Harold Wilson is the only post-war leader of any party to serve as Britain’s Prime Minister on two separate occasions. In total he won four General Elections, spending nearly eight years in Downing Street. Half a century later, he is still unbeaten, Labour’s greatest ever election winner. How did he do it – and at what cost?
Critics then and now have painted him as an opportunistic political calculator, even as a Soviet secret agent. In this powerful new portrait, drawing on previously unavailable sources and first-hand parliamentary insight, acclaimed biographer Nick Thomas-Symonds reveals a more complex figure. Wilson was a new kind of politician but, in his own way, this media-savvy harbinger of modernity was also a deeply traditional man, whose actions often suggest nothing less than a spiritual mission.
In an intriguing paradox, Wilson, influenced by the distinctively democratic faith of his Yorkshire boyhood, united a fractured Labour Party, ushering in the cultural and social changes of the ‘swinging sixties’. His was the government to decriminalise homosexuality, legalise abortion and abolish capital punishment. With a brilliant mind, sure-footed political moves and a feel for public opinion, he was a survivor who over and over again emerged from desperate crises – even, perhaps, conspiracies – to lead his party to victory. It is time at last to learn his secrets.
This comprehensive, carefully researched and very readable biography aims to establish Wilson's place in history - not as the neurotic schemer often reported during his sad last years, which were blighted by dementia, nor even as the supreme political fixer portrayed by Pimlott, but as a decent, honourable man, as well as a very clever one, who was in politics to do something, not just to be someone. He was, Thomas-Symonds concludes, one of our greatest prime ministers, who, given the political circumstances, had a remarkable record of solid achievement. -- Francis Beckett * Spectator * Well-researched, fair-minded and enjoyable -- Dominic Sandbrook * Sunday Times * Nick Thomas-Symonds' excellent new biography puts Harold Wilson in his rightful place as a crucial figure in Labour Party history, winning four General Elections and introducing important reforms that have endured. It deserves to be widely read not only as a fine work of history but also for its lessons in how Labour wins -- Keir Starmer
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