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16 octobre 2011 7 16 /10 /octobre /2011 11:33

Record of first term on income distribution

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 '60s remained below 4%. Living standards generally improved,Sony VAIO VGN-TZ37N/G Battery

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.

By 1970, income in Britain was more equally distributed than in 1964, mainly because of increases in cash benefits, including family allowances.Sony VAIO VGN-TZ37N/P Battery

According to one historian,

"In its commitment to social services and public welfare, the Wilson government put together a record unmatched by any subsequent administration, and the mid-sixties are justifiably seen as the ‘golden age’ of the welfare state".Sony VAIO VGN-TZ37N/R Battery

The First Wilson Government thus saw the distribution of income became more equal, while reductions in poverty took place. These achievements were mainly brought about by several increases in social welfare benefits, such as supplementary benefit, pensions and family allowances, the latter of which were doubled between 1964 and 1970 (although most of the increase in family allowances did not come about until 1968). Sony VAIO VGN-TZ37N/X Battery

A new system of rate rebates was introduced, which benefited one million households by the end of the '60s. Increases in national insurance benefits in 1965, 1967, 1968 and 1969 ensured that those dependant on state benefits saw their disposable incomes rise faster than manual wage earners, Sony VAIO VGN-TZ38N/X Battery

while income differentials between lower income and higher income workers were marginally narrowed. Greater progressivity was introduced in the tax system, with greater emphasis on direct (income-based) as opposed to indirect (typically expenditure-based) taxation as a means of raising revenue, with the amount raised by the former increasing twice as much as that of the latter.Sony VAIO VGN-TZ398U/XC Battery

In the government’s last budget (introduced in 1970), two million small taxpayers were exempted from paying any income tax altogether. Also, in spite of an increase in unemployment, the poor improved their share of the national income while that of the rich was slightly reduced.Sony VAIO VGN-TZ50B Battery

Between 1964 and 1968, benefits in kind were significantly progressive, in that over the period those in the lower half of the income scale benefited more than those in the upper half. On average those receiving state benefits benefited more in terms of increases in real disposable income than the average manual worker or salaried employee between 1964 and 1969.Sony VAIO VGN-TZ90HS Battery

From 1964 to 1969, low-wage earners did substantially better than other sections of the population. 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%.Sony VAIO VGN-TZ90NS Battery

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.

Between 1964 and 1968, cash benefits rose as a percentage of income for all households but more so for poorer than for wealthier households. As noted by the economist Michael Stewart,Sony VAIO VGN-TZ90S Battery

“it seems indisputable that the high priority the Labour Government gave to expenditure on education and the health service had a favourable effect on income distribution.”

For a family with two children in the income range £676 to £816 per annum, cash benefits rose from 4% of income in 1964 to 22% in 1968, compared with a change from 1% to 2% for a similar family in the income range £2,122 to £2,566 over the same period. Sony VAIO VPC CW2MFX/PU Battery

For benefits in kind the changes over the same period for similar families were from 21% to 29% for lower income families and from 9% to 10% for higher income families. When taking into account all benefits, taxes and Government expenditures on social services,Sony VAIO VPC S11V9E/B Battery

the First Wilson government succeeded in bringing about a reduction in income inequality  As noted by the historian Kenneth O. Morgan,

“In the long term, therefore, fortified by increases in supplementary and other benefits under the Crossman regime in 1968–70, the welfare state had made some impact, almost by inadvertence, on social inequality and the maldistribution of real income”.Sony VAIO VPCB119GJ/B Battery

Public expenditure as a percentage of GDP rose significantly under the 1964-1970 Labour government, from 34% in 1964–65 to nearly 38% of GDP by 1969–70, whilst expenditure on social services rose from 16% of national income in 1964 to 23% by 1970.Sony VAIO VPCB11AGJ Battery

These measures had a major impact on the living standards of low-income Britons, with disposable incomes rising faster for low-income groups than for high-income groups during the course of the '60s. When measuring disposable income after taxation but including benefits, the total disposable income of those on the highest incomes fell by 33%,Sony VAIO VPCB11AVJ Battery

whilst the total disposable income of those on the lowest incomes rose by 104%. As noted by one historian,

“the net effect of Labour’s financial policies was indeed to make the rich poorer and the poor richer”.Sony VAIO VPCB11V9E Battery


Among the more challenging political dilemmas Wilson faced during his two terms in government and his two spells in Opposition before 1964 and between 1970 and 1974 was the issue of British membership of the European Community, the forerunner of the present European Union.Sony VAIO VPCB11X9E Battery

An entry attempt had been issued in July 1961 by the Macmillan government, and negotiated by Edward Heath as Lord Privy Seal, but was vetoed in 1963 by French President Charles de Gaulle. 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.Sony VAIO VPCCW18FJ/P Battery

After initially hesitating over the issue, Wilson's Government in May 1967 lodged the UK's second application to join the European Community. Like the first, though, it was vetoed by de Gaulle in November that year.

Following his victory in the 1970 election (and helped by de Gaulle's fall from power in 1969), the new prime minister Edward Heath negotiated Britain’s admission to the EC, alongside Denmark and Ireland in 1973. Sony VAIO VPCCW18FJ/R Battery

The Labour Party in opposition continued to be deeply divided on the issue, and risked a major split. Leading opponents of membership included Richard Crossman, who was for two years (1970–72) the editor of New Statesman, at that time the leading left-of-centre weekly journal, which published many polemics in support of the anti-EC case. Sony VAIO VPCCW18FJ/W Battery

Prominent among Labour supporters of membership was Roy Jenkins.

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. Sony VAIO VPCCW19FJ/W Battery

This was a constitutional procedure without precedent in British history.

Following Wilson's return to power, the renegotiations with Britain's fellow EC members were carried out by Wilson himself in tandem with Foreign Secretary James Callaghan, and they toured the capital cities of Europe meeting their European counterpartsSony VAIO VPCCW1AFJ Battery

(some[who?] commentators have suggested that their co-operation in this exercise may have been the source of a close relationship between the two men which is claimed to have assisted a smooth change-over when Wilson retired from office). The discussions focused primarily on Britain's net budgetary contribution to the EC. Sony VAIO VPCCW1AHJ Battery

As a small agricultural producer heavily dependent on imports, the UK suffered doubly from the dominance of:

(i) agricultural spending in the EC budget,
(ii) agricultural import taxes as a source of EC revenues.  Sony VAIO VPCCW1S1E Battery

During the renegotiations, other EEC members conceded, as a partial offset, the establishment of a significant European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), from which it was clearly agreed that the UK would be a major net beneficiary.

In the subsequent referendum campaign, rather than the normal British tradition of "collective responsibility", Sony VAIO VPCCW1S1E/B Battery

under which the government takes a policy position which all cabinet members are required to support publicly, members of the Government were free to present their views on either side of the question. The electorate voted on 5 June 1975 to continue membership, by a substantial majority. Sony VAIO VPCCW1S1E/L Battery


Prior United States military involvement in Vietnam intensified following the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964. US President Lyndon Johnson brought pressure to bear for at least a token involvement of British military units in the Vietnam War. Sony VAIO VPCCW1S1E/P Battery

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 which agreed the cessation of hostilities and internationally supervised elections in Vietnam.Sony VAIO VPCCW1S1E/R Battery

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, Sony VAIO VPCCW1S1E/W Battery

with Wilson discussing peace proposals with Alexei Kosygin, the Chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers. On 28 June 1966 Wilson 'dissociated' his Government from American bombing of the cities of Hanoi and Haiphong. In his memoirs, Wilson writes of “selling LBJ a bum steer” a reference to Johnson’s Texas origins, which conjured up images of cattle and cowboys in British minds.Sony VAIO VPCCW21FX/B Battery

Wilson's approach of maintaining close relations with the US while pursuing an independent line on Vietnam has attracted new interest in the light of the different approach taken by the Blair government vis-a-vis Britain's participation in the Iraq War (2003). Wilson's government secretly supported the US invasion of Cambodia on 29 April 1970.Sony VAIO VPCCW21FX/L Battery

Since World War II, Britain's presence in the Far East had gradually been run down. Former British colonies, whose defence had provided much of the rationale for a British military presence in the region, moved towards independence under British governments of both parties. Sony VAIO VPCCW21FX/R Battery

Successive UK Governments also became conscious of the cost to the exchequer and the economy of maintaining major forces abroad (in parallel, several schemes to develop strategic weaponry were abandoned on the grounds of cost, for example, the Blue Streak missile and the TSR2 aircraft).Sony VAIO VPCCW21FX/W Battery

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. 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. Sony VAIO VPCCW26EC Battery

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. However, Wilson's successor Edward Heath sought to reverse this policy, and British forces remained in Singapore and Malaysia until the mid-1970s.Sony VAIO VPCCW26FX/B Battery

Whilst widely criticised at the time, over the longer term the decision can be seen as a logical culmination of the withdrawal from Britain's colonial-era political and military commitments in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere that had been underway under British governments of both parties since the Second World War — and of the parallel switch of Britain's emphasis to its European identity.Sony VAIO VPCCW28EC Battery

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. Another associate was German Chancellor Willy Brandt; all three were members of the Socialist International.Sony VAIO VPCCW28FJ/P Battery


In 1960, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan made his important Wind of Change speech to the Parliament of South Africa in Cape Town. This heralded independence for many British colonies in Africa. The British "retreat from Empire" had made headway by 1964 and was to continue during Wilson’s administration. Sony VAIO VPCCW28FJ/R Battery

The Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland came to present serious problems.

The Federation was set up in 1953, and was an amalgamation of the Protectorates of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland and the colony of Southern Rhodesia. Sony VAIO VPCCW28FJ/W Battery

After struggles for independence, the Federation was dissolved in 1963 and the states of Zambia and Malawi achieved independence. The colony of Southern Rhodesia, which had been the economic powerhouse of the Federation, was not granted independence, principally because of the regime in power. Sony VAIO VPCCW29FJ/W Battery

The colony bordered South Africa to the south and its governance was heavily influenced by the apartheid regime, then headed byHendrik Verwoerd. Wilson refused to grant independence to the white minority government headed by Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith which showed little inclination to extend political influence to the native African population, let alone to grant majority rule.Sony VAIO VPCCW2AFJ Battery

Smith’s defiant response was a Unilateral Declaration of Independence, timed to coincide with Armistice Day at 11.00 am on 11 November 1965, an attempt to garner support in the UK by reminding people of the contribution of the colony to the war effort (Smith himself had been a Spitfire pilot).Sony VAIO VPCCW2AHJ Battery

Smith was personally vilified in the British media.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. Sony VAIO VPCCW2S1E Battery

Wilson was applauded by most nations for taking a firm stand on the issue (and none extended diplomatic recognition to the Smith regime). 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 regime by force. Sony VAIO VPCCW2S1E/B Battery

Wilson declined to intervene in Rhodesia with military force, believing the UK population would not support such action against their "kith and kin". The two leaders met for discussions aboard British warships, Tiger in 1966 andFearless in 1968. Smith subsequently attacked Wilson in his memoirs, accusing him of delaying tactics during negotiations and alleging duplicity; Sony VAIO VPCCW2S1E/L Battery

Wilson responded in kind, questioning Smith's good faith and suggesting that Smith had moved the goal-posts whenever a settlement appeared in sight. The matter was still unresolved at the time of Wilson’s resignation in 1976.

Elsewhere in Africa, trouble developed in Nigeria, brought about by the ethnic diversity of the country and the wealth being generated by the nascent oil industry.Sony VAIO VPCCW2S1E/P Battery

Wilson's government felt disinclined to interfere in the internal affairs of a fellow Commonwealth nation and supported the government of General Yakubu Gowon during the Nigerian Civil War of 1967–1970.

Electoral defeat and opposition

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.Sony VAIO VPCCW2S1E/R Battery

In May 1970, Wilson responded to an 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.Sony VAIO VPCCW2S1E/W Battery

Wilson survived as leader of the Labour party in opposition. Economic conditions during the 1970s were becoming more difficult for the UK and many other western economies as a result of the ending of the Bretton Woods Agreement and the 1973 oil shock,Sony VAIO VPCCW2S5C CN1 Battery

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. Sony VAIO VPCF112FX/B Battery

Second term as Prime Minister (1974–76)

When Labour won more seats (though fewer votes) than the Conservative Party in February 1974 and 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. He gained a three-seat majority in another election later that year, on 10 October 1974.Sony VAIO VPCF115FG/B Battery

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 implemented a wide-ranging programme of social reform during its two years in office, with spending on education, health, price controls, and housing rents expanded from 1974 to 1976, amongst other reforms.Sony VAIO VPCF116FGBI Battery

In March 1974, an additional £2 billion were announced for benefits, food subsidies, and housing subsidies, including a record 25% increase in the pension. Council house rents were also frozen. That same year, national insurance benefits were increased by 13%, which brought pensions as a proportion of average earnings “up to a value equivalent to the previous high, which was reached in 1965 as a result of Labour legislation.”Sony VAIO VPCF117FJ/W Battery

In order to maintain the real value of these benefits in the long term, the government introduced legislation which linked future increases in pensions to higher incomes or wages.  In 1974–75, social spending was increased in real terms by 9%. In 1974, pensions were increased in real terms by 14%, while in early 1975 increases were made in family allowances. Sony VAIO VPCF117HG/BI Battery

There were also significant increases in rate and rent subsidies, together with £500 million worth of food subsidies. Wilson also raised income tax on top earners to 83%, the highest level since the Second World War.

In 1975, a state earnings related pension scheme (SERPS) was introduced. Sony VAIO VPCF118FJ/W Battery

A new pension, which was inflation-proofed and linked to earnings, was added to the basic pension which was to increase in line with earnings for the first time ever. This reform assisted women by the linking of pensions to the ‘twenty best years’ of earnings, and those who worked at home caring for children or others were counted as contributors. Sony VAIO VPCF119FC Battery

This scheme was eroded by the subsequent Thatcher Government, and insufficient pension rights had been built up by that time to establish resistance to its erosion. The Sex Discrimination Act (1975) gave women the right in principle to equal access to jobs and equal treatment at work with men, while the Employment Protection Act introduced statutory maternity leave.Sony VAIO VPCF119FC/BI Battery

That same year, the wage stop was finally abolished. In addition, differentials between skilled and unskilled workers were narrowed as a result of egalitarian pay policies involving flat-rate increases.

To help those with disabilities, the government introduced an invalid care allowance, a mobility allowance, a non-contributory invalidity pension for those unable to contribute through national insurance, and other measures. Sony VAIO VPCF119FJ/BI Battery

To combat child poverty, legislation to create a universal Child Benefit was introduced in 1975 (a reform later implemented by the Callaghan Government).To raise the living standards of those dependant on national insurance benefits, the government index-linked short-term benefits to the rate of inflation, Sony VAIO VPCF11AFJ Battery

while pensions and long-term benefits were tied to increases in prices or earnings, whichever was higher.

Wilson's government came under scrutiny in 1975 for unemployment, with the total number of Britons out of work passing 1,000,000 by April of that year.Sony VAIO VPCF11AGJ Battery

The Social Security Pensions Act of 1975 introduced equal treatment in pension schemes and eliminated the contributions test which limited state pensions for women. The Housing Finance Act(1974) increased aid to local authorities for slum clearance, introduced a system of “fair rents” in public and private sector unfurnished accommodation, and introduced rent rebates for council tenants.Sony VAIO VPCF11AHJ Battery

The Housing Act (1974) improved a renovation grants scheme, provided increased levels of aid to housing associations, and extended the role of the Housing Corporation. The Rent Act of 1974extended security of tenure to tenants of furnished properties and allowed access to rent tribunals. Sony VAIO VPCF11JFX/B Battery

The Community Land Act (1975) allowed for the taking into public control of development land, while the Child Benefits Act introduced an extra payment for lone parents.

Circular 4/74 (1974) renewed pressure for moves towards comprehensive education (progress of which had stalled under the Heath Government), while the industrial relations legislation passed underEdward Heath was repealed. Sony VAIO VPCF11M1E Battery

The Health and Safety at Work Act of 1974 set up a Health and Safety Commission and Executive and set up a legal framework for health and safety at work. The Employment Protection Act of 1975 set up the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Services (ACAS) to arbitrate in industrial disputes, enlarged the rights of employees and trade unions, extended the redundancy payments scheme, and provided redress against unfair dismissal. Sony VAIO VPCF11M1E/H Battery

The legislation also provided for paid maternity leave and outlawed dismissal for pregnancy. The Social Security Act of 1975 introduced a maternity allowance fund, while the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975 set up an Equal Opportunities Commission and outlawed gender discrimination (both indirect and direct).Sony VAIO VPCF11MFX/B Battery

Northern Ireland

In the late 1960s, Wilson's earlier government had witnessed the outbreak of The Troubles in Northern Ireland. In response to a request from the Stormont government, the government agreed to deploy the British Army in an effort to maintain the peace.Sony VAIO VPCF11S1E Battery

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. The proposal was welcomed, in principle, by the Heath government at the time but never put into effect.Sony VAIO VPCF11S1E/B Battery

In May 1974, when back in office as leader of a minority government, Wilson condemned the Unionist-controlled Ulster Workers' Strike as a "sectarian strike", which was "being done for sectarian purposes having no relation to this century but only to the seventeenth century". Sony VAIO VPCF11Z1E Battery

He, however, 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. Sony VAIO VPCF11Z1E/BI Battery

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 constitutional ties with Northern Ireland and transform the province into an independent dominion. Sony VAIO VPCF11ZHJ Battery

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,Sony VAIO VPCF127HGBI Battery

and the Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald who admitted the 12,000-strong Irish army would be unable to deal with the ensuring civil war.

In 1975 Wilson secretly offered Libya's Muammar Gaddafi £14 million (£500 million in 2009 values) to stop arming the IRA, but Gaddafi demanded a far greater sum of money.This offer did not become publicly known until 2009.Sony VAIO VPCF137HG/BI Battery


On 16 March 1976, Wilson surprised the nation by announcing his resignation as Prime Minister (taking effect on 5 April 1976). He claimed that he had always planned on resigning at the age of 60, and that he was physically and mentally exhausted. Sony VAIO VPCS111FM/S Battery

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.Sony VAIO VPCS115EC Battery

Beyond this, 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.

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.Sony VAIO VPCS115FG Battery

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 Marcia Williams on lavender notepaper (it became known as the "Lavender List"). Sony VAIO VPCS117GG Battery

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."Sony VAIO VPCS117GGB Battery

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.

Six candidates stood in the first ballot to replace him, in order of votes they were: Michael Foot, James Callaghan, Roy Jenkins, Tony Benn, Denis Healey andAnthony Crosland. In the third ballot on 5 April, Sony VAIO VPCS118EC Battery

Callaghan defeated Foot in a parliamentary vote of 176 to 137, thus becoming Wilson's successor as Prime Minister and leader of the Labour Party, and remained prime minister until May 1979, when Labour lost the general election to the Conservatives and Margaret Thatcherbecame Britain's first female prime minister.Sony VAIO VPCS119FJ/B Battery

As Wilson wished to remain an MP after leaving office, he was not immediately given the peerage customarily offered to retired Prime Ministers, but instead was created a Knight of the Garter. On leaving the House of Commons after the 1983 general election he was created Baron Wilson of Rievaulx, after Rievaulx Abbey, in the north of his native Yorkshire.Sony VAIO VPCS119GC Battery

Last years and death

Shortly after resigning as Prime Minister Wilson was signed by David Frost to host a series of interview/chat show programmes. The pilot episode proved to be a flop as Wilson appeared uncomfortable with the informality of the format. Sony VAIO VPCS11AFJ Battery

Wilson also hosted two editions of the BBC chat show Friday Night, Saturday Morning. He famously floundered in the role, and in 2000, Channel 4 chose it as one of the 100 Moments of TV Hell. Wilson also coined the name of charity War on Want.

A life-long Gilbert and Sullivan fan, in 1975, Wilson joined the Board of Trustees of the D'Oyly Carte Trust at the invitation of Sir Hugh Wontner, who was then the Lord Mayor of London.Sony VAIO VPCS11AGJ Battery

At Christmas 1978, Wilson appeared on the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special. 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).Sony VAIO VPCS11AHJ Battery

Wilson was not especially active in the House of Lords, although he did initiate a debate on unemployment in May 1984. His last speech was in a debate on marine pilotage in 1986, when he commented as an elder brother of Trinity House; in the same year, he played himself as Prime Minister in an Anglia Televisiondrama, "Inside Story".Sony VAIO VPCS11AVJ Battery

Not long after Wilson's retirement, his mental deterioration from Alzheimer's disease began to be apparent, and he did not appear in public after 1988 when he unveiled the Clement Attlee statue at Limehouse Library on 30 November of that year.

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.Sony VAIO VPCS11J7E/B Battery

Wilson died from colon cancer and Alzheimer's Diseasein May 1995, aged 79. His memorial service was held in Westminster Abbey on 13 July 1995. It was attended by Prince Charles, former Prime Ministers Edward Heath, James Callaghan and Baroness Thatcher, then Prime Minister John Major and future Prime Minister Tony Blair. Sony VAIO VPCS11M1E/W Battery

Wilson was buried at St. Mary's Old Church, St. Mary's on the Isles of Scilly on 6 June. His epitaph is Tempus Imperator Rerum (Time the Commander of All Things).

Political "style"

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. Sony VAIO VPCS11V9E Battery

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.Sony VAIO VPCS11V9E/B Battery

He spoke with a studied working classYorkshire accent, although this was not part of his background, as his father had spoken "upper class" English. 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,Sony VAIO VPCS11X9E/B Battery

after "thirteen years of Tory mis-rule....". These characteristics were exaggerated in Private Eye's satirical column "Mrs Wilson's Diary".

Wilson exhibited his populist touch in June 1965 when he had The Beatles honoured with the award of MBE (such awards are officially bestowed by The Queen but are nominated by the Prime Minister of the day). Sony VAIO VPCS123FGB Battery

The award was popular with young people and contributed to a sense that the Prime Minister was "in touch" with the younger generation. There were some protests by conservatives and elderly members of the military who were earlier recipients of the award, but such protesters were in the minority.Sony VAIO VPCS125EC Battery

Critics claimed that Wilson acted to solicit votes for the next general election (which took place less than a year later), but defenders noted that, since the minimum voting age at that time was 21, this was hardly likely to impact many of the Beatles' fans who at that time were predominantly teenagers. Sony VAIO VPCS128EC Battery

It cemented Wilson's image as a modernistic leader and linked him to the burgeoning pride in the 'New Britain' typified by the Beatles. The Beatles mentioned Wilson rather negatively, naming both him and his opponent Edward Heath in George Harrison's song "Taxman", the opener to 1966's Revolver—recorded and released after the MBEs.Sony VAIO VPCS129GC Battery

In 1967, Wilson had a different interaction with a musical ensemble. He sued the pop group The Move for libel after the band's manager Tony Secunda published a promotional postcard for the single "Flowers In The Rain", featuring a caricature depicting Wilson in bed with his female assistant, Marcia Williams (later Baroness Falkender). Sony VAIO VPCS12C7E/B Battery

Gossip had hinted at an improper relationship, though these rumours were never substantiated. Wilson won the case, and all royalties from the song (composed by Move leader Roy Wood) were assigned in perpetuity to a charity of Wilson's choosing.Sony VAIO VPCS12L9E/B Battery

Wilson coined the term 'Selsdon Man' to refer to the anti-interventionist policies of the Conservative leader Edward Heath, developed at a policy retreat held at the Selsdon Park Hotel in early 1970. This phrase, intended to evoke the 'primitive throwback' qualities of anthropological discoveries such as Piltdown Man and Swanscombe Man, was part of a British political tradition of referring to political trends by suffixing 'man'. Sony VAIO VPCS12V9E/B Battery

Another famous quote is "A week is a long time in politics": this signifies that political fortunes can change extremely rapidly. Other memorable phrases attributed to Wilson include "the white heat of the [technological] revolution." In his broadcast after the 1967 devaluation of the pound, Wilson said: Sony VAIO VPCY115FGS Battery

tery-27515.htm">"This does not mean that the pound here in Britain – in your pocket or purse – is worth any less....", and the phrase "the pound in your pocket" subsequently took on a life of its own.


Despite his successes and one-time popularity, Harold Wilson's reputation took a long time to recover from the low ebb reached immediately following his second premiership. Sony VAIO VPCY115FX/BI Battery

Some accuse him of undue deviousness, some claim he did not do enough to modernise the Labour Party's policy positions on issues such as the respective roles of the state and the market or the reform of industrial relations. This line of argument partly blames Wilson for the civil unrest of the late 1970s Sony VAIO VPCY115FXBI Battery

(during Britain's Winter of Discontent), and for the electoral success of the Conservative party and its ensuing 18-year rule. His supporters argue that Wilson's skilful management (on issues such as nationalisation, Europe and Vietnam) allowed an otherwise fractious party to stay politically united and govern. Sony VAIO VPCY118EC Battery

This co-existence did not long survive his leadership, and the factionalism that followed contributed greatly to the Labour Party's electoral weakness during the 1980s. The reinvention of the Labour Party would take the better part of two decades, at the hands of Neil Kinnock, John Smith and – electorally, most conclusively – Tony Blair.Sony VAIO VPCY118GX/BI Battery

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. Radical market-orientated reforms, of the kind eventually adopted by Margaret Thatcher,Sony VAIO VPCY119FJ/S Battery

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, Sony VAIO VPCY11AFJ Battery

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.Sony VAIO VPCY11AGJ Battery

MI5 plots?

In 1963, Soviet defector Anatoliy Golitsyn is said to have secretly claimed that Wilson was a KGB agent. The majority of intelligence officers did not believe that Golitsyn was credible in this and various other claims, but a significant number did (most prominently James Jesus Angleton,Sony VAIO VPCY11AHJ Battery

the Deputy Director of Counter-Intelligence at the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)) and factional strife broke out between the two groups. The book Spycatcher (an exposé of MI5) alleged that 30 MI5 agents then collaborated in an attempt to undermine Wilson. Sony VAIO VPCY11AVJ Battery

The author Peter Wright (a former member of MI5) later claimed that his ghostwriter had written 30 when he had meant 3.

Several other voices beyond Wright have raised claims of "dirty tricks" on the part of elements within the intelligence services against Wilson while he was in office. In March 1987, James Miller, a former MI5 agent, claimed that MI5 had encouraged the Ulster Workers' Council general strike in 1974 in order to destabilise Wilson's Government. Sony VAIO VPCY11M1E/S Battery

See also: Walter Walker and David Stirling. 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.Chris Mullin, MP, speaking on 23 November 1988, argued that sources other than Peter Wright supported claims of a long-standing attempt by the intelligence services (MI5) to undermine Wilson's government. Sony VAIO VPCY11S1E Battery

A BBC programme The Plot Against Harold Wilson, broadcast in 2006, reported that, in tapes recorded soon after his resignation on health grounds, Wilson stated that for eight months of his premiership he didn't "feel he knew what was going on, fully, in security". Wilson alleged two plots, in the late 1960s and mid 1970s respectively. Sony VAIO VPCY11V9E/S Battery

He said that plans had been hatched to install Lord Mountbatten, Prince Charles's uncle and mentor, as interim Prime Minister (see also Other conspiracy theories, below). He also claimed that ex-military leaders had been building up private armies in anticipation of "wholesale domestic liquidation".

In the documentary some of Wilson's allegations received partial confirmation in interviews with ex-intelligence officers and others, who reported that, on two occasions during Wilson's terms in office, they had talked about a possible coup to take over the government.Sony VAIO VPCY218EC/BI Battery

On a separate track, elements within MI5 had also, the BBC programme reported, spread "black propaganda" that Wilson and Williams were Soviet agents, and that Wilson was an IRA sympathiser, apparently with the intention of helping the Conservatives win the 1974 election.Sony VAIO VPCY218EC/G Battery

In 2009, Defence of the Realm, the authorised history of MI5 by Christopher Andrew, held that while MI5 kept a file on Wilson from 1945, when he became an MP – because communist civil servants claimed that he had similar political sympathies – there was no bugging of his home or office, and no conspiracy against him.Sony VAIO VPCY218EC/L Battery

In 2010 newspaper reports made detailed allegations that the bugging of 10 Downing Street had been omitted from the history for "wider public interest reasons". 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 bugs were removed in 1977 on Callaghan's orders. Sony VAIO VPCY218EC/P Battery

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. Sony VAIO VPCY21S1E/L Battery

Other conspiracy theories

Richard Hough, in his 1980 biography of Mountbatten, indicates that Mountbatten was approached during the 1960s in connection with a scheme to install an "emergency government" in place of Wilson's administration.Sony VAIO VPCY21S1E/P Battery

The approach was made by Cecil Harmsworth King, the chairman of the International Publishing Corporation (IPC), which published the Daily Mirror newspaper. Hough bases his account on conversations with the Mirror's long-time editor Hugh Cudlipp, supplemented by the recollections of the scientist Solly Zuckerman and of Mountbatten’s valet, William Evans. Sony VAIO VPCY21S1E/SI Battery

Cudlipp arranged for Mountbatten to meet King on 8 May 1968. King had long yearned to play a more central political role, and had personal grudges against Wilson (including Wilson's refusal to propose King for the hereditary earldom that King coveted). He had already failed in an earlier attempt to replace Wilson with James Callaghan. Sony VAIO VPCCW2S5C CN1 Battery

With Britain's continuing economic difficulties and industrial strife in the 1960s, King convinced himself that Wilson's government was heading towards collapse. He thought that Mountbatten, as a Royal and a former Chief of the Defence Staff, would command public support as leader of a non-democratic "emergency" government. Sony VAIO VPCEA20 Battery

Mountbatten insisted that his friend, Zuckerman, be present (Zuckerman says that he was urged to attend by Mountbatten’s son-in-law, Lord Brabourne, who worried King would lead Mountbatten astray). King asked Mountbatten if he would be willing to head an emergency government. Sony VAIO VPCEB10 Battery

Zuckerman said the idea was treason and Mountbatten in turn rebuffed King. He does not appear to have reported the approach to Downing Street.

The question of how serious a threat to democracy may have existed during these years continues to be contentious—Sony VAIO VPCEB11FM Battery

a key point at issue being who of any consequence would have been ready to move beyond grumbling about the government (or spreading rumours) to actively taking unconstitutional action. Cecil King himself was an inveterate schemer but an inept actor on the political stage. Perhaps significantly, Sony VAIO VPCEB11FM/BI Battery

when King penned a strongly worded editorial against Wilson for the Daily Mirror two days after his abortive meeting with Mountbatten, the unanimous reaction of IPC's directors was to fire him with immediate effect from his position as Chairman. King's resignation was considered a serious enough matter for the BBC to have senior journalist William Hardcastle announce it in a news flash. Sony VAIO VPCEB11FM/T Battery

More fundamentally, Denis Healey, who served for six years as Wilson's Secretary of State for Defence, has argued that actively serving senior British military officers would not have been prepared to overthrow a constitutionally-elected government.Sony VAIO VPCEB11FM/WI Battery

By the time of his resignation, Wilson's own perceptions of any threat may very well have been exacerbated by the onset of Alzheimer's disease; his inherent tendency to chariness was undoubtedly stoked by some in his inner circle, including Marcia Williams. Sony VAIO VPCEB11FX Battery

He reportedly shared with a surprised George H. W. Bush, at the time the Director of the CIA, his fear that some of the portraits in 10 Downing Street (specifically including Gladstone's portrait in the Cabinet Room) concealed listening devices being used to bug his discussions.Sony VAIO VPCEB11FX/BI Battery

Files released on 1 June 2005 show that Wilson was concerned that, while on the Isles of Scilly, he was being monitored by Russian ships disguised as trawlers. MI5 found no evidence of this, but told him not to use a walkie-talkie.

Wilson's Government took strong action against the controversial, self-styled "Church" of Scientology in 1967, banning foreign Scientologists from entering the UK, a prohibition which remained in force until 1980.Sony VAIO VPCEB11FX/T Battery

In response, L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology's founder, accused Wilson of being in cahoots with Soviet Russia and an international conspiracy of psychiatrists and financiers. Wilson's Minister of Health, Kenneth Robinson, subsequently won a libel suit against the Scientologists and Hubbard.Sony VAIO VPCEB11FX/WI Battery


  • 12 June 1968 Wilson was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society under Statute 12 of the Society's regulations, which covers people who have rendered conspicuous service to the cause of science or are such that their election would be of signal benefit to the Society.Sony VAIO VPCEB11GX Battery
  • Wilson was an Honorary Fellow of Columbia Pacific University. The former British Prime Minister also delivered a speech at a CPU graduation ceremony

Statues and other tributes

Two statues of Harold Wilson stand in prominent places. Sony VAIO VPCEB11GX/BI Battery

The first, unveiled by then Prime Minister Tony Blair 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 Lord Wilson in walking pose at the start of his first term as Prime Minister. Sony VAIO VPCEB11GX/T Battery

His wife 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.

In September 2006, Blair unveiled a second bronze statue of Wilson in his former constituency of Huyton, near Liverpool.Sony VAIO VPCEB11GX/WI Battery

The statue was by Liverpool sculptor, Tom Murphy, and Blair paid tribute to Wilson's legacy at the event, including the Open University. He added: "He also brought in a whole new culture, a whole new country. He made the country very, very different".

Also in 2006, a street on a new housing development in Tividale, West Midlands, was named Wilson Drive in honour of Wilson.Sony VAIO VPCEB12FX Battery

Along with neighbouring new development Callaghan drive (named after James Callaghan), it formed part of a large housing estate developed since the 1960s where all streets were named after former prime ministers or senior parliamentary figures.Sony VAIO VPCEB12FX/BI Battery,Sony VAIO VPCEB12FX/BIC Battery,Sony VAIO VPCEB12FX/T Battery,Sony VAIO VPCEB14FX Battery,Sony VAIO VPCEB14FX/BI Battery,Sony VAIO VPCEB14FX/T Battery,Sony VAIO VPCEB14FX/WI Battery,Sony VAIO VPCEB15FM Battery,Sony VAIO VPCEB15FM/BI Battery,Sony VAIO VPCEB15FM/T Battery,Sony VAIO VPCEB15FM/WI Battery,Sony VAIO VPCEB15FX Battery,Sony VAIO VPCEB15FX/BI Battery,Sony VAIO VPCEB15FX/T Battery,Sony VAIO VPCEB15FX/WI Battery

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