James Harold Wilson

Baron Wilson of Rievaulx.

Harold Wilson was a renowned British Labour politician who became party leader in 1963, serving two terms of office as Prime Minister from 1964-1970 and 1974-1976. His premiership was dominated by the issue of UK admission to membership of the European Community (now the European Union), the Social Contract (unofficial agreement with the Trade Unions) and economic difficulties.

Born James Harold Wilson March 11th 1916 in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, he was the son of an industrial chemist. He studied at Jesus College Oxford where he gained a first class degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics. This was also where he collaborated with Sir William Beveridge on work that led to Beveridge's Report (1942), advocating social insurance and other welfare measures. During World War Two he worked in the Civil Service.

In 1945 he was first elected to the House of Commons as Member of Parliament for Ormskirk (later to include areas of Knowsley through boundary changes). By 1947 he had been appointed President of the Board of Trade (at the age of 31, the youngest Cabinet Minister (HU221) since William Pitt the Younger in 1792), a post he resigned from in 1951 because of Social Service cuts.

In 1963 Harold Wilson succeeded Hugh Gaitskill as Labour Leader and became Prime Minister the following year. During the early years of his premiership a number of diverse world events took place: in 1965 his Government was unable to avert an illegal Declaration of Independence by the white minority government of the British Colony of Rhodesia; he gave verbal support rather than direct military involvement in the Vietnam War; while closer to home, his government outlawed Capital Punishment and set up the Open University for continuing education.

Wilson then turned his attention to industrial relations setting up the Donovan Royal Commission on Trade Unions and Employers Associations in 1965. The Commission's report became the basis of the 1968 White Paper 'In Place of Strife', but implementation of it was blocked by both the Trade Unions and the Cabinet itself. In 1966, he again attempted to obtain membership of the European Community but was unsuccessful once more due to a veto by France. During this time, he was also actively involved throughout the Knowsley region and was frequently on hand at the opening of local buildings and events (KB92/166).

The two years before Wilson's unexpected resignation were concerned with reconciling European Community Membership and the revival of the economy. He retired from front line politics in 1976 leaving James Callaghan, his successor, to head the Labour Party.

Remembered for his pipe and raincoat image as well as for his political career, the former Prime Minister whose long service as the Huyton constituency M.P. (HU241), was made a Life Peer in 1983. He died in 1995.

(figures in brackets are reference numbers of photos in the main site)

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