Happy 100th birthday to Harold Wilson, a great reforming Labour Prime Minister, shamefully traduced by both the Right and the Left since his retirement and death, but intelligent, progressive, politically savvy, a real man of the people, consensual, and with great achievements to his name; among them some revolutionary social reforms, the Open University, decolonisation, and keeping us out of Vietnam. And he didn’t make a penny out of his incumbency, unlike some we could name.
He was loathed by the contemporary upper-class Establishment, mainly because of his Yorkshire accent, I think. (I came across that prejudice at Cambridge.) They certainly plotted, subvertly, to bring him down, and may have succeeded. (The part played by these conspiracies in his surprising resignation in 1976 is not yet clear.) In retrospect, however, he towers head and shoulders above them.
Hopefully it won’t be long before he is rehabilitated historically. The miserable period since his departure can be regarded as a reaction against what he stood for and did. Thatcher was his complete antithesis. Now that her turn is being widely seen for the long-term disaster it was, we may have more time for Harold: for progressive social reform, that is; international disengagement; and even the Trade Unions.
A further thought. The Right-wingers and spooks who plotted against Wilson in the 1960s and ’70s did so because they affected to believe that he was a KGB agent, preparing the way for the catastrophe of a Soviet takeover of Britain. Most of the rest of us condemned that (a) because it was nonsense, as of course it was; but also (b) because it was anti-democratic, and even laudable ends didn’t justify illegal means. Looking forward now, equally fearfully, to the prospect of a President Trump with his finger on the nuclear button, I’m wondering whether I would necessarily take that latter line, if a conspiracy of some kind (short of assassination, which is sadly usually the American way) unseated him. That would seem to me to be almost our last hope. Which has helped me to understand the Wilson plotters, foolish as they were.