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Harold Wilson: The Winner

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As an attempt to rehabilitate Wilson, this collection might be considered a failure; but it does leave us with a more sympathetic portrait of him than some readers will have started with. Photograph: PA Images/Alamy View image in fullscreen ‘One of the 20th century’s great personalities’: Harold Wilson in 1963. that this was not the case: in fact, the 1986 memoirs largely amounted to a printed version of a manuscript that Wilson produced in the early 1980s. Head and heel of spine and corners of boards lightly bumped, mild bow to rear board, page edges foxed, top edge dusty, small spot on frontispiece also offset to title page. It should be noted though, that homosexuality was still thought of as something akin to a disease; Roy Jenkins referred to it as a ‘disability’ in one of the Parliamentary debates.

Because Wilson had left office in 1976, and by common agreement among these books, Wilson had faded irretrievably in health by the mid-1980s (see Thomas-Symonds’ p.Wilson concentrated on quietly accruing power within the party, identifying with the left but never totally severing links with the right. The book is firmly bound in clean blue cloth, lettered in gilt to the spine, the extremities are slightly bumped and rubbed.

Eddie Bolland, the British ambassador, whispered to me through the foliage: “The prime minister has resigned. Nick Thomas-Symonds was first elected as the Labour MP for his home constituency of Torfaen in May 2015, and was re-elected in June 2017 and again in December 2019. It’s not hard to see why reading this book, concerned with electability and using power to advance society rather than sitting in the ideological purity of opposition so often preferred by Labour his achievements are impressive, perhaps the most impressive was keeping the UK out of Vietnam, something his successor as an elected Labour prime minister would have done well to learn from. He had won four general elections, despite coming to power just as the postwar settlement was beginning to collapse, nationally and internationally.Prior to entering Parliament, he practised as a barrister, and wrote political biographies in his spare time. Francis Beckett * THE SPECTATOR * Wilson was one of the most remarkable British political figures of the 20th century . Incidentally, Wilson himself publicly claimed (Liverpool Daily Post, December 17, 1981) that he had recently drafted, and was putting the finishing touches on, the first 50,000 words of his autobiography. Thomas-Symonds, free of such prejudices, leaves the reader in no doubt that Harold Wilson was a good prime minister – but hardly a great one.

Thomas-Symonds’ clear admiration for Wilson – for his path through the acrimonious Bevanite/Gaitskellite clashes of the 1950s and for his ability to manage and be in touch with the party (Wilson’s instincts, Thomas-Symonds takes the trouble to cite Michael Foot as noting, were “those of the party rank and file”) – would suggest he at least views himself as decidedly of the (soft) left. Arguably any British PM would have struggled to deal with the problem – the Tories were split over the issue during the same period – but Wilson’s high-profile failure to do so contributed to the view that, by the end of 1968, he was little more than a liability. Perhaps it helped remove some of my learned naievity related to the true workings of government and how certain ploitcians dealt with the pressure in pursuit of their individual ambiions. As Kavanagh notes, Wilson’s period in government was one of the most diarised in modern British political history, and the picture that generally emerged from these productions was of a somewhat devious individual, ‘a Prime Minister associated with tactical manoeuvres, lack of strategy, and short-termism’ (p.When he stood down on 16 March 1976, the upwardly mobile Yorkshire lad was the 20th century’s longest-serving prime minister.

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