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Harold Wilson.

Harold Wilson won more General Elections than any other Premier in the present century. Yet mystery remains, particularly of his last years; and the parallels with other prime ministers are striking. Like Bonar Law, he is an 'unknown' prime minister. Like Mrs. Thatcher, his origins were middle-class and bleakly Protestant. His politics were in origin more Liberal than doctrinaire; both were pragmatists with roots that lay deep in ethical foundations. Hard work guaranteed rich rewards, it was held. Yet Wilson was a loner, much more 'a desiccated calculating machine' than Gaitskell ever was. He came to his Socialist principles in fact only after Gaitskell's death, and when he realised that to become Leader he needed to gather a following on the Left, in a party thick with factions and intrigues, and endlessly conspiratorial. 'He did not exude warmth', says Pimlott, and 'did not attract it'.

The quality of this 800-page book rests primarily in its research and reading, and in its assembling of mini-biographies of all who crossed Wilson's path. Here are Gaitskell, Jenkins and other colleagues who were also rivals. Pimlott is vivid too on the role of Arnold Goodman and Chapman Pincher. The shrewdest piece of his writing is his analysis of Wilson's friendship with and dependence on Marcia Williams, now Lady Falkender. It is clear from this dispassionate appraisal why, in Roy (Lord) Jenkins' raw phrase, 'Harold is a person no one can like, a person without friends'. Or, to quote Richard Crossman, he was 'a right, little, careful calculating man'. If Scots replace grammar-school boys and Wykehamists as leaders, will the party in the future be any different in character and in its addiction to plot and counterplot? Does todays endless television coverage now compel a new show of unity -- or is it a facade only? And what of creed, policy and conviction?
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Author:Wright, Esmond
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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