|Sir Harold Wilson
Prime Minister, 1964-1970 and 1974-1976
James Harold Wilson was born in
Huddersfield, Yorkshire, England, on March 11,
1916. He was educated at Wirral Grammar School in
Bebington and Royds Hall Secondary School in
Huddersfield. He graduated from Oxford University
in 1937 and taught economics there for two years.
As fellow of Oxford's University College, Wilson
collaborated with Sir William Beveridge on the
latter's 1942 report on social insurance and
other welfare issues.
During World War II
Wilson served as Director of Economics and
Statistics at the Ministry of Fuel and Power. In
1945 he was elected to Parliament as the Labour
MP for Ormskirk (he later represented Huyton on
Merseyside). Later that same year he became
Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of
Works. He was named Secretary of Overseas Trade
in 1947, and became president of the Board of
Trade later that same year. In 1951, Wilson
resigned from the Board of Trade in protest of
Prime Minister Hugh Gaitskell's budget plan,
which introduced health service charges to
finance British participation in the Korean War.
Throughout the 1950s he served as the Labour
Party's spokesman on finance and foreign affairs.
He became a member of the Labour Party's
parliamentary committee in 1954, and became party
leader upon Gaitskell's sudden death in 1963.
Wilson became Prime Minister
when he led the Labour Party to a four-seat
victory over the Conservative Party in the 1964
general election, replacing Sir Alec
Douglas-Home. His party
won a far more comfortable majority in 1966.
The primary domestic issue
faced by Prime Minister Wilson was a general
economic decline, which he was unable to stop. He
was also unable to convince Britain to join the
European Community, which eroded the nation's
international standing. But he did have some
successes, including establishment of the Open
University, liberalized laws affecting
homeosexuals and obscene publications, and the
ending of capital punishment.
In addition to affairs within
Britain, Wilson had to deal with a white minority
breakaway regime in the African colony of
Rhodesia. His effort to topple the regime by way
of economic sanctions instead of military
intervention failed, and the colony declared its
independence in 1965.
On the international front,
Wilson was a proponent of arms control and a more
general detente with Moscow, positions which were
generally favored by British citizens. But his
support of the United States efforts in Vietnam
ran counter to general feelings, despite his
refusal to provide British troops for that
As Britain's economic troubles
continued, the Labour Party lost its majority in
Parliament in 1970, and Wilson was replaced as
Prime Minister by Conservative leader Edward
The Labour Party regained its
majority in 1974, and Wilson became Prime
Minister again. His chief accomplishment during
his second tenure in office was the holding of a
national referendum which confirmed Britain's
membership in the European Economic Community.
Although Britain's economic troubles continued,
many in the nation were surprised when Wilson
suddenly announced in 1976 that he was stepping
down and retiring from public office.
Wilson was knighted by Queen
Elizabeth II in 1976.
He was made a life peer in 1983 and entered the
House of Lords, but rarely appeared in public
after 1985. He died in London on May 24, 1995,
after a ten-year struggle with cancer.
Harold Wilson was married
to Gladys Mary Baldwin, with whom he had two
World War II
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