Harold Wilson

Actor

Born: Huddersfield, Yorkshire, England, UK

BIOGRAPHY

James Harold Wilson, Baron Wilson of Rievaulx, (11 March 1916 – 24 May 1995) was a British Labour politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1964 to 1970 and 1974 to 1976. Entering Parliament in 1945, Wilson was appointed a parliamentary secretary in the Attlee ministry and rose quickly through the ministerial ranks; he became Secretary for Overseas Trade in 1947 and was elevated to Cabinet shortly thereafter as President of the Board of Trade. In opposition to the next Conservative government, he served as Shadow Chancellor (1955–1961) and Shadow Foreign Secretary (1961–1963). Hugh Gaitskell, then Labour leader, died suddenly in 1963 and Wilson was elected leader. Narrowly winning the 1964 general election, Wilson won an increased majority in a snap 1966 election. Wilson's first period as Prime Minister coincided with a period of low unemployment and relative economic prosperity, though hindered by significant problems with Britain's external balance of payments. In 1969 he sent British troops to Northern Ireland. After losing the 1970 election to Edward Heath, he spent four years as Leader of the Opposition before the February 1974 election resulted in a hung parliament. After Heath's talks with the Liberals broke down, Wilson returned to power as leader of a minority government until another general election in October, resulting in a narrow Labour victory. A period of economic crisis had begun to hit most Western countries, and in 1976 Wilson suddenly announced his resignation as Prime Minister. Wilson's approach to socialism was moderate compared to others in his party at the time, emphasising programmes aimed at increasing opportunity in society, rather than on the controversial socialist goal of promoting wider public ownership of industry; he took little action to pursue the Labour constitution's stated dedication to nationalisation, though he did not formally disown it. Himself a member of the party's "soft left", Wilson joked about leading a cabinet 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. 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 such as the role of public ownership, membership of the European Community, and the Vietnam War; he refused to allow British troops to take part, while continuing to maintain a costly military presence east of Suez. His stated ambition of substantially improving Britain's long-term economic performance was left largely unfulfilled. He lost his energy and drive in his second premiership, and accomplished little as the leadership split over Europe and trade union issues began tearing Labour apart.

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