WILSON'S RISERISE ANDAND RISE; Cabinet minister at 31, Labour party leader at 46 Harold Wilson enjoyed a meteoric career in politics. Reporter Robert Sutcliffe investigates.
IT was through his experience late in the Second World War that Wilson found his political interests strengthening.
Politics was to him a thoroughly utilitarian affair, a matter of marshalling the facts and seeking the optimum, practical solution from them.
He began writing papers for the Fabian Society, was elected to its executive and next thing he knew he was on sharing a platform with Herbert Morrison, one of the best-known figures in the Labour Party.
Thanks to his work during the war he had been given an invaluable insight into the machinery of Government and knew how it worked.
The experience also left him with a marked antipathy towards the Treasury's overweening influence and something he was determined to thwart when he began his career.
Thanks to a fortuitous split in the Conservative vote he won the Ormskirk result comfortably in the General Election which swept Labour to power.
Although he was only 29 years old, his insider knowledge of Parliament gleaned from his war years meant he had a head start and he was immediately appointed Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Works.
His capacity for hard work saw him promoted by Clement Attlee to a job heading the British team which took part in the launch of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation in Washington.
Fortunately for his career the Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin had a heart attack in Moscow and Wilson took full advantage of negotiating a trade deal with the Russians. He was promoted to Secretary for Overseas Trade.
His toughness and skill at negotiating with the Russians saw him embark on a meteoric rise which saw him become a Cabinet minister at the age of 31.
His appointment as President of the Board of Trade was no mean affair and provided a considerable challenge but Wilson's businesslike approach to solving problems worked again, especially as the economy began to recover.
However, his path to the top was not a smooth one. And at the age of 35 he resigned with support from none other than Sir Winston Churchill over a budget quarrel which claimed a number of other ministers.
He didn't stay on the backbenches for long and was soon in the Shadow Cabinet after Aneurin Bevan's resignation in April 1954.
He was shadowing Board of Trade issues which suited him perfectly and he began a rapprochment with Hugh Gaitskell, who he saw as a future Labour leader.
His chance to shine to a wider electorate came with the general election in May 1955, the first such election in which TV played a major role.
Always anxious to embrace new technology, he took to the medium with gusto and his performance was admired by housewives.
Churchill's successor Anthony Eden won the election for the Conservatives however, but this only impressed upon Wilson the need for Labour to skip a generation and make Gaitskell leader.
This duly happened and Wilson was appointed Shadow Chancellor. Although Harold Macmillan was said to have viewed him as a rather common little man, their Commons sallies were entertaining and brought out Wilson's not so well-known humorous side, no bad quality in a politician determined to win the ultimate prize.
This rather cosy world did not last long as the Suez crisis blew up in October 1956, leading to Macmillan succeeding Eden, who resigned on health grounds.
Within three years Macmillan went to the country and the Conservatives were returned with an increased majority of 99.
But there was one row after another in the Labour Party as a quarrel over Clause 1V, which promised nationalisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange, was soon followed by an even more serious one over unilateralism.
The highlight was Gaitskell's famous promise to 'fight, fight - and fight again' speech against it which saw Wilson urged to stand against him in the annual leadership election.
He was soundly beaten by 166 votes to 89 but he had put down a valuable marker. In 1961 Wilson accepted the post of Shadow Foreign Secretary.
He did not have long to enjoy it as within a couple of years Gaitskell had died and Wilson had beaten off the challenges of George Brown and Jim Callaghan. At the age of 46 he was leader.
Having stamped his authority on his party he electrified his audience at the Party conference in Scaborough with a speech which won many plaudits.
His first election victory on October 15, 1964 saw him win with a majority of four, which increased to 98 after a second General Election on March 31, 1966.
TOMORROW: The challenges of Government .. and sending troops to northern Ireland
| Labour's George Brown, Hugh Gaitskill and Harold Wilson arrive at Downing Street for a meeting with Conservative Prime Minister MacMillan in 1962
| George Brown MP with a victorious Harold Wilson, who beat him in the leadership election
| Wilson (left) with Nye Bevan, Ian Mikardo, Tom Driberg and Barbara Castle at the at the 1951 Labour Party Conference in Scarborough
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|Publication:||Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)|
|Date:||Mar 8, 2016|
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