James Harold Wilson, Baron Wilson of Rievaulx, KG, OBE, FRS, FSS, PC (11 March 1916 – 24 May 1995) was a British Labour Party politician who served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1964 to 1970 and 1974 to 1976. He won three general elections with an outright majority, and also led a minority government after the February 1974 general election resulted in a hung parliament. He is the most recent British Prime Minister to have served non-consecutive terms.
First entering Parliament in 1945, Wilson was immediately appointed the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works and rose quickly through the ministerial ranks, becoming the Secretary for Overseas Trade in 1947 and being appointed to the Cabinet just months later as the President of the Board of Trade. In the Labour Shadow Cabinet he served first as Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1955 to 1961 and then as the Shadow Foreign Secretary from 1961 to 1963, when he was elected Leader of the Labour Party. Wilson narrowly won the 1964 election, going on to win an increased majority in 1966. Wilson's first period as Prime Minister coincided with a period of low unemployment and relative economic prosperity, though also of significant problems with Britain's external balance of payments. In 1969 Wilson sent British troops to Northern Ireland. After losing the 1970 general election to Edward Heath, he spent four years as Leader of the Opposition before the February 1974 general election resulted in a hung parliament. After Heath's talks with the Liberals broke down, Wilson returned to power as leader of a minority government until there was a second general election in the autumn, which resulted in a narrow Labour victory. A period of economic crisis was beginning to hit most Western countries.
Wilson's own approach to 'socialism' placed emphasis on efforts to increase opportunity within society, for example through change and expansion within the education system, allied to the technocratic aim of taking better advantage of rapid scientific progress, rather than on the left's traditional goal of promoting wider public ownership of industry. While he did not challenge the Party constitution's stated dedication to nationalisation head-on, he took little action to pursue it. A member of the Labour Party's "soft left", Wilson joked about leading a Cabinet that was made up mostly of social democrats, comparing himself to a Bolshevik revolutionary presiding over a Tsarist cabinet, but there was arguably little to divide him ideologically from the cabinet majority.
Wilson's first period in office, in particular, was notable for substantial legal changes in a number of social areas; though they were generally not at the top of his personal agenda. These included the liberalisation of laws on censorship, divorce, homosexuality, immigration, and abortion; as well as the abolition of capital punishment, which was due in part to the initiatives of backbench MPs who had the support of Roy Jenkins during his time as Home Secretary. Overall, Wilson is seen to have managed a number of difficult political issues with considerable tactical skill, including such potentially divisive issues for his party as the role of public ownership, British membership of the European Community, and the Vietnam War, in which he consistently resisted US pressure to involve Britain and send British troops, while continuing to maintain a costly military presence East of Suez. Nonetheless, his stated ambition of substantially improving Britain's long-term economic performance remained largely unfulfilled.
Read more about Wislon: Early Life, Member of Parliament, First Term As Prime Minister, Defeat and Return To Opposition, Second Term As Prime Minister, Retirement and Death, Political Style, Honours, Titles From Birth To Death, Arms, Ancestry, See Also, References