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Wilson, (James) Harold, Baron (1916–95)

Subject History

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1900-1999

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631209379.1999.x


British Prime Minister (1964–70, 1974–6). The son of an industrial chemist in Yorkshire, he won an exhibition to Oxford, where he gained an outstanding first in politics, philosophy and economics. He remained in Oxford after his degree as a lecturer in economics, became a Fellow of University College and seemed destined for an academic career. During the Second World War he worked in the civil service as a statistician on wartime planning, joined the labour party and in 1945 became an MP. He rapidly advanced under attlee to become President of the Board of Trade at the age of 31, the youngest cabinet minister since Palmerston. His period there is best known for the ‘bonfire of controls’ he made. When Sir Stafford Cripps resigned as Chancellor of the Exchequer in October 1950, the post did not go to Wilson but to his rival Hugh gaitskell . A year later Wilson resigned (along with Aneurin bevan ) because he said that the country could not afford the huge increase in defence expenditure which Gaitskell introduced in his budget. From that time Wilson was regarded as a Bevanite and man of the left, though in fact he was more of a centrist, whose prime concern was to maintain the unity of the Labour movement. He voted for Gaitskell in the leadership contest of 1955, yet ran unsuccessfully against him as the left's candidate in 1960. On Gaitskell's death in 1963 Wilson, again with ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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