Harold Wilson

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Wilson, Harold

Wilson, Harold (James Harold Wilson, Baron Wilson of Rievaulx), 1916–95, British statesman. A graduate of Oxford, he became an economics lecturer there (1937) and a fellow of University College (1938). Wilson entered Parliament (1945) as a Labour member, and as president of the Board of Trade (1947–51) he ended many of the wartime controls on industry. In 1951 he resigned with Aneurin Bevan, opposing the introduction of changes within the National Health Service. He thus became a spokesman for the left-wing of the Labour party, later opposing party leader Hugh Gaitskell's stand against unilateral nuclear disarmament.

After Gaitskell's death (1963), Wilson won the leadership of the party and became prime minister in 1964. At first his government had only a four-seat majority in Parliament, but it was reelected with a large majority in 1966. The Labour government under Wilson sought to offset Britain's diminishing role outside Europe by increasing its role in Europe, and in 1967 it reapplied for membership in the European Community (EC). Wilson also tried unsuccessfully to reach a settlement with the white supremacist regime in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), which unilaterally declared itself independent of Britain in 1965. Domestically, Wilson imposed strict controls on wages and prices, raised taxes, and devalued (1967) the pound to end the growing economic crisis. By the spring of 1970 the economy seemed to be recovering, and Wilson scheduled a June election, which resulted in an unexpected defeat for the Labour party.

In opposition, Wilson led his party to reverse its stand on entry into the EC, but a significant minority voted with the Conservative government in favor of entry. Another divisive issue arose with the party's espousal (1973) of wide-scale nationalization. Nonetheless, in the general election of Feb., 1974, held at a time of severe economic crisis, Labour was returned to power, and Wilson again became prime minister.

Despite the fact that he headed a minority government (and was therefore very vulnerable to defeat in Parliament), Wilson announced his intention of implementing the controversial policies of renegotiation of the terms of Britain's membership in the EC and nationalization. His government faced continuing economic difficulties as well as a deterioration of the situation in Northern Ireland (which required the reimposition of direct British rule). It was also obliged to mediate between Greece and Turkey in the tense crisis created by the overthrow of Archbishop Makarios III in Cyprus and the subsequent Turkish invasion of that island in July, 1974. Wilson called another election in Oct., 1974, and secured a narrow majority in Parliament. In 1975 he called and won an unprecedented referendum on Britain's membership in the EC, largely silencing left-wing Labour critics who favored withdrawal. Wilson unexpectedly resigned in 1976 and was knighted later the same year. The longest serving Labour prime minister, he retained his seat in Commons until he was created a life peer in 1983.


See Wilson's Personal Record (1971), Final Term: The Labour Government 1974–1976 (1979), and Memoirs: The Making of a Prime Minister, 1916–64, (1986). See also biographies by A. Howard (1965) and E. Kay (1967).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Wilson, Harold


Born Mar. 11, 1916, in Huddersfield, Yorkshire. Statesman and politician of Great Britain.

After graduating from Oxford University, Wilson taught economics there. He joined the Labour Party in 1937. He held a number of responsible positions in government from 1940 to 1944. In 1945 he became a member of Parliament. He was minister of trade in C. Attlee’s Labour government from 1947 to 1951. He joined the executive committee of the Labour Party in 1952, and he became party leader in February 1963 after the death of H. Gaitskell. He holds centrist views in the Labour Party, although he was affiliated with its left wing during the initial period of his political activity. He was prime minister from 1964 to 1970 and was elected prime minister again in 1974. Wilson is the author of a number of works and studies on economic problems.


Kay, E. Pragmatic Premier. London [1967].
Foot, M. The Politics of Harold Wilson. London [1968].
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
An auction of political and personal treasures collected by former Prime Minister Harold Wilson raised more than PS200,000 when they went under the hammer in Stafford.
The catalogue for the auction next week has now been released and items to be sold include one of Huddersfield-born Harold Wilson's trademark Gannex raincoats and several tobacco pipes.
A RAINCOAT and several trademark pipes owned by Harold Wilson are set to go under the hammer in the Midlands next week in what is being billed as an auction of a "prime minister's entire life".
HAROLD Wilson's former right-hand woman Baroness Falkender has died.
For example, there's a Vanden Plas Princess R that was used by Harold Wilson, a customised Mini once owned by Cilla Black, and a Lotus Elan that had been donated to the Prince's Trust.
Harold Wilson was the Prime Minister at that time and "the balance of payments" was uppermost as one of Harold Wilson's problems.
On reading the conclusions of the Chilcot Report, I'm reminded of the sharp contrast between Tony Blair and his predecessor as a Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, who was the Prime Minister at the time of the Vietnam War.
However, one simple access to the internet shows that this programme was first transmitted in 1966 when Harold Wilson's Labour Party was in power.
The event, held at the Harold Wilson field, attracted visitors from Thornaby and beyond for a fund day which featured birds of prey, a dog show, children's games, fairground rides and more.
It is named after former prime minister Harold Wilson, who established the rule in 1966 amid concern from MPs that their phones were being tapped.
There are many instances of Labour misinformation over the years, headed surely by Harold Wilson who, when devaluing the pound by 10%, said on national TV "the pound in your pocket will still buy the same amount of goods" delivered with his usual panache!