List of entries |  Feedback 
  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)
Harold Wilson

(b. 1916, KG 1976, baron 1983)
Labour politician, MP for Ormskirk 1945–50 and Huyton 1950–83, and twice prime minister (1964–70, 1974–6). An economist and statistician by profession, he became the youngest cabinet minister of the 20C when appointed president of the Board of Trade in 1947. In 1963 the sudden death of Hugh *Gaitskell left the leadership of the party unexpectedly open, and Wilson was elected in a contest with George Brown and James Callaghan.

1963 was the year of the *Profumo affair. The Conservative administration seemed stale and tarnished, and there was a marked contrast when Wilson held out the promise of technology and of 'the Britain that is going to be forged in the white heat of this revolution' (a phrase used at that autumn's party conference, usually now quoted as 'the white heat of the technological revolution'). The Labour party won by just five seats in the general election of October 1964, but Wilson returned to the country in March 1966 and increased his majority to 99.

A balance of payments crisis, leading to devaluation in 1967 (see *exchange rate), frustrated the fulfilment of his promises; and Britain's economic difficulties were underlined by nearly four years of the most stringent *exchange controls. Meanwhile foreign affairs were dominated by the issue of *Rhodesia, on which Wilson took a personal initiative in diplomacy with Ian Smith (see *Zimbabwe) but failed to make any progress.

Wilson lost the 1970 election, but returned to power in February 1974 without an overall majority; a second election in that year, in October, gave him a slender majority of five. He then surprised the nation, early in 1976, by the sudden announcement of his resignation. He had declared that he would retire before the next general election; but there was inevitable speculation that he had some dark reason for going (if so, it has never been discovered). It was later established that there had been a dirty tricks campaign within MI5 – as Wilson himself suspected – to undermine his administration. He was succeeded as party leader and prime minister by James *Callaghan.

Several of Wilson's phrases have found a secure place in Britain's collective memory. One is the *'gnomes of Zurich'; another the *'pound in your pocket'; and a third the perennially useful 'a week is a long time in politics'. It is uncertain precisely when he first said this, but it was probably to lobby correspondents on the subject of a sterling crisis shortly after he took office in 1964.

A  B-BL  BO-BX  C-CH  CI-CX  D  E  F  G  H  IJK  L  M  NO  P  QR  S-SL  SM-SX  T  UV  WXYZ