Tag Archives: Harold Wilson

Whatever Happened to Labour’s Legitimate Left?

Historically the Labour party has had a left and a right wing with the latter usually in the ascendancy. Much of that was down to the trade unions being led by moderates who were happy to use their block votes at Labour conference and in elections to the ruling National Executive Committee in favour of a leadership committed to a social democratic programme. In the immediate post-war period the leaders of the major unions (the Transport workers, Engineers, Miners and Railway workers) all had much more in common with Methodism than Marx. The landslide General Election victory of 1945 brought to power a majority Labour government for the first time and although its MPs sang the red flag in the commons the reality was that Attlee’s administration was a reforming not a revolutionary one.

At the time some thought that with its overwhelming parliamentary majority Labour would be in power for a long time but it was not to be. A cabinet which included left wingers Cripps and Bevan stayed united for a time seeing through a number of nationalisations and the creation of a National Health Service but in 1950 the crunch came. It was then that the decision to introduce charges for NHS prescriptions and eyeglasses to fund involvement in the Korean war led to the resignation of Bevan and a young Harold Wilson from the cabinet. From then on Nye, as he was affectionally known by his supporters, started to position himself as leader of the left.

It was, however, a left that believed in a parliamentary route to socialism, attempts by pro-communist elements to influence the party were dealt with decisively without any protest from Bevan and his allies. Electoral defeat in 1951 was followed by a sustained period of internal civil war but it was the right who won with Hugh Gaitskell succeeding Attlee as leader and Bevan giving up the fight returning to the shadow cabinet following his high profile renunciation of unilateralism at the 1957 conference, eventually becoming Deputy Leader shortly before his death from cancer.

Gaitskell who also died prematurely was succeeded by Wilson who by then had also made peace with the Labour establishment. Wilson got the leys to number 10 after thirteen years of Tory rule in 1964 and like Attlee he included in his cabinet key left wingers. In the 1960s infiltration by communists had given way to similar tactics by the Trotskyist Socialist Labour League which had got control of the party’s youth section. They were expelled en masse with the approval of a certain Tony Benn then a newish member of the NEC. By 1970 Labour was out of office and Michael Foot emerged as the prominent figure on the left of the party.

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How does Jeremy Corbyn compare to past Labour leaders?

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One of the frustrating things about the current Brexit episode is watching Jeremy Corbyn perform in the Commons. The other day, on the Twitterdome, I compared Mr Corbyn unfavourably with past Labour leader, John Smith. I think it is fair to say that if John Smith were currently Labour leader he would, by now, have delivered a rhetorical blow to Theresa May comparable to that which he dealt to John Major with this passage of one of his Commons’ speeches:

In response to the plummeting popularity of the Administration itself, revealed at Newbury and in the shire county elections, we have the Prime Minister’s botched reshuffle. If we were to offer that tale of events to the BBC light entertainment department as a script for a programme, I think that the producers of “Yes, Minister” would have turned it down as hopelessly over the top. It might have even been too much for “Some Mothers Do ‘Ave Them”.

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Theresa May – the Tories’ Harold Wilson?

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Mark Pack recently tweeted:


It is a very interesting parallel.

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Written on lavender notepaper, outgoing Prime Minister gives honours to his mates

This goes back to Harold Wilson in 1976 – so there is nothing new about controversial prime ministerial farewell honours lists.

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Opinion: What if ?

In February 1974 Edward Heath called  a snap General Election in response to a second miners’ strike in three years. Heath famously posed the election as a decision on ‘Who Runs Britain’.

Despite opinion polls suggesting he would be returned to office and polling the highest number of votes, the vagaries of our electoral system meant Heath’s Tories not only failed to win a majority of seats, but actually got less than Labour. Historians suggest that the miners’ peaceful pursuit of their pay claim and an independent inquiry finding that there was justification for their dispute, dealt Heath a devastating blow.

The other big story of the election was the surge in the Liberal vote. From just over 11% in 1970, the party increased its share to nearly 20%, but again because of FPTP they only won a few more seats.

We all know what followed.

A weak attempt by Heath to remain in office, followed by a minority Labour government, and then another election which returned Wilson a small majority, the Winter of Discontent, Thatcherism, and all that followed.

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Opinion: David Cameron – the Conservative Party’s answer to Harold Wilson

More and more, David Cameron reminds me of Harold Wilson.

Both became leaders of their party when a sequence of election defeats forced change upon it. Both briefly were the young leader with a new purpose for their political tradition; the white heat of technology in the 20th century, huskies in the 21st.

Both struggled to win over the public, with neither getting an overall majority at their first attempt. Both turned out to be heavily beholden to their party’s traditional, backward-looking wing.

Wilson’s opportunities to be a dominating figure who reshaped society and rejuvenated the economy were wrecked on the Labour …

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Dishonourable Insults by Greg Knight

Over the years, Conservative MP Greg Knight has made a mini-cottage industry out of collections of political insults, wit and invective, of which the new Dishonourable Insults is the fifth.

Spot checking the content of this volume against one of his previous works – Parliamentary Sauce – you find that there is a fair amount of reused content, including whole passages which reappear with varying degrees of editing. Generally the 19th and early 20th century figures have had their range of insults edited down, losing as a result one of my favourite Disraeli insults, directed at a backbench MP: “He is not …

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Media spin, 1966 vintage

Hello again to an old story which I came across in the archives whilst looking for something else. Trust me, it’s more interesting than the Something Else which, even with the use of capital letters and ominous music, turned out to be a damper squib than the empty chocolate wrapper left in the work kitchen last week.

So instead… it’s back to 1966, again.

During the 1966 general election campaign, Prime Minister Harold Wilson visited the Birmingham Rag Market for a public meeting (scene of a famous* public meeting in the 1964 campaign when the then Prime Minister Alec Douglas-Home got shouted …

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So, what does a Special Adviser do?

Special advisers (or “spads” for short) tend to have a bad press. Alastair Campbell was a spad, as was Jo (“good day to bury bad news”) Moore; Andrew Blick’s book on the topic was called People Who Live in the Dark; and a contributor to a recent Lib Dem Voice exchange observed that “We made so many breaks with New Labour, why did we have to adopt their spad culture?”

Actually special advisers have a much longer history than that. One can trace their origins right back to Lloyd …

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Daily View 2×2: 16 March 2010

Good morning, and welcome to Daily View. I’m standing in for your usual Tuesday host because Sara was rushed into hospital yesterday. Get well soon, Sara.

March 16th in history saw the resignation of Harold Wilson in 1976; in 1995, Mississippi finally ratified the 13th Amendment and officially outlawed slavery in US.

Today is the birthday of Isabelle Huppert and Jimmy Nail.

2 Big Stories

Police investigate Labour MP Ashok Kumar’s death

Police and doctors are investigating the death of a Labour MP whose body was found at his home yesterday.

Dr Ashok Kumar, 53, had been working as normal, with major commitments as parliamentary private secretary to Hilary Benn, the environment secretary. He was also campaigning for Corus steelworkers’ jobs in his Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland constituency. His body was found after anxious staff failed to rouse him by phone and called emergency services, who broke into his home.

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Daily View 2×2: 11 March 2010

Good morning, and welcome to Daily View.

Today is notable as the day before LDV’s fascinating fringe event on how to make authoritarian MPs pay at the ballot box – do join us tomorrow in Birmingham to find out how.

302 years ago today, Queen Anne was the last British monarch to withhold Royal Assent from a bill of Parliament.

In 1864, Sheffield saw a Great Flood when a dam under construction burst. The ensuing inundation wrecked a number of bridges, destroyed 800 houses and killed 270 people.

People born on March 11th include Laurence Llewellyn Bowen, Harold Wilson and Douglas Adams; and deaths include Alexander Fleming, John Wyndham and Slobodan Milošević.

2 Big Stories

Parties battle over high speed rail

Will Labour’s Y or the Conservative Reverse-S win the day? Find out in The Times

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