Sunday, October 16, 2011

James Harold Wilson, Baron Wilson of Rievaulx

James Harold Wilson, Baron Wilson of Rievaulx, KG, OBE, FRS, FSS, PC (11 March 1916 – 24 May 1995) was a British Labour Member of Parliament, Leader of the Labour Party. He was twice Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during the 1960s and 1970s,Sony VAIO VGN-SR190NGB Battery

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 first served as Prime Minister in the 1960s, during a period of low unemployment and relative economic prosperity (though also of significant problems with the UK's external balance of payments).Sony VAIO VGN-SR190PAB Battery

His second term in office began in 1974, when a period of economic crisis was beginning to hit most Western countries. On both occasions, economic concerns were to prove a significant constraint on his governments' ambitions. Sony VAIO VGN-SR190PCB Battery

Wilson's own approach to socialism placed emphasis on efforts to increase 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 left's traditional goal of promoting wider public ownership of industry. Sony VAIO VGN-SR190PFB Battery

While he did not challenge the Party constitution's stated dedication to nationalisation head-on, he took little action to pursue it. 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.Sony VAIO VGN-SR19VN Battery

Though generally not at the top of Wilson's personal areas of priority, his first period in office was notable for substantial legal changes in a number of social areas, including the liberalisation of censorship, divorce, homosexuality, immigration and abortion (see Social issues, below), Sony VAIO VGN-SR19VN Battery

as well as the abolition of capital punishment, due in part to the initiatives of backbench MPs who had the support of Roy Jenkins during his time as Home Secretary.

Overall, Wilson is seen to have managed a number of difficult political issues with considerable tactical skill, including such potentially divisive issues for his party as the role of public ownership,Sony VAIO VGN-SR19VRN Battery

British membership of the European Community, and the Vietnam War, in which he resisted US pressure to involve Britain and send British troops. Nonetheless, his stated ambition of substantially improving Britain's long-term economic performance remained largely unfulfilled.Sony VAIO VGN-SR19XN Battery

Early life

Wilson was born in Huddersfield, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, England on 11 March 1916, an almost exact contemporary of his rival, Edward Heath (9 July 1916 – 17 July 2005). 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.Sony VAIO VGN-SR19XN Battery

His mother Ethel (née Seddon; 1882–1957) was a schoolteacher prior to her marriage. 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.Sony VAIO VGN-SR210J/S Battery


Wilson won a scholarship to attend the local grammar school, Royds Hall Grammar School, Huddersfield. His education was disrupted in October 1930 when he contracted typhoid fever after drinking contaminated milk on a Scouts' outing. It took him three months to recover.Sony VAIO VGN-SR21M/S Battery

In December 1930, his father, working as an industrial chemist, was made redundant and it took him nearly two years to find work. He moved to Spital on the Wirral, Cheshire in order to do so. Wilson attended the sixth form at the Wirral Grammar School for Boys, where he became Head Boy.Sony VAIO VGN-SR21RM/H Battery

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. At Oxford, Wilson was moderately active in politics as a member of the Liberal Party but was later influenced by G. D. H. Cole to join the Labour Party. Sony VAIO VGN-SR21RM/S Battery

After his first year, he changed his field of study to Philosophy, Politics and Economics. He graduated with "an outstanding first class Bachelor of Arts degree, with alphas on every paper" in the final examinations. A popular urban myth at Oxford University states that Wilson's grade in his final examination was the highest ever recorded up to that date. Sony VAIO VGN-SR220J/B Battery

He also received exceptional testimonials from his tutors, including a comment from one that "he is, far and away, the ablest man I have taught so far".

Although Wilson had two abortive attempts at an All Souls Fellowship, he continued in academia, becoming one of the youngest Oxford University dons of the century at the age of 21. Sony VAIO VGN-SR220J/H Battery

He was a lecturer in Economic History at New College from 1937, and a Research Fellow at University College.


On New Year's Day 1940, in the chapel of Mansfield College, Oxford, he married Mary Baldwin who remained his wife until his death. Mary Wilson became a published poet. Sony VAIO VGN-SR240J/B Battery

They had two sons, Robin and Giles (named after Giles Alington); Robin became a Professor of Mathematics, and Giles became a teacher. Both his sons went to the same independent school, University College School, in Hampstead. In their twenties, his sons were under a kidnap threat from the IRA.Sony VAIO VGN-SR240N/B Battery

After becoming a teacher at a comprehensive school for two years, Giles later returned to teaching, becoming a Maths master at Salisbury Cathedral School, and later, Northcliffe Preparatory School, Nursling, Southampton. In November 2006 it was reported that Giles had given up his teaching job and become a train driver for South West Trains.Sony VAIO VGN-SR290JTH Battery

Wartime service

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. Sony VAIO VGN-SR290JTJ Battery

He later became a statistician and economist for the coal industry. He was Director of Economics and Statistics at the Ministry of Fuel and Power1943–44, and received an OBE for his services.

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.Sony VAIO VGN-SR290JTQ Battery

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.

Member of Parliament

As the war drew to an end, he searched for a seat to fight at the impending general election. Sony VAIO VGN-SR290JVB/C Battery

He was selected for Ormskirk, then held by Stephen King-Hall. Wilson accidentally agreed to be adopted as the candidate immediately rather than delay until the election was called, and was therefore compelled to resign from the Civil Service. He served as Praelector in Economics at University College between his resignation and his election to the House of Commons. Sony VAIO VGN-SR290JVH/C Battery

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.

In the 1945 general election, Wilson won his seat in the Labour landslide. To his surprise, he was immediately appointed to the government asParliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works. Sony VAIO VGN-SR290NTB Battery

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. Conspiracy-minded commentators would later seek to raise suspicions about these trips.

In government

On 29 September 1947, Wilson was appointed President of the Board of Trade and, at 31, became the youngest member of the Cabinet in the 20th century. Sony VAIO VGN-SR29VN/S Battery

He took a lead in abolishing some of the wartime rationing, which he referred to as a "bonfire of controls". His role in internal debates during the summer of 1949 over whether or not to devalue sterling, in which he was perceived to have played both sides of the issue, tarnished his reputation in both political and official circles.Sony VAIO VGN-SR29XN/S Battery

In the general election of 1950, his constituency was altered and he was narrowly elected for the new seat of Huyton near Liverpool.

Wilson was becoming known 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. Sony VAIO VGN-SR2RVN/S Battery

After the Labour Party lost the general election later that year, he was made chairman of Bevan's 'Keep Left' group, but shortly thereafter he distanced himself from Bevan. By coincidence, it was Bevan's further resignation from the Shadow Cabinet in 1954 that put Wilson back on the front bench (as a spokesman, initially, on finance).Sony VAIO VGN-SR390NAB Battery


Wilson soon proved to be a very effective Shadow Minister. One of his procedural moves caused a 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.Sony VAIO VGN-SR390NAH Battery

He coined the term "gnomes of Zurich" to describe Swiss bankers whom he accused of pushing the pound down by speculation. In the meantime, he conducted an inquiry into the Labour Party's organisation following its defeat in the 1955 general election, which compared the Party organisation to an antiquated "penny farthing" bicycle, and made various recommendations for improvements.Sony VAIO VGN-SR41M/P Battery

Unusually, Wilson combined the job of Chairman of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee with that of Shadow Chancellor from 1959, holding the chairmanship of the PAC from 1959 to 1963.

Wilson steered a course in intra-party matters in the 1950s and early 1960s which left him neither fully accepted and trusted by either the left or the right within the Labour Party. Sony VAIO VGN-SR41M/S Battery

Despite his earlier association with the left-wing Aneurin Bevan, in 1955 he backed Hugh Gaitskell, who was considered the right-of-centre candidate in internal Labour Party terms, against Bevan for the party leadership He then launched an opportunistic but unsuccessful challenge to Gaitskell in November 1960, in the wake of the Labour Party's 1959 defeat,Sony VAIO VGN-SR49VN/H Battery

Gaitskell's controversial attempt to ditch Labour's commitment to nationalisation in the shape of the Party's Clause Four, and Gaitskell's defeat at the 1960 Party Conference over a motion supporting Britain's unilateral nuclear disarmament. Wilson also challenged for the deputy leadership in 1962 but was defeated by George Brown. Sony VAIO VGN-SR51B/P Battery

Following these challenges, he was moved to the position of Shadow Foreign Secretary.

Hugh Gaitskell died in January 1963, aged 56, after a sudden flare of Lupus erythematosus, an autoimmune disease, just as the Labour Party had begun to unite and appeared to have a good chance of being elected to government, with the Macmillan government running into trouble.Sony VAIO VGN-SR51B/S Battery

Wilson became the left candidate for the leadership. He defeated George Brown, who was hampered by a reputation as an erratic figure and who was mistrusted by the likes of Denis Healey (Wilson's predecessor as shadow foreign secretary) and Anthony Crosland, in a straight contest in the second round of balloting, after James Callaghan,Sony VAIO VGN-SR51MF Battery

who had entered the race as an alternative to Brown, had been eliminated in the first round.

Wilson's 1964 election campaign was aided by the Profumo Affair, a 1963 ministerial sex scandal that had mortally wounded the Conservative government of Harold Macmillan and was to taint his successor Sir Alec Douglas-Home, even though Home had not been involved in the scandal. Sony VAIO VGN-SR51MF/P Battery

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!"). Home was an aristocrat who had given up his title as Lord Home to sit in the House of Commons. Sony VAIO VGN-SR51MF/S Battery

To Wilson's comment that he was the 14th Earl of Home, Home retorted, "I suppose Mr. Wilson is the fourteenth Mr. Wilson".

At the Labour Party's 1963 annual conference, Wilson made possibly his best-remembered speech, on the implications of scientific and technological change, Sony VAIO VGN-SR51MF/W Battery

in which 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.Sony VAIO VGN-SR51MR Battery

First term as Prime Minister (1964–70)

Labour won the 1964 general election with a narrow majority of four seats, and Wilson became Prime Minister. This was an insufficient parliamentary majority to last for a full term, and after 18 months, a second election in March 1966 returned Wilson with the much larger majority of 96.Sony VAIO VGN-SR59VG Battery

Economic policies

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 thebalance of trade. Sony VAIO VGN-SR59VG/H Battery

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. 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".Sony VAIO VGN-SR70B/S Battery

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". Sony VAIO VGN-SR72B/P Battery

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. Sony VAIO VGN-SR72B/S Battery

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.

A main theme of Wilson's economic approach was to place enhanced emphasis on "indicative economic planning". Sony VAIO VGN-SR73JB/S Battery

He created a new Department of Economic Affairs to generate ambitious targets that were in themselves supposed to help stimulate investment and growth (the government also created a Ministry of Technology (shortened to Mintech) to support the modernisation of industry). Sony VAIO VGN-SR74FB/S Battery

The DEA itself was in part intended to serve as an expansionary counter-weight to what Labour saw as the conservative influence of the Treasury, though the appointment of Wilson's deputy, George Brown, as the Minister in charge of the DEA was something of a two-edged sword, in view of Brown's reputation for erratic conduct;Sony VAIO VGN-SR90FS Battery

in any case the government's decision over its first three years to defend sterling's parity with traditional deflationary measures ran counter to hopes for an expansionist push for growth. Though now out of fashion, the faith in indicative planning as a pathway to growth,embodied in the DEA and Mintech, Sony VAIO VGN-SR90NS Battery

was at the time by no means confined to the Labour Party – Wilson built on foundations that had been laid by his Conservative predecessors, in the shape, for example, of the National Economic Development Council (known as "Neddy") and its regional counterparts (the "little Neddies").Sony VAIO VGN-SR90S Battery

The continued relevance of industrial nationalisation (a centerpiece of the post-War Labour government's programme) had been a key point of contention in Labour's internal struggles of the 1950s and early 1960s. Wilson's predecessor as leader, Hugh Gaitskell, had tried in 1960 to tackle the controversy head-on, Sony VAIO VGN-SR90US Battery

with a proposal to expunge Clause Four (the public ownership clause) from the party's constitution, but had been forced to climb down. 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.Sony VAIO VGN-SR91NS Battery

Wilson made periodic attempts to mitigate inflation through wage-price controls, better known in the UK 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). Sony VAIO VGN-SR91PS Battery

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. 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, Sony VAIO VGN-SR91S Battery

beginning shortly after Wilson's re-election in 1966, and conducted, he claimed, by "politically motivated men".

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) in the UK, which were outlined in a White Paper "In Place of Strife" put forward by the Employment Secretary Barbara Castle.Sony VAIO VGN-SR91US Battery

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. Some elements of these changes were subsequently to be revived (in modified form) during the premiership of Margaret Thatcher.Sony VAIO VGN-SR92NS Battery

Wilson's administration 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 Sony VAIO VGN-SR92PS Battery

(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.Sony VAIO VGN-SR92S Battery

Of longer term significance, Capital Gains Tax (CGT) was introduced for the first time in 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. By 1974, the top-rate of income tax reached its highest rate since the war, 83%. This applied to incomes over £20,000 (£155,247 as of 2011),Sony VAIO VGN-SR92US Battery

and combined with a 15% surcharge on 'un-earned' income (investments and dividends) could add to a 98% marginal rate of personal income tax. In 1974, as many as 750,000 people were liable to pay the top-rate of income tax. Labour's identification with high tax rates was to prove one of the issues that helped the Conservative Party under Margaret Thatcher and John Major dominate British politics during the 1980s and early-to-mid-1990s.Sony VAIO VGN-SR93DS Battery

Wilson had entered power at a time when unemployment stood at around 400,000. It still stood 371,000 by early 1966 after a steady fall during 1965, but by March 1967 it stood at 631,000. It fell again towards the end of the decade, standing at 582,000 by the time of the general election in June 1970.Sony VAIO VGN-SR93JS Battery

Social issues

A number of liberalising social reforms were passed through parliament during Wilson's first period in government. These included the abolition of capital punishment, decriminalisation of sex between men in private, liberalisation of abortion law and the abolition of theatre censorship. Sony VAIO VGN-SR93PS Battery

The Divorce Reform Act was passed by parliament in 1969 (and came into effect in 1971). Such reforms were mostly via private member's bills on 'free votes' in line with established convention, but the large Labour majority after 1966 was undoubtedly more open to such changes than previous parliaments had been.Sony VAIO VGN-SR93YS Battery

Wilson personally, coming culturally from a provincial non-conformist background, showed no particular enthusiasm for much of this agenda (which some linked to the "permissive society"), but the reforming climate was especially encouraged by Roy Jenkins during his period at the Home Office. Sony VAIO VGN-SR94FS Battery

The franchise was also extended with the reduction of the voting age from twenty-one to eighteen in 1969.

Wilson's 1966–70 term witnessed growing public concern over the level of immigration to the United Kingdom. The issue was dramatised at the political level by the famous "Rivers of Blood speech" by the Conservative politician Enoch Powell, warning against the dangers of immigration, which led to Powell's dismissal from the Shadow Cabinet.Sony VAIO VGN-SR94GS Battery

Wilson's government adopted a two-track approach. While condemning racial discrimination (and adopting legislation to make it a legal offence), Wilson's Home Secretary James Callaghan introduced significant new restrictions on the right of immigration to the United Kingdom.Sony VAIO VGN-SR94HS Battery


Education held special significance for a socialist of Wilson's generation, in view of its role in both opening up opportunities for children from working class backgrounds and enabling the UK to seize the potential benefits of scientific advances. Sony VAIO VGN-SR94VS Battery

Under the first Wilson Government, for the first time in British history, more money was allocated to education than to defence.[20]Wilson continued the rapid creation of new universities, in line with the recommendations of the Robbins Report, a bipartisan policy already in train when Labour took power. Sony VAIO VGN-SZ35B/B Battery

The economic difficulties of the period deprived the tertiary system of the resources it needed. Nevertheless, university expansion remained a core policy. One notable effect was the first entry of women into university education in significant numbers. More broadly, higher education overall was significantly expanded, with a distinct bias towards the non-university sector.Sony VAIO VGN-SZ54B/B Battery

Some 29 polytechnics were established, whilst student participation rates were increased from 5% to 10.%.

Wilson also deserves credit for grasping the concept of an Open University, to give adults who had missed out on tertiary education a second chance through part-time study and distance learning. Sony VAIO VGN-SZ55B/B Battery

His political commitment included assigning implementation responsibility to Baroness Lee, the widow of Aneurin Bevan, the charismatic leader of Labour's Left wing whom Wilson had joined in resigning from the Attlee cabinet. The Open University worked through summer schools, postal tuition and television programmes.Sony VAIO VGN-SZ55GN/B Battery

By 1981, 45,000 students had received degrees through the Open University.

Wilson's record on secondary education is, by contrast, highly controversial. A fuller description is in the article Education in England. Two factors played a role. Following the Education Act 1944 there was disaffection with the tripartite system of academically-oriented Grammar schools for a small proportion of "gifted" children,Sony VAIO VGN-SZ56 Battery

and Technical and Secondary Modern schools for the majority of children. Pressure grew for the abolition of the selective principle underlying the "eleven plus", and replacement with Comprehensive schools which would serve the full range of children (see the article Debates on the grammar school). Sony VAIO VGN-SZ561N Battery

Comprehensive education became Labour Party policy. From 1966 to 1970, the proportion of children in comprehensive schools increased from about 10% to over 30%. There was also a move in primary schools towards “child-centred” or individual learning, in keeping with the recommendations of the 1967 Plowden Report on improving the education system.Sony VAIO VGN-SZ562N Battery

Polytechnics were established in 1965 through the amalgamation of existing institutions such as colleges of technology, art, and commerce. A new external examination, designed for children of middling intellectual ability and leading to a Certificate of Secondary Education (CSE), was also introduced that same year.Sony VAIO VGN-SZ57N Battery

Labour pressed local authorities to convert grammar schools, many of them cherished local institutions, into comprehensives. Conversion continued on a large scale during the subsequent ConservativeHeath administration, although the Secretary of State, Margaret Thatcher, ended the compulsion of local governments to convert.Sony VAIO VGN-SZ58GN Battery

While the proclaimed goal was to level school quality up, the converse claim was made that the grammar schools' excellence was being sacrificed with little to show in the way of improvement of other schools (for details and sources on this and related arguments, see article on Debates on the grammar school). Sony VAIO VGN-SZ58GN/C Battery

Critically handicapping implementation, economic austerity meant that schools never received sufficient funding.

A second factor affecting education was change in teacher training, including introduction of "progressive" child-centred methods, abhorred by many established teachers.Sony VAIO VGN-SZ58N Battery

In parallel, the profession became increasingly politicised. The status of teaching suffered and is still recovering.

Another major controversy of the first Wilson term was the decision that the government could not fulfil its long-held promise to raise the school leaving age to 16, because of the investment required in infrastructure, such as extra classrooms and teachers.Sony VAIO VGN-SZ61MN/B Battery

Baroness Lee considered resigning in protest, but narrowly decided against this in the interests of party unity. It was left to Thatcher to carry out the change, during the Heath government.

Overal, public expenditure on education rose as a proportion of GNP from 4.8% in 1964 to 5.9% in 1968, and the number of teachers in training increased by more than a third between 1964 and 1967. Sony VAIO VGN-SZ61VN/X Battery

The percentage of students staying on at school after the age of sixteen increased similarly, and the student population increased by over 10% each year. Pupil-teacher ratios were also steadily reduced. As a result of the First Wilson government’s educational policies, Sony VAIO VGN-SZ61WN/C Battery

opportunities for working-class children were improved, while overall access to education in 1970 was broader than in 1964.

In 1966, Wilson was created the first Chancellor of the newly created University of Bradford, a position he held until 1985.Sony VAIO VGN-SZ640N/B Battery


Housing was an issue the Conservatives were widely recognized to have made their own, after the Churchill government of the early 1950s, with Harold Macmillan as Minister for Housing, gave housing construction far higher political priority than it had received under the Attlee administration Sony VAIO VGN-SZ645P3 Battery

(where housing had been attached to the portfolio of Health Minister Aneurin Bevan, whose attention was concentrated on his responsibilities for the National Health Service). Macmillan had accepted Winston Churchill's challenge to meet the latter's ambitious public commitment to build 300,000 new homes a year, and achieved the target a year ahead schedule. Sony VAIO VGN-SZ650N/C Battery

The First Wilson Government devoted significant attention to efforts at beating the Tories at their own game. Housing construction was markedly increased, though Labour's own specific manifesto commitment to raise construction to a new high of 500,000 new homes a year proved, unlike Churchill's, embarrassingly elusive. Sony VAIO VGN-SZ660N/C Battery

Nonetheless, more new houses were built between 1964 and 1970 than in the last six years of the previous Conservative government.

In parallel, the proportion of council housing rose from 42% to 50% of the total.Sony VAIO VGN-SZ670N/C Battery

The number of council homes built increased steadily under the First Wilson Government, 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), Sony VAIO VGN-SZ680ND Battery

which made low-income housebuyers eligible for subsidies (equivalent to tax relief on mortgage interest payments).

Significant emphasis was also placed on town planning, with new conservation areas introduced and a new generation of new towns built, notably Milton Keynes -- this trend itself a continuation of efforts initiated in the latter years of the preceding Conservative administration. Sony VAIO VGN-SZ691N/X Battery

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. The government also combined its push for the construction of more new housing with encouragement and subsidisation of the renovation of old houses (as an alternative to their destruction and replacement).Sony VAIO VGN-SZ71E/B Battery

The Housing Improvement Act of 1969, for example, made it easier to turn old houses into new homes by encouraging rehabilitation and modernisation through increased grants to property owners. The legislation also introduced special grants for installing amenities in houses in multi-occupation and government grants towards environmental improvement up to an expenditure of £100 per dwelling, while approved works of repair and replacement became eligible for grant aid for the first time ever.Sony VAIO VGN-SZ71VN/X Battery

Altogether, between 1965 and 1970, over 2 million homes had been constructed (almost half of which were council properties), more than in any other five-year period since 1918.

The Protection from Eviction Act (1964) outlawed the eviction of tenants without a court order, while the Rent Act (1965) extended security of tenure, introduced registration of rents, and protection from eviction for private tenants.Sony VAIO VGN-SZ71WN/C Battery

The Leasehold Reform Act (1967) was passed in order to enable holders of long leases to purchase the freehold of their homes. This legislation provided about one million leaseholders with the right to purchase the freehold of their homes. Controls were introduced over increases in the rents of council accommodation, Sony VAIO VGN-SZ74B/B Battery

a new Rent Act (introduced in 1965) froze the rent for most unfurnished accommodation in the private sector while providing tenants with greater security of tenure and protection against harassment, and a system was introduced whereby independent arbitrators had the power to fix fair rents.Sony VAIO VGN-SZ750N/C Battery

Legislation introduced regulated tenancies for properties with a rateable value of up to £200 per year (£400 in London), which meant that tenants were not only to be protected from intimidation, but that evictions would now require court orders. Sony VAIO VGN-SZ75B/B Battery

It also restructured the housing subsidy system such that the borrowing charges of local authorities of individual local authorities would be pegged to 4% interest. The 1966 Rating Act introduced the rating of empty properties and provided for the payment of rates in instalments. Sony VAIO VGN-SZ76 Battery

The Local Government Act introduced that same year introduced a “domestic” element in the new Rate Support Grant, by providing relief to domestic ratepayers on a rising scale, so that as local expenditure rose, government grant was geared to outpace it. As noted by one historian,Sony VAIO VGN-SZ770N/C Battery

“The amount of grant in the domestic element would be calculated as sufficient to subsidize domestic ratepayers to the extent of a fivepenny rate in the first year, tenpence in the second, and so on."

The 1965 Housing (Slum Clearance Compensation) Act continued a provision for home owners of unfit dwellings purchased between 1939 and 1955 to be compensated at market values. Sony VAIO VGN-SZ77N Battery

The Building Control Act of 1966 introduced building licensing to give priority to housing construction. Under the Supplementary Benefit Act of 1966, an owner occupier on benefits was entitled to an allowance for repairs, insurance, rates, and “reasonable” interest charges on a mortgage.Sony VAIO VGN-SZ780 Battery

A Land Commission was also established to purchase land for building and therefore prevent profiteering in land values, although it only had limited success. The Housing Susbsidies Act (1967) provided financial assistance to local authorities for conversions and improvements, while also reforming the standard of fitness for human habitation.Sony VAIO VGN-SZ78N Battery

Social Services and Welfare

Following its victory in the 1964 general election, Wilson's government began to increase social benefits. Prescription charges for medicines were abolished immediately, while pensions were raised to a record 21% of average male industrial wages.Sony VAIO VGN-SZ791N/X Battery

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. Sony VAIO VGN-SZ84NS Battery

Before the 1966 election, the widow’s pension was tripled and redundancy payments for laid-off workers were introduced. Due to austerity measures following an economic crisis, prescription charges were re-introduced in 1968 as an alternative to cutting the hospital building programme,Sony VAIO VGN-SZ84PS Battery

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. The widow’s earning rule was abolished.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%.Sony VAIO VGN-SZ84S Battery

Increased funds were allocated to social services during the First Wilson Government's time in office. Between 1963 and 1968, spending on housing increased by 9.6%, social security by 6.6%, health by 6%, and education by 6.9%,[25] while from 1964 to 1967 social spending increased by 45%.Sony VAIO VGN-SZ84US Battery

Altogether, from 1964 to 1970, spending on the social services rose from 16% to 23% of national wealth between 1964 and 1970. As noted by the historian Richard Whiting, spending on social services under Wilson rose faster than the growth in GNP, by 65% (excluding housing) as against 37% for GNP, "a substantially better record than that achieved by the preceding Conservative governments.”Sony VAIO VGN-SZ85NS Battery

In terms of social security, the welfare state was significantly expanded through substantial increases in national insurance benefits (which rose in real terms by 20% from 1964 to 1970) and the creation of new social welfare benefits. The National Assistance Board was merged with the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance to become the new Ministry of Social Security,Sony VAIO VGN-SZ85S Battery

which replaced national assistance with supplementary benefit, improved benefit scale rates, and provided a statutory right to benefit for the out-of-work needy. The government also succeeded in persuading people to draw assistance to which they were entitled to but hadn’t claimed before.Sony VAIO VGN-SZ85US Battery

The number of elderly Britons receiving home helps rose by over 15% from 1964 to 1969, while nearly three times as many meals on wheels were served in 1968 as in 1964. In 1968, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Social Security were amalgamated into the Department of Health and Social Security, Sony VAIO VGN-SZ94NS Battery

the purpose of which was to coordinate benefits in cash with benefits in kind since “the services needed to deal with social insecurity are not cash benefits only, but health and welfare as well.”

The real value of most existing benefits was increased, with benefits rising at roughly the same rate as salaries over the course of the First Wilson Government, while family allowances were significantly increased.Sony VAIO VGN-SZ94PS Battery

By 1969, family allowances were worth 72% more in real terms to a low income family with three children than in 1964.

Redundancy payments were introduced in 1965 to lessen the impact of unemployment, earnings-related benefits for unemployment, sickness, industrial injuries and widowhood were introduced in 1966, followed by the replacement of flat-rate family allowances with an earnings-related scheme in 1968.Sony VAIO VGN-SZ94S Battery

In 1968, the universal family allowance was raised for the first time in a decade. This measure was considered to be redistributive to some degree,

“from richer to poorer and from mainly male taxpayers to mothers who received family allowances, a tentative move towards what Roy Jenkins called ‘civilised selectivity’".Sony VAIO VGN-SZ94US Battery

The National Insurance Act of 1966, which introduced supplementary earnings-related benefits for short-term sickness and unemployment, had far-reaching distributional consequences by “guaranteeing that insurance benefits rose at the same rate as wages in the late 1960s.” Sony VAIO VGN-SZ95NS Battery

Trade unions were supportive of the advances made in social protection by the Wilson government, which had a considerable impact on the living standards of the lowest quintile of the population. A statement by the TUC argued that the unions’ acquiescence to the government’s incomes policy was justified given that “the government had deliberately refrained from attacking the social services."Sony VAIO VGN-SZ95S Battery

The introduction of earnings-related unemployment and sickness benefits significantly reduced inequalities between those in work and those who were unemployed. In 1964, the net income received by the average wage earner, when on unemployment or sickness benefit, was only 45% of what he received at work, whereas by 1968 the figure had increased to 75%.Sony VAIO VGN-SZ95US Battery

The earnings-related supplement for unemployment benefits was made available to those who had earned at least £450 in the previous financial year. The supplement was paid after a twelve-day waiting period, and the rate was one-third the amount by which the average weekly earnings (up to £30) exceeded £9. Sony VAIO VGN-TZ121 Battery

The earnings-related supplement was based on the assertion that a person’s commitments for mortgages, rents, and hire purchase agreements were related to their normal earnings and could not be adjusted quickly when experiencing a loss of normal income. As a result of this supplement, Sony VAIO VGN-TZ13 Battery

the total benefit of a married man with two children went up by 52%, and that of a single man by 117.% The duration was limited to 26 weeks, while the total benefit was restricted to 85% of average weekly earnings in the preceding financial year.

Personal social services were integrated, expenditure increased and their responsibilities broadened following the enactment of the Children and Young Persons’ Act (1969) and the Local Authority Social Services Act (1970).Sony VAIO VGN-TZ130N/B Battery

The Children and Young Persons Act of 1969 reformed the juvenile court system and extended local authority duties to provide community homes for juvenile offenders. The legislation provided that “remand homes,” “approved schools,” and local authority and voluntary children’s homes became part of a comprehensive system of community homes for all children in care.Sony VAIO VGN-TZ131 Battery


The Doctor’s Charter of 1966 introduced allowances for rent and ancillary staff, significantly increased the pay scales, and changed the structure of payments to reflect “both qualifications of doctors and the form of their practices, i.e. group practice.” Sony VAIO VGN-TZ132/N Battery

These changes not only led to higher morale, but also resulted in the increased use of ancillary staff and nursing attachments, a growth in the number of health centres and group practices, and a boost in the modernization of practices in terms of equipment, appointment systems, and buildings.Sony VAIO VGN-TZ132N Battery

In 1967, local authorities were empowered to provide family planning advice to any who requested it and to provide supplies free of charge. In addition, medical training was expanded following the Todd Report on medical education in 1968. In addition, National Health expenditure rose from 4.2% of GNP in 1964 to 5% in 1969 and spending on hospital construction doubled.Sony VAIO VGN-TZ150N/B Battery

The Health Services and Public Health Act 1968 empowered local authorities to maintain workshops for the elderly either directly or via the agency of a voluntary body. A Health Advisory Service was later established to investigate and confront the problems of long-term psychiatric and mentally subnormal hospitals in the wave of numerous scandals.Sony VAIO VGN-TZ150N/N Battery

The Family Planning Act (1967) empowered local authorities to set up a family planning service with free advice and means-tested provision of contraceptive devices while the Clean Air Act (1968) extended powers to combat air pollution.


The Industrial Training Act of 1964 set up an Industrial Training Board to encourage training for people in work.Sony VAIO VGN-TZ160CB Battery

The Docks and Harbours Act (1966) and the Dock Labour Scheme (1967) reorganised the system of employment in the docks in order to put an end to casual employment. Trade unions also benefited from the passage of the Trade Dispute Act in 1965. This restored the legal immunity of trade union officials, thus ensuring that they could no longer be sued for threatening to strike.Sony VAIO VGN-TZ160N/B Battery

Nurses benefited from the largest pay rise they had received in a generation (according to one MP), and in 1969, the Employers' Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act was passed, requiring employers to insure their liability to their employees for personal injury, disease or death sustained in their place of work.Sony VAIO VGN-TZ16GN/B Battery

Wilson's government also ensured that low-income earners improved their position relative to that of average-income earners during its time in office. One of the principles of the government's prices and incomes policy was that low-paid workers would be given special consideration, Sony VAIO VGN-TZ16N Battery

and between 1965 and 1969 the earnings of the lowest paid workers increased slightly faster than the average (the increase in inflation in 1969–70 caused by devaluation, however, led to a deterioration in the position of low-paid workers). In addition, various steps were taken in 1968 to reduce the severity with which the “wage-stop” operated,Sony VAIO VGN-TZ16N/B Battery

a regressive mechanism which restricted the amount of assistance payable to an unemployed person. In 1966, extensions and improvements were made in the allowances payable out of the Industrial Injuries Fund to people who had been injured before 5 July 1948 and who were entitled to weekly payments of worker’s compensation.Sony VAIO VGN-TZ17/N Battery


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. Sony VAIO VGN-TZ170N/B Battery

Public expenditure on roads steadily increased and stricter safety precautions were introduced, such as the breathalyser test for drunken driving. The road building programme was also expanded, with capital expenditure increased to 8% of GDP, “the highest level achieved by any post-war government”.Sony VAIO VGN-TZ170N/N Battery

Regional development

Encouragement of regional development was given increased attention under the First Wilson Government, with the aim of narrowing economic dispratiies between the various regions. A policy was introduced in 1965 whereby any new government organisation should be established outside London and in 1967 the government decided to give preference to development areas.Sony VAIO VGN-TZ17GN/B Battery

A few government departments were also moved out of London, with the Royal Mint moved to South Wales, the Giro and Inland Revenue to Bootle, and the Motor Tax Office to Swansea. A new Special Development Status was also introduced in 1967 to provide even higher levels of assistance.Sony VAIO VGN-TZ17N Battery

In 1966, five development areas (covering half the population in the UK) were established, while subsidies were provided for employers recruiting new employees in the Development Areas.

The Industrial Development Act of 1966 changed the name of Development Districts Sony VAIO VGN-TZ18/N Battery

(parts of the country with higher levels of unemployment than the national average and which governments sought to encourage greater investment in) to Development Areas and increased the percentage of the workforce covered by development schemes from 15% to 20%, which mainly affected rural areas inScotland and Wales. Sony VAIO VGN-TZ180N/RC Battery

Tax allowances were replaced by grants in order to extend coverage to include firms which were not making a profit, and in 1967 a Regional Employment Premium was introduced. Whereas the existing schemes tended to favour capital-intensive projects, this aimed for the first time at increasing employment in depressed areas. Sony VAIO VGN-TZ185N/WC Battery

Set at £1.50 a man per week and guaranteed for seven years, the Regional Employment Premium subsidised all manufacturing industry (though not services) in Development Areas.

Regional unemployment differentials were narrowed, and spending on regional infrastructure was significantly increased. Sony VAIO VGN-TZ18GN/X Battery

Between 1965–66 and 1969–70, yearly expenditure on new construction (including power stations, roads, schools, hospitals and housing) rose by 41% in the United Kingdom as a whole. Subsidies were also provided for various industries (such as shipbuilding in Clydeside), which helped to prevent a number of job losses.Sony VAIO VGN-TZ18N Battery

It is estimated that, between 1964 and 1970, 45,000 government jobs were created outside London, 21,000 of which were located in the Development Areas.

Funds allocated to regional assistance more than doubled, from £40 million in 1964/65 to £82 million in 1969/70, and from 1964 to 1970,Sony VAIO VGN-TZ190N/B Battery

the number of factories completed was 50% higher than from 1960 to 1964, which helped to reduce unemployment in development areas. In 1970, the unemployment rate in development areas was 1.67 times the national average, compared to 2.21 times in 1964.Sony VAIO VGN-TZ190N/BC Battery

Although national rates of unemployment were higher in 1970 than in the early 1960s, unemployment rates in the development areas were lower and had not increased for three years. Altogether, the impact of the First Wilson government's regional development policies was such that, according to one historian, the period 1963 to 1970 represented “the most prolonged, most intensive, and most successful attack ever launched on regional problems in Britain.”Sony VAIO VGN-TZ191N/XC Battery

Urban renewal

The 1969 Housing Act provided local authorities with the duty of working out what to do about ‘unsatisfactory areas.’ Local authorities could declare ‘general improvement areas’ in which they would be able to buy up land and houses, and spend environmental improvement grants. Sony VAIO VGN-TZ195N/XC Battery

On the same basis, taking geographical areas of need, a package was developed by the government which resembled a miniature poverty programme. In July 1967 the government decided to pour money into what the Plowden Committee defined as Educational Priority Areas, poverty-stricken areas where children were environmentally deprived. Sony VAIO VGN-TZ198N/RC Battery

A number of poor inner-city areas were subsequently granted EPA status (despite concerns that Local Education Authorities would be unable to finance Educational Priority Areas). In addition, Section 11 of the 1966 Local Government Act enabled local authorities to claim grants to recruit additional staff to meet special needs of Commonwealth immigrants.Sony VAIO VGN-TZ250N/B Battery

The First Wilson Government made assistance to deprived urban communities a specific policy of national government in 1969 with the passage of the Local Government Grants (Social Need) Act, which empowered the Home Secretary to dispense grants to assist local authorities in providing extra help to areas “of special social need.”Sony VAIO VGN-TZ250N/N Battery

The Urban Aid Programme was subsequently launched to provide community and family advice centres, centres for the elderly, money for schools and other services, thereby alleviating urban deprivation. In introducing the Urban Aid Programme, the then Home Secretary James Callaghan stated that the goal of the legislation was to Sony VAIO VGN-TZ250N/P Battery

“provide for the care of our citizens who live in the poorest overcrowded parts of our cities and towns. It is intended to arrest ... and reverse the downward spiral which afflicts so many of these areas. There is a deadly quagmire of need and poverty.”

Central government paid 75% of the costs of these schemes, which were nominated by local authorities in areas of ‘acute social need'.Sony VAIO VGN-TZ27/N Battery

As a result of this legislation, many ideas were put into practice such as language classes for immigrants, daycentres for the elderly or disabled, day nurseries, adventure playgrounds, and holidays for deprived or handicapped children. The schemes therefore proved successful in making extra social provision while encouraging community development.Sony VAIO VGN-TZ270N/B Battery

Twelve Community Development Projects (CDPs) were set up in areas with high levels of deprivation to encourage self-help and participation by local residents in order to improve their communication and access to local government, together with improving the provision of local services. Sony VAIO VGN-TZ27N Battery

In the years that followed, these action-research projects increasingly challenged existing ideas about the causes of inner-city deprivation, arguing that the roots of poverty in such areas could be traced to changes in the political economy of inner-city areas, such as the withdrawal of private capital (as characterised by the decline of manufacturing industries). Sony VAIO VGN-TZ28/N Battery

Although these projects eventually wound up in the late 1970s, they are still regarded by many today as representing “the high water mark of local involvement in area-based regeneration initiatives,” and helped pave the way for future regeneration schemes in the United Kingdom.Sony VAIO VGN-TZ285N/RC Battery

Liberal reforms

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.Sony VAIO VGN-TZ28N Battery

This legislation allowed courts to order provision for either spouse and recognised the contribution to the joint home made during marriage. That same year, partners were given an equal share of household assets following divorce via the Matrimonial Property Act. The Race Relations Act was also extended in 1968 and in 1970 the Equal Pay Act was passed.Sony VAIO VGN-TZ290EAB Battery

Another important reform, the 1967 Welsh Language Act, granted ‘equal validity’ to the declining Welsh language and encouraged its revival. A new Ministry of Overseas Development was established, with its greatest success at the time being the introduction of interest-free loans for the poorest countries.Sony VAIO VGN-TZ290EAN Battery

Government expenditure was also increased on both sport and the arts. The Commons Registration Act (1965) provided for the registration of all commons and village greens, whilst under the Countryside Act of 1968, local authorities could provide facilities “for enjoyment of such lands to which the public has access”.Sony VAIO VGN-TZ290EAP Battery

The Family Provision Act of 1966 amended a series of pre-existing estate laws mainly related to persons who died interstate. The legislation increased the amount that could be paid of surviving spouses if a will hadn’t been left, and also expanded upon the jurisdiction of county courts, which were given the jurisdiction of high courts under certain circumstances when handling matters of estate. Sony VAIO VGN-TZ295N/XC Battery

The rights of adopted children were also improved with certain wording changed in the Inheritance (Family Provision) Act of 1938 to bestow opon them the same rights as natural-born children. In 1968, the Nurseries and Child-Minders Regulation Act 1948 was updatedto include more categories of childminders.Sony VAIO VGN-TZ298N/XC Battery

A year later, the Family Law Reform Act was passed, which allowed people born outside marriage to inherit on the intestacy of either parent.

The Race Relations Act of 1965 outlawed direct discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, and ethnic or national origin in some public places.Sony VAIO VGN-TZ33/B Battery

The legislation also set up a Race Relations Board. Thsi was followed by the Race Relations Act of 1968, which made racial discrimination illegal. The Criminal Justice Act of 1967 introduced suspended prison sentences and allowed a ten to two majority vote for jury decisions. Sony VAIO VGN-TZ33/N Battery

An Ombudsman (Parliamentary Commissioner) was appointed in 1967 to consider complaints against government departments and to impose remedies, while censorship of plays by the Lord Chamberlain was abolished (1969). In addition, the law on Sunday Observance was relaxed.Sony VAIO VGN-TZ33/W Battery

A number of private members’ bills related to consumer affairs, put forward by Co-operative MPs, became law under the First Wilson Government, and much of the consumer legislation taken for granted by contemporary British shoppers can be attributed to the legislation passed during this period. Sony VAIO VGN-TZ350N/B Battery

In 1968, the Trade Descriptions Act (the “shoppers' charter") was enacted by parliament, and a farm and garden chemicals bill also became law that same year. Other co-operative bills enacted during this period included a new Clean Air Act, a bill removing restrictions on off-licences, and a bill to promote agriculture co-operatives passed in 1967,Sony VAIO VGN-TZ350N/N Battery

which established "A scheme administered by a new Central Council for Agriculture and Horticulture Co-operation with a budget to organise and promote co-operation with agriculture and horticulture". The 1970 Chronically Sick & Disabled Persons Act, regarded as a groundbreaking measure, Sony VAIO VGN-TZ350N/P Battery

was the first kind of legislation in the world to recognise and give rights to disabled people, and set down specific provisions to improve access and support for people with disabilities. The government effectively supported the passage of these bills by granting them the necessary parliamentary time. Sony VAIO VGN-TZ370N/B Battery

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

"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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