James Harold Wilson, Baron Wilson of Rievaulx, KG, OBE, FRS, PC (11 March 1916 – 24 May 1995) was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1964 to 1970, and again from 1974 to 1976. He had an impressive educational background, becoming an Oxford don at 21 and working as a war time civil servant; he was made a government minister immediately after he was elected to Parliament. As Leader of the Labour Party he moved the party towards a technocratic approach and appeared more in tune with the 'swinging sixties'; however his government was beset by economic difficulties and he was unexpectedly defeated in 1970. His return to office with a tiny majority in the mid-1970s saw a referendum which endorsed British membership of the European Communities. He resigned suddenly in 1976, and in his retirement suffered from Alzheimers' disease.
- On 5 September, when the TUC unanimously rejected wage restraint, it was the end of an era, and all the financiers, all the little gnomes in Zürich and other finance centres about whom we keep on hearing, had started to make their dispositions in regard to sterling.
- Hansard, House of Commons, 5th series, vol. 560, col. 579.
- Speech in the House of Commons (12 November 1956); often quoted as "gnomes of Zürich".
- In all our plans for the future, we are re-defining and we are re-stating our Socialism in terms of the scientific revolution. But that revolution cannot become a reality unless we are prepared to make far-reaching changes in economic and social attitudes which permeate our whole system of society. The Britain that is going to be forged in the white heat of this revolution will be no place for restrictive practices or for outdated methods on either side of industry.
- Usually quoted as "the white heat of the technological revolution". Speech at Labour Party conference, October 1, 1963. Labour Party Annual Conference Report, 1963, pages 139-140.
- Hughie, get your tanks off my lawn.
- The government have only a small majority in the House of Commons. I want to make it quite clear that this will not affect our ability to govern. Having been charged with the duties of Government we intend to carry out those duties.
- David Butler, Coalitions in British Politics (Macmillan, London, 1978), p. 99.
- Television broadcast, October 1964, after winning the general election.
- Smethwick Conservatives can have the satisfaction of having topped the poll, of having sent a Member who, until another election returns him to oblivion, will serve his time here as a Parliamentary leper.
- Hansard, House of Commons, 5th series, vol. 701, col. 71.
- Speech in the House of Commons, 3 November, 1964. The 1964 general election had seen the defeat of Wilson's Shadow Foreign Secretary Patrick Gordon Walker by Conservative Peter Griffiths after an allegedly racist campaign. Griffiths was indeed defeated at the next election but returned to Parliament in 1979 and served until 1997.
- I know I speak for everyone in these islands, all parties, all our people, when I say to Mr. Smith tonight: "Prime Minister, think again".
- It is difficult for us to appreciate the pressures which are put on men I know to be realistic and reasonable, not only in their executive capacity but in the highly organized strike committees in the individual ports by this tightly knit group of politically motivated men who, as the last general election showed, utterly failed to secure acceptance of their views by the British electorate, but who are now determined to exercise back-stage pressures, forcing great hardship on the members of the union and their families, and endangering the security of the industry and the economic welfare of the nation.
- Hansard, House of Commons, 5th series, vol. 730, cols. 42-3.
- Speech in the House of Commons, June 20, 1966, referring to the organisers of a Seamen's strike. Wilson meant to imply they were Communists. Among the union officials offended by this quote was John Prescott.
- We have taken steps which have not been taken by any other democratic government in the world. We are taking steps with regard to prices and wages which no other government, even in wartime, has taken.
- The Times, July 30, 1966.
- Speech to New York bankers.
- He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.
- Speech to the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe, Strasbourg, France (January 23, 1967); reported in The New York Times (January 24, 1967), p. 12.
- From now on, the pound abroad is worth 14 per cent or so less in terms of other currencies. That doesn't mean, of course, that the Pound here in Britain, in your pocket or purse or in your bank, has been devalued.
- May I say, for the benefit of those who have been carried away by the gossip of the last few days, that I know what's going on. [pause] I'm going on, and the Labour government's going on.
- "I am going on, your Government is going on—Mr Wilson", The Times, 5 May 1969, p. 1
- At a May Day rally in London, 4 May 1969. There had been a series of reports that Wilson's leadership might be challenged.
- David Dimbleby: You couldn't - you couldn't set our minds at rest on the vexed question of what the Sunday Times did actually pay you for the book?
Harold Wilson: No, I don't think it's a matter of interest to the BBC or to anybody else.
Dimbleby: But why ..
Wilson: If you're interested in these things, you'd better find out how people buy yachts. Do you ask that question? Did you ask him how he was able to pay for a yacht?
Dimbleby: I haven't interviewed ...
Wilson: Have you asked him that question?
Dimbleby: I haven't interviewed him.
Wilson: Well, has the BBC ever asked that question?
Dimbleby: I don't know ...
Wilson: Well, what's it got to do with you, then?
Dimbleby: I imagine they have ..
Wilson: Why you ask these question, I mean why, if people can afford to buy £25,000 yachts, do the BBC not regard that as a matter for public interest? Why do you insult me with these questions here?
Dimbleby: It's only that it's been a matter of ..
Wilson: All I'm saying, all I'm saying ..
Dimbleby: … public speculation, and I was giving you an opportunity if you wanted to, to say something about it.
Wilson: It was not a matter of speculation, it was just repeating press gossip. You will not put this question to Mr. Heath. When you have got an answer to him, come and put the question to me. And this last question and answer are not to be recorded. Is this question being recorded?
Dimbleby: Well it is, because we're running film.
Wilson: Well, will you cut it out or not? All right, we stop now. No, I'm sorry, I'm really not having this. I'm really not having this. The press may take this view, that they wouldn't put this question to Heath but they put it to me; if the BBC put this question to me, without putting it to Heath, the interview is off, and the whole programme is off. I think it's a ridiculous question to put. Yes, and I mean it cut off, I don't want to read in the Times Diary or miscellany that I asked for it to be cut out. [pause]
Dimbleby: All right, are we still running? Can I ask you this, then, which I mean, I .. let me put this question, I mean if you find this question offensive then ..
Wilson: Coming to ask if your curiosity can be satisfied, I think it's disgraceful. Never had such a question in an interview in my life before.
Dimbleby: I .. [gasps]
Joe Haines (Wilson's Press Secretary): Well, let's stop now, and we can talk about it, shall we?
Dimbleby: No, let's .. well, I mean, we'll keep going, I think, don't you?
Wilson: No, I think we'll have a new piece of film in and start all over again. But if this film is used, or this is leaked, then there's going to be a hell of a row. And this must be ..
Dimbleby: Well, I certainly wouldn't leak it ..
Wilson: You may not leak it but these things do leak. I've never been to Lime Grove without it leaking.
- Exchange with BBC interviewer David Dimbleby recorded for a documentary called "Yesterday's Men" broadcast on 16 June 1971. The BBC did agree not to show this portion of the interview, but Wilson's fears of a leak were justified as a transcript was published on page 1 of The Times on June 18, 1971. A fuller transcript appeared in Private Eye during 1972.
- Yet people who benefit from all this now viciously defy Westminster, purporting to act as though they were an elected government; people who spend their lives sponging on Westminster and British democracy and then systematically assault democratic methods. Who do these people think they are?
- Broadcast on May 25, 1974,[specific citation needed] referring to the Ulster Workers Council strike. The use of the term "sponging" gave offence in Northern Ireland. Glenn Barr, chairman of the coordinating committee between the Loyalist paramilitaries and the UWC, said he thought of making Wilson an honorary member of the UWC for rallying Protestants behind the strike.
- I get a little nauseated, perhaps, when I hear the phrase 'freedom of the press' used as freely as it is, knowing that a large part of our proprietorial press is not free at all.
- Hansard, House of Commons, 5th series, vol. 882, col. 1936.
- Speech in the House of Commons, 5 December, 1974.
- This Party needs to protect itself against the activities of small groups of inflexible political persuasion, extreme so-called left and in a few cases extreme so-called moderates, having in common only their arrogant dogmatism. These groups, equally the multichromatic coalitionist fringe or groups specifically formed to fight other marauding groups, these groups are not what this Party is about. Infestation of this kind thrives only, and can thrive only, in minuscule local parties.
- Labour Party Annual Conference Report 1975 pp. 186-7.
- Speech to Labour Party conference, September 30, 1975.
- A week is a long time in politics.
- Possibly misattributed; according to Nigel Rees in Brewster's Quotations (1994), asked shortly after his retirement in 1977 about the quote, he could not pinpoint the first occasion on which he uttered the words.
Quotes about Wilson
- 'I thought', said Nye, 'that you were a Yorkshireman but your Dad has been telling me all about Manchester. Where were you born, boy?' With a Yorkshireman's natural pride, I said, thinking of Sheffield's steel, 'Yorkshiremen are not born; they are forged.' 'Forged were you?' said Nye in that musical Welsh lilt of his, 'I always thought there was something counterfeit about you!'
- Harold Wilson, "Memoirs 1916-1964: The making of a Prime Minister" (Weidenfeld and Nicolson and Michael Joseph, London 1986, p. 10)
- Harold was, above all else, a great political survivor, a fine politician if, perhaps, never truly a statesman.
- Edward Heath, "The Course of My Life" (Hodder and Stoughton, 1998), p. 557