalton referred to him scornfully as "Nye Bevan’s dog".
  • 1950
    He was not seriously considered for the job of Chancellor when Cripps stepped down in October 1950 (it was given to Hugh Gaitskell), possibly in part because of his dubious role during devaluation.
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    In the general election of 1950, his Ormskirk constituency was significantly altered and he was narrowly elected for the new seat of Huyton near Liverpool, where he served for 33 years until 1983.
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  • 1949
    In the summer of 1949, with Chancellor of the Exchequer Stafford Cripps having gone to Switzerland in an attempt to recover his health, Wilson was one of a group of three young ministers, all of them former economics dons and wartime civil servants, convened to advise Prime Minister Attlee on financial matters.
    More Details Hide Details The others were Douglas Jay (Economic Secretary to the Treasury) and Hugh Gaitskell (Minister of Fuel and Power), who soon grew to distrust him. Douglas Jay wrote of Wilson's role in the debates that summer over whether or not to devalue sterling that “he changed sides three times within eight days and finished up facing both ways”. Wilson was, however, given the task during his Swiss holiday of taking a letter to Cripps informing him of the decision to devalue, to which Cripps had been opposed. Wilson had tarnished his reputation in both political and official circles. Although a successful minister, Wilson was regarded as self-important.
  • 1947
    On 29 September 1947 Wilson was appointed President of the Board of Trade, at 31 becoming the youngest member of a British Cabinet in the 20th century.
    More Details Hide Details He took a lead in abolishing some wartime rationing, which he referred to as a "bonfire of controls".
    He was to remain passionately interested in statistics. As President of the Board of Trade, he was the driving force behind the Statistics of Trade Act 1947, which is still the authority governing most economic statistics in Great Britain.
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  • 1945
    In the 1945 general election, Wilson won his seat in the Labour landslide.
    More Details Hide Details To his surprise, he was immediately appointed to the government by Prime Minister Clement Attlee as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works. Two years later, he became Secretary for Overseas Trade, in which capacity he made several official trips to the Soviet Union to negotiate supply contracts.
  • 1943
    He was Director of Economics and Statistics at the Ministry of Fuel and Power 1943–44, and received an OBE for his services.
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  • 1940
    On New Year's Day 1940, in the chapel of Mansfield College, Oxford, he married Mary Baldwin who remained his wife until his death.
    More Details Hide Details Mary Wilson became a published poet. They had two sons, Robin and Giles (named after Giles Alington); Robin became a Professor of Mathematics, and Giles became a teacher. In their twenties, his sons were under a kidnap threat from the IRA because of their father's prominence. On the outbreak of the Second World War, Wilson volunteered for service but was classed as a specialist and moved into the civil service instead. For much of this time, he was a research assistant to William Beveridge, the Master of the College, working on the issues of unemployment and the trade cycle. He later became a statistician and economist for the coal industry.
  • 1937
    He was a lecturer in Economic History at New College from 1937, and a Research Fellow at University College.
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  • 1934
    Wilson did well at school and, although he missed getting a scholarship, he obtained an exhibition; which, when topped up by a county grant, enabled him to study Modern History at Jesus College, Oxford, from 1934.
    More Details Hide Details At Oxford, Wilson was moderately active in politics as a member of the Liberal Party but was strongly influenced by G. D. H. Cole. He graduated in PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics) with "an outstanding first class Bachelor of Arts degree, with alphas on every paper" in the final examinations, and a series of major academic awards. Biographer Roy Jenkins says: He continued in academia, becoming one of the youngest Oxford dons of the century at the age of 21.
  • 1930
    Wilson won a scholarship to attend Royds Hall Grammar School, his local grammar school (now a comprehensive school) in Huddersfield in Yorkshire. In December 1930, his father, working as an industrial chemist, was made redundant and it took him nearly two years to find work.
    More Details Hide Details He moved to Spital on the Wirral, Cheshire in order to do so. Wilson was educated in the Sixth Form at the Wirral Grammar School for Boys, where he became Head Boy.
  • 1916
    Wilson was born at 4 Warneford Road, Huddersfield, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, England, on 11 March 1916.
    More Details Hide Details He came from a political family: his father James Herbert Wilson (December 1882 – 1971) was a works chemist who had been active in the Liberal Party and then joined the Labour Party. His mother Ethel (née Seddon; 1882–1957) was a schoolteacher before her marriage, and her brother, Sir Harold Seddon, was a member of parliament in Western Australia. When Wilson was eight, he visited London and a later-to-be-famous photograph was taken of him standing on the doorstep of 10 Downing Street. He was a supporter of his hometown football club, Huddersfield Town.
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