Tony Cliff & Donny Gluckstein

The Labour Party

13. The Wilson Governments 1964–69

Revisionism’s crowing victory: The ‘Scientific Revolution’

THE EARLY 1960s saw British capitalism expanding at a slower rate and suffering increasingly from ‘stop-go’. The economy was trapped in a vicious circle. Crises in the balance of payments led to deflation. Deflation meant cuts and delays in investment, and under-use of resources. This curtailed growth and thereby precipitated future balance-of-payments crises. As a result Britain lagged more and more behind its rivals.

Capitalists must not only expand, they must compete. While British industrial production rose by 40 per cent between 1951 and 1962, France’s doubled, that of West Germany and Italy went up by two and a half times, and that of Japan quadrupled. Britain’s exports rose 29 percent, France’s by 86 percent, Germany’s 247 percent, Italy’s 259 percent, and Japan’s by 378 percent. British national income fell below that of Germany and France for the first time.

Now Revisionism took a new form. Hope of bright cafes, fashions and murals evaporated, along with major social reform and redistribution of wealth and income. Emphasis went on a high growth economy with the state encouraging private industry. This meant a partnership between both sides of industry under a Labour government.

In 1961 the Labour Party executive published Signposts for the Sixties. It was drafted by a subcommittee of two Revisionists, Gaitskell and George Brown, and two former Bevanites, Crossman and Wilson. Unlike earlier Labour Party propaganda, Signposts for the Sixties did not attack the Conservatives for their private enterprise philosophy or for their business interests, but rather for their staleness, incompetence and archaic attitudes. Apart from one specific commitment to public ownership – the renationalisation of steel – document said that Labour’s aim was to make the economy more dynamic. All would be solved ‘If the dead wood were cut out of Britain’s boardrooms and replaced by the keen young executives, production engineers and scientists.’ [1]

Wilson, who led the party after Gaitskell’s unexpected death on 18 January 1963, said that party political debate was defined in a new way: ‘The argument will be this: can the Conservatives or Labour best galvanize our sluggish and fitful economy into steady and purposive expansion?’ [2]

Wilson acted as if the debate on Clause Four had never taken place. He was completely pragmatic, offering not a vision of socialism, but a rejuvenated, modem capitalism under dynamic management. Under Wilson Labour would fight the 1964 election as a people’s party, a classless party, with special appeal to the new middle class.

Wilson’s central theme was the Tories’ scientific failure. In Labour and the Scientific Revolution, published in 1963, he summed up the measures necessary: ‘a new deal for the scientists and technologists in higher education, a new status for scientists in Government, and a new role for Government-sponsored science in industrial development are three essential requirements for reviving the economy.’

At the 1963 Labour Party conference he waxed lyrical about the new ‘revolution’: ‘We must harness Socialism to science, and science to Socialism’ and spoke about a ‘Britain that is going to be forged in the white heat of [the scientific] revolution.’ [3]

Crossman, one of the main authors of the ‘scientific revolution’, concluded aptly: ‘In fact, of course, [Wilson] had provided the revision of Socialism and its application to modem times which Gaitskell and Crosland had tried and completely failed to do. Harold had achieved it.’ [4]

From the planning utopia to massive deflation

As noted, Britain’s growth rate was far below that of its competitors. Again and again governments tried to hasten expansion. In 1954 Butler, then chancellor of the exchequer, had set a long-term target of an annual increase in GDP of about 3.75 percent. In 1961 Selwyn Lloyd, another Tory chancellor, had raised the target to 4 percent. Wilson wanted to go still faster. His panacea was economic planning: ‘A comprehensive plan of national development can recreate a dynamic sense of national purpose and restore our place in the world.’ [5]

Labour’s 1964 election manifesto was largely about this wonderful new scheme to transform the economy, shaking it out of the miserable stop-go and stagnation policies of the thirteen years of ‘Tory misrule’. Straight after the election victory the Department of Economic Affairs was established, headed by George Brown. In September 1965 he published the National Plan which he claimed was ‘a major advance in economic policy-making in the United Kingdom [and is] prepared in the fullest consultation with industry ...’ [6]

Since the economy was overwhelmingly in private hands, the plan could not be obligatory, but only indicative. It tried to coordinate the activities of different industries within a total economic perspective.

Nationalisation does not necessarily equal socialism; nor does planning. Under the present system production is for profit and not for need. Fierce competition leads to anarchy in the market place and periodic booms and slumps. Socialists have naturally seen rational planning of wealth production and distribution as an essential component of the society they want to create. You cannot have socialism without planning. But you can have planning without socialism. Long ago Engels pointed out that capitalism created rational ‘organisation of production in the individual factory’ alongside ‘the anarchy of production in society as a whole.’ [7]

Labour’s plan had nothing to do with socialism. It provided a state overview and assistance in British capital’s struggle to compete. It remained to be seen whether even this strategy could be successfully applied; whether the governmental machine could restrain the wildness of capitalist anarchy in its own interest.

The plan was composed by assembling replies to a questionnaire sent to firms and trade associations. The labour movement was not shown so much consideration. Not even the PLP was consulted. The first time the MPs discussed it was on the morning of 3 November, the eve of parliament’s re-assembly and six weeks after the plan had been published.

‘Industries were asked what 25 percent national growth from 1964 to 1970 would mean for them.’ [8] None dreamt of telling the world that they would fail to raise production swiftly or that their export performance would be inadequate. Thus the bosses’ estimates used in the plan were not forecasts of what they expected to achieve, but hypothetical statements of what they might achieve given certain assumptions.

To shape business, the government had to use the carrot rather than the stick. If industry was to be encouraged there was no point coercing it, so the plan relied on changing the environment in which big business worked, on persuasion. This meant giving financial inducement to business – to big business above all. The aim was to ensure that profits and investment would rise more quickly than wages (and hence consumption).

This central theme was only too clear: ‘Investment lies at the heart of the Plan.’ [9] Fixed investment in manufacturing rose by 2.4 per cent a year from 1960 to 1964. The plan set out by the Tory government in 1961 had wanted to raise this to 4 per cent, for the years 1961–66. But George Brown’s plan lifted the target to 7 per cent a year, or 38 per cent between 1964 and 1970! This would open the way to other impressive targets. Over the same period the plan projected a 25 per cent increase in national output.

Even if British capital were prepared to play ball, it formed only a small corner of the world system. The plan did not take into account the impact of international capitalism through the balance of payments, nor did it solve the declining rate of profit that affected world capitalism in general and British capital in particular.

To increase investment one must of course have increasing profits. In fact, despite Labour’s efforts, between 1964–70 the rate of profit fell more rapidly than in the past. Pre-tax profits fell from an average of 18.8 percent in the 1950s to 12.3 percent in 1966–8, and finally to 10.9 percent in 1969. [10] The result was that productive investment in the private sector grew at only half the intended rate – 3.6 percent per year instead of 7 percent.

However the greatest immediate threat to the plan’s realisation was the deterioration in the balance of payments.

Deflation and devaluation

Wilson understood the dangers. In a speech to the 1962 TUC Congress he declared: ‘If you borrow from some of the world’s bankers you will quickly [lose] independence.’ The same theme was repeated twelve days before polling in 1964:

You cannot go cap in hand to the central bankers as [the Tories] have now been forced to do, and maintain your freedom of action ... The central bankers will before long be demanding that Britain puts her house in order and their ideal of an orderly house usually comes to mean vicious inroads into the Welfare State and a one-sided pay pause. The Government would then launch into savage cuts. The brunt will fall again on wages, on salaries, on the ordinary family struggling to make ends meet. [11]

He was absolutely correct. Within weeks of becoming prime minister he was up against the governor of the Bank of England, Lord Cromer, who demanded ‘immediate cuts in Government expenditure, and particularly in those parts of Government expenditure which related to the social services.’ [12]

The background to this was Jim Callaghan’s budget of 11 November 1964, whose prime features were 20 per cent increases in old age pensions and other social security benefits by the following March, and abolition of prescription charges. This was less radical than appeared because the increases were going to be more than paid for by higher National Insurance and petrol tax. ‘The net result of the changes was to increase revenue in a full year by £100 million more than expenditure, so that the measures, taken as a whole, were mildly deflationary.’ [13]

Unlike the Tories, Labour governments must win the confidence of the ruling class. After 13 years of opposition rhetoric, this wooing had only just begun. The budget combined with the already weak state of the economy to precipitate a run on the pound.

Wilson’s later apology for failure says a lot about the reality of bourgeois politics:

Not for the first time, I said that we had now reached the situation where a newly elected Government with a mandate from the people was being told, not so much by the Governor of the Bank of England but by international speculators, that the policies on which we had fought the election could not be implemented; that the Government was to be forced into the adoption of Tory policies to which it was fundamentally opposed. The Governor confirmed that that was, in fact, the case. [14] [1*]

Wilson met the challenge head-on by threatening to float the pound, dissolve parliament and hold an election on the theme of ‘the People versus the Bankers’. Cromer backed down, and within 24 hours had organised three billion dollars of support from the central banks of the United States and the EEC.

Nevertheless pressure on the pound continued, and in May 1965 the British government borrowed a further 1.4 billion dollars. The price paid was a package of measures which included the delaying of various public and private sector investment projects. But foreign opinion was not particularly impressed, and foreign exchange markets remained in a highly jittery condition. So the Bank of England and the City came back for more. To defend the currency and ward off devaluation, they insisted that the Labour government undertake further drastic deflation.

After the 1966 general election, Wilson unveiled a package reducing demand in die economy by £500 million. All indirect taxes were increased by 10 percent. Hire purchase and building controls were tightened, public investment cut by £150 million, and overseas expenditure, both civil and military, reduced by at least £100 million and so on. Most dramatic of all – there was to be a six-month standstill on wages, salaries and dividends, to be followed by a further six-month period of ‘severe restraint.’ Wilson ‘had introduced the biggest deflationary package ever’. [16]

These measures destroyed economic growth and full employment. Numbers out of work rose from 1.1 per cent in July to 2.3 per cent in November and to a height of 2.6 per cent in February 1967. As one economist put it, the National Plan was: ‘conceived October 1964, born September 1965, died (possibly murdered) July 1966’. [17] In fact annual economic growth was not the planned 3.8 per cent but merely 2 percent – lower than the last five years of the previous Tory government, and well below that of the six countries then in the EEC.

These attempts to improve the balance of payments in the short term, and thus protect the pound, failed. The situation was not helped by the ‘Six Day War’ between Israel and Egypt in June 1967 which closed the Suez Canal and significantly increased the cost of imports. In November the government was forced to devalue the pound. Thus the economy had to suffer deflation followed by devaluation. The Labour government got the worst of both worlds.

1968 saw three rounds of deflation. In January came social spending cuts. The prescription charges abolished in March 1965 were now restored and at 2s 6d. were higher than those imposed by successive Tory governments over thirteen years. The March budget aimed to convert an expected 2 percent rise in private consumption during the next year and a half into a 1 percent fall. Taxes increased, and, a 3.5 percent ceiling on pay increases was announced, with some exceptions. In November indirect taxes rose while hire purchase and bank lending were tightened. Finally came the budget of 1969. Mild compared with the earlier measures, it nevertheless reduced demand by between a further £200 million and £250 million. [18] The only success of Wilson’s economic policy was the rise in exports: by 42 percent over the years 1964-70 as against the projected rise of 36 percent.

A deep-seated crisis of profitability continued to dominate British (as well as world) capitalism from the late 1960s onward. Profitability dipped to a very low level in 1972 and 1973, rose a bit in the late 1970s, and tumbled again in the early 1980s. It has since recovered, only, however, to the kind of level it held in 1973, the level that helped to precipitate the world crisis in the first place.

The economic history of the Wilson government of 1964–70 is one of continuing ‘stop-go’, with longer and longer periods of stop interspersed with shorter periods of go. The economist Sam Brittan could rightly note that Wilson was the ‘best Conservative Prime Minister the Party did not have.’ [19]

The Labour government was a pawn in the hands of world bankers. Its promises were sacrificed to reassure them. The anarchy of competitive capitalism and the tyranny of its laws invade every unit of the economy. [2*]

Incomes policy

Whatever Labour’s rhetoric, it knew that profit drives the system. Still smarting from the mistrust capitalism had shown in 1964, Harold Lever, the PLP’s leading economics expert, pleaded for business confidence:

Clause Four or no Clause Four, Labour’s leadership ... knows as well as any businessman that an engine which runs on profit cannot be made to run faster without extra fuel ... [Profits, then] must and will, over a longer period, increase significantly ... For their part businessmen should show less sensitivity and more sense. It is time they realised that a ringing political slogan is often used as a sop to party diehards or as an anaesthetic while doctrinal surgery is being carried out. [21]

With international competition putting pressure on profit margins in Britain’s semi-stagnant economy, workers’ bargaining power became a greater problem for bosses and government. Labour’s solution was incomes policy.

This was not new. In its last couple of years Harold Macmillan’s Tory administration had moved towards it. In 1961 the government had frozen public sector wages and asked the private sector to follow suit. This was supplanted in 1962 by a ‘guiding light’ wage norm of between 2 and 2.5 percent as the upper limit for increases. In June that year the National Incomes Commission was established to look into pay claims referred to it by the government. It was linked with another new body, the National Economic Development Council, which the government envisaged as involving the unions in an incomes policy.

But the Tories faced a serious obstacle in the trade union movement. In principle the TUC accepted that it was ‘a condition of price stability that increases in income should keep in step with the growth of real output.’ [22] However, it was not ready to collaborate with a Tory incomes policy. So it was that TUC participation in voluntary incomes policy had to await the election of a Labour government.

Labour could not plan the bosses’ system for them, but its working class links meant it stood a better chance of planning wages. By a massive 6,090,000 to 40,000 Labour’s 1963 Conference adopted ‘an incomes policy to include salaries, wages, dividends and profits (including speculative profits) and social security benefits’. [23] With Frank Cousins, leader of the powerful TGWU, behind it, acceptance was guaranteed. Indeed it was this left-wing bureaucrat who coined the slogan ‘planned growth of incomes’, included in the 1964 Labour Party manifesto, The New Britain.

Incomes policy, or a variation of it, became a hallmark of the Labour approach to industrial relations. When in government Labour, like the Tories, acts as manager of capitalism. But it does not always adopt the same methods. Incomes policy fitted Labour’s synthesis of class and nation – the belief that there is a community of interests within existing society. Labour’s incomes policy was the main reason why the Conservative weekly paper The Economist supported ‘profit conscious and profit seeking’ Labour in the 1964 election. [24] The Tory economist Sam Brittan also recommended a Labour vote because: ‘Paradoxically, one of the strongest arguments for a Labour Government is that, beneath layers of velvet it might be more prepared to face a showdown in dealing with the unions.’ [25]

In December 1964 representatives of government, the Trades Union Congress and the employers’ organisations signed a Joint Statement of Intent on Productivity, Prices and Incomes and a National Board for Prices and Incomes (PIB) was set up, under the chairmanship of former Tory MP Aubrey Jones. After this the Labour government’s incomes policy went through a number of stages.

The first stage lasted from December 1964 to July 1966, when restraint was ‘voluntary’. Then the government imposed a standstill on all wage rises for six months, followed by six months of severe restraint. Few exceptions were permitted. This was state two.

Stage three ran from July 1967 to March 1968, with a ‘norm’ of between 3 and 3.5 percent for pay rises, while the government had the power to delay any rises for six months. Finally, the fourth stage last from April 1968 until the end of 1969, during which time the government loosened its power to delay pay rises but the 3.5 percent ceiling was imposed except where there were also rises in productivity. The government retained the power to delay any rises that were above this level by up to eleven months.

Bashing the unions: In Place of Strife

For incomes policy to be effective, Wilson had to diminish the unions’ power to strike. As The Economist wrote on 15 January 1966: ‘The only way to achieve an incomes policy in 1966 is going to be by out-facing the trade unions in some big national wage struggle’.

The opportunity came with the seamen’s strike, which started on 16 May 1966. The minister of labour, Ray Gunter, met the shipowners and persuaded them to oppose the seamen’s demands. Crossman noted:

we could have a settlement at any time, since the owners were ready to put up the cash: it was the Government that was preventing the settlement because of the prices and incomes policy ... We are trying to smash the seamen although we have just given huge concessions to the doctors, the judges and the higher civil servants. It is an ironical interpretation of a socialist incomes policy. [26]

Speaking on television the night the stoppage began, Wilson described it as a ‘strike against the State, against the community’ with the main issue being the credibility of the incomes policy. [27] A week later a state of emergency was declared. On 20 June Wilson read the Commons a thinly disguised MI5 Report about Communist infiltration. Among the seamen, he said, there was a ‘tightly knit group of politically motivated men who [are] endangering the security of the industry and the economic welfare of the nation.’ [28] This notwithstanding the fact that there was not one member of the Communist Party on the seamen’s union executive!

Having seen doctors given a 30 per cent pay rise over two years, the mass of trade unionists were unshaken by Wilson’s remarks and remained sympathetic to the seamen: ‘the Gallup poll showed that 50 percent of Labour Party supporters and 51 percent of trade unionists took the strikers’ side, while only 13 percent and 17 percent respectively sympathized with the employers.’ [29] However, out of loyalty to the Labour government, the TUC did nothing to aid the seamen. The TGWU refused to bring out the dockers. This did not prevent MI5 from bugging Jack Jones, its assistant general secretary, during the strike. (He was elected TGWU general secretary in 1968). [30] On 29 June the seamen’s executive called the strike off in defeat.

While union bureaucrats were easily called to heel, the unofficial strike – the wellspring of do-it-yourself reformism, had to be capped.

Workers do not knuckle under

The shackles imposed on workers did not stop them fighting back. Throughout the 1960s the number of strikes continued to rise significantly, Labour government or no Labour government, incomes policy or no incomes policy [31]:


































The rise of strikes in the motor industry was especially steep.

In the last months of 1969 militant wage demands and strikes by dustmen, local government workers, teachers, firemen, miners, car workers and nurses initiated what has come to be known as the ‘wage and strike explosion’ which characterised Britain in the early 1970s.

The working class was not in government (despite the rhetoric of Labourism), nor was it tied to curing the system’s ills as the Labour Party was. The crisis had the effect of encouraging militancy. There are some on the left who mechanically predict working-class activity according to the economic cycle. They say that booms always lead to passivity and right-wing ideas, while slumps always create class struggle and stimulate the left. As Trotsky showed in the 1930s, while boom and slump are as natural to capitalism as breathing, the working class response can never be calculated from economic developments alone. Much depends on the attitude of workers, which is the result of many different influences – one of which is Labour politics, a major but not all-powerful component. This time crisis did indeed lead to militancy. The next time it would not.

When incomes policy was launched, ministers claimed it would help the low-paid above all, since collective bargaining had failed to win them adequate improvements. Ironically the groups hardest hit by incomes policy were low paid public sector workers. It was largely these workers who spearheaded much of the action in 1969, when the issue of equal pay for women also came to the fore because a big proportion of the lowest paid were women. This involved large numbers of women workers in union activity and industrial conflict, the majority of them for the first time.

We have already contrasted the shop stewards’ do-it-yourself reformism with Labour’s ‘reformism from above’ It was common for the same individual to support Labour on a range of general issues but fight its incomes policy tooth and nail at work. After all, parliamentary politics and industrial struggle were traditionally separate. Just because a Labour government, assisted by union bureaucrats, acted as manager of capitalism, this did not automatically dispel workers’ determination to defend their living standards.

Furthermore, the situation was not static. Because bosses were less willing and able to deliver concessions, stopppage had to take broader and more determined forms to succeed. Do-it-yourself reformism has a potential far greater than reformism from above. Collective struggle may begin as a fight for better wages and conditions, but it also opened up:

the possibility of the rebirth of a revolutionary working-class movement. For wherever workers are fighting for themselves, fighting for better wages, fighting in defence of their shop stewards and fighting for their right to control the conditions of their work, wherever they are doing things for themselves and not leaving it to their leaders, they are growing in self-confidence and growing in their ability to run things for themselves. [32]

One factor which showed the most advanced trade unionists the need to generalise the struggle was the legislative attack on trade union rights which Labour attempted to launch in 1979. Legal shackles on rank and file union action were a natural corollary of incomes policy.

As early as 1963 a Fabian Tract explained: ‘Acceptance of an incomes policy will also have implications for the right to strike. Clearly, to be operable, such a policy cannot have hanging over it the threat of a strike by a dissatisfied union.’ [33] Two years later The Economist said the same: ‘The price of securing an incomes policy in Britain will be a willingness to stand up to strikes,’ [34] adding ‘quite bluntly, blacklegging must become respectable again.’ [35]

On 17 January 1969 Barbara Castle, the employment secretary, produced the White Paper In Place of Strife. It contained three proposals: that the government could demand a compulsory cooling-off period of 28 days, a compulsory ballot before official strikes and the imposition of a solution in intractable inter-union disputes. In each case the penalty could be a fine, with presumably imprisonment for non-payment. A Register of Trade Unions and Employers’ Associations would be formed and fines imposed on unions whose rules conflicted with its regulations. New kinds of industrial courts were also suggested.

Labour was taking up the anti-union stand first tentatively proposed back in 1912, but which only openly reactionary governments had dared to enact in peacetime. Wilson’s Guildhall speech in November 1969 explained the need for this legislation: ‘We face the problem of an assertion of the power of the factory floor.’ [36]

Despite the threat posed by In Place of Strife, in 1969 the number of strike days was 6,800,000, an increase of two million over 1968 and four million over 1967. A new movement was rising, the like of which had not been seen since 1919. Its basis was not only existing shopfloor organisation but also a massive extension of trade unionism to an increasing number of white-collar unions.

The shop stewards were ‘the potential builders of the mightiest socialist movement yet in the history of Britain.’ [37] This evaluation was founded on the dynamic forces of class struggle that were stirring the shop stewards to go beyond the narrow horizon of the individual shop floor. [3*]

Unlike MPs, shop stewards were not corrupted by being divorced from those they represented. They suffered the same wages, conditions and exploitation. They could be called to account for their actions by the shopfloor and, most important of all, they could, under the right circumstances, draw upon collective strength in a real fight against capitalism.

But for this potential to be realised they had to go beyond ‘the narrow horizon of economic, trade union demands’ [39] and overcome their other main weakness – the fragmentation of workplace organisation. The fact that workers had won gains in small groups – in an individual shop or factory – meant that these were not seen as victories for the class as a whole, and that solidarity between different sections of workers was weak.

This helped to explain, for example, the strength of racism among workers. Nevertheless the effect of the employers’ offensive would force many workers to generalise, and to link together their struggles. This analysis was broadly confirmed by the events of 1970–74.

Before describing the stand the Labour Party and trade unions took towards Wilson’s government policies, let us deal with a couple of other aspects of government policy.

Immigration and race

Back in the 1920s Wertheimer noted the:

close affinity of the Labour Party with traditions of national culture ... Separated by no class barriers from the mental and spiritual concepts of capitalism, which would otherwise have given birth to an exclusively proletarian way of life and morality, and deep-rooted in national religious tradition, the Labour Party has never been able to make a clean breakaway from capitalist culture. [40]

Nowhere is this more true than in the area of race. When economic expansion demanded more workers, immigrants had been welcome. But the first sign of economic decay saw a racist Tory offensive before which the Labour government capitulated shamelessly.

Since the war Labour leaders had publicly opposed immigration control. Thus Arthur Bottomley, Labour spokesman on Commonwealth affairs, told the Commons in 1958: ‘We on this side are clear in our attitude towards restricted immigration. We are categorically against it.’ [41] Gaitskell had strongly opposed controls because ‘every Commonwealth citizen has the right as a British subject to enter this country at will. This has been the right of subjects of the Crown for many centuries and the Labour Party has always maintained it should be unconditional.’ [42]

When Wilson took over from Gaitskell he adopted a different line: ‘We do not contest the need for control of Commonwealth immigration into this country.’ [43] Indeed, he argued for tightening the provisions of the Tory Immigration Act to secure ‘effective’ health checks and extended powers of deportation. [44] The 1964 Labour manifesto stated:

Labour accepts that the number of immigrants entering the United Kingdom must be limited. Until a satisfactory agreement covering this can be negotiated with the Commonwealth, a Labour government will retain immigration control. [45]

In the general election an extreme Tory racist won Smethwick, with a swing against the national trend. This shook the Labour leaders. Although Wilson referred to the Tory victor of Smethwick as a ‘parliamentary leper’, he and the rest of the government decided to cave in to the racist pressure. Entries in Crossman’s diaries prove the point:

Ever since the Smethwick election it has been quite clear that immigration can be the greatest potential vote-loser for the Labour Party if we are seen to be permitting a flood of immigrants to come in and blight the central areas in all our cities. [46]

Elsewhere he wrote: ‘We felt we had to out-trump the Tories by doing what they would have done and so transforming their policy into a bipartisan policy.’ [47]

On 5 August 1965 Labour proposed cutting work vouchers for Commonwealth immigrants from 208,000 to 8,500. The new measures succeeded in reducing voucher holders from 30,000 in 1963 to 4,000 by 1970. [48] If capitalism was to be nursed back to health, Labour was not about to accuse the system or its own policies of causing unemployment or housing difficulties. Scapegoats were needed, and Labour willingly embraced Enoch Powell’s suggestion that the most exploited and oppressed victims of capitalism shoulder the blame.

On 9 February 1968, at a Conservative dinner, Powell made a diatribe against Kenyan Asians who held British passports. A month later the Labour government introduced a new Immigration Act withdrawing rights of entry for British passport holders lacking a ‘close connection’ with Britain. In future, such people had to obtain special vouchers, which were to be severely restricted in number.

Just to show that Labour could play the racist game as well as the Tories, the Act included a clause preserving free entry for those, almost all whites, who had a grandparent born in the UK.

In 1969 Labour made it obligatory for dependants of Commonwealth immigrants to obtain an entry certificate before coming to Britain, thereby ensuring lengthy delays and increased hardship while people queued to join their families.

As always, concessions to the racists do not quell their appetites but increase them. On 20 April 1968 Enoch Powell made his most inflammatory speech: ‘Like the Romans, I seem to see the River Tiber foaming with much blood ...’

British foreign policy under Wilson

Wilson was the most loyal supporter of America’s Vietnam war.

Without hesitation he applauded bombing the North and ‘made absolutely plain our support for the American stand against Communist infiltration into South Vietnam.’ [49] Wilson held US President Lyndon Johnson (‘LBJ’) in tremendous esteem and swallowed his phoney protestations of peaceful intent: ‘I am absolutely convinced about the sincerity of the President in this matter. I could not be more convinced about anything.’ [50]

Wilson’s position was shaped by the interdependence of British and US imperialisms and the fate of sterling which relied on President Johnson’s goodwill. Crossman describes a cabinet meeting in February 1966 where Wilson explained that US ‘financial support is not unrelated to the way we behave in the Far East: any direct announcement of our withdrawal, for example, could not fail to have a profound effect on my personal relations with LBJ and the way the Americans treat us.’ [51]

When it came to dealing with Ian Smith’s racist regime in Rhodesia (today Zimbabwe), Wilson limited himself to denouncing it as illegal, applied ineffectual economic sanctions, and made it clear that he opposed the ‘using of force’ against ‘our kith and kin’. He showed no comparable hesitation about employing violence in Aden or Cyprus. Crossman wrote in his diary:

the last thing the British public wants is the use of force or sanctions in Rhodesia ... Harold Wilson’s policy is designed not to unseat Smith but to carry the Tories with him. [52]

One of the most shameful chapters during the 1964–70 government was the supplying of arms to South Africa. Shortly after being elected leader of the Labour Party, Wilson told a mass rally organised by Anti-Apartheid in Trafalgar Square:

Under Hugh Gaitskell’s leadership we condemned the supply of arms to South Africa as long as apartheid continues. That is the policy of the Labour Party today. It will be the policy of the Labour Party when we are called upon to form the Government. [53]

However, soon after taking office Wilson announced that the arms embargo to South Africa was not total. ‘Existing contracts will be honoured – sixteen low-flying Buccaneer strike bombers on order by the South African Government would be delivered’ as well as spares. In 1965 permission was given for Vauxhall Motors to supply the South African army. No mention was made of what Harold Wilson earlier described as ‘the role of British armoured cars in the brutality we condemn today’. A host of other more subtle ruses were also employed. [54]

In 1967 the cabinet majority was for lifting the arms embargo altogether. Crossman described how the cabinet’s defence and overseas policy committee approached the issue:

George Brown began the attack saying that though he realized it was very painful one couldn’t really go on being so unrealistic about the sale of arms. He was then supported by Denis Healey, who said one must surely make a distinction between arms which could be used for suppressing insurrection (such as Crusader tanks or Saracen cars) and strategic arms – that is to say, the Air Force and the Navy which are needed for our own Commonwealth interests. [55]

And Crossman added:

My own view is that Rhodesia and South Africa between them are costing us an enormous amount in our balance of payments. We are completely immobilized because of the moral blackmail exerted by the left-wing of the Party and Harold Wilson’s personal commitments. [56]

However, the government could not get away with openly lifting the embargo. On 12 December 1967, some 140 Labour MPs signed a motion demanding its retention. [57] [4*] Wilson gave way. The PLP had actually blocked the government. The Labour left makes much of these rare occasions, rather like a gambler who knows he will lose a fortune because the system is stacked against him, but plays on because once upon a time he made a killing.

In 1953 Harold Wilson’s book The War on World Poverty had called on the advanced countries to contribute 3 percent of their national income in aid to poorer countries. In fact the Wilson government gave even less foreign aid than the Tory governments preceding it. It fell from 0.53 percent of gross national product in 1964 to 0.39 percent in 1969, and 0.37 percent in 1970. [59] In Labour’s synthesis of class and nation, it is always ‘nation’ which comes out on top, at the expense of the working class, not just in Britain, but internationally.

Deep rifts between Labour government and Labour Party

Under the Attlee government the party conference, the executive and the parliamentary party had almost solidly supported the government. The Wilson government of 1964–70 could hardly be further from this picture.

There were few disagreements so long as the government had only a wafer thin majority, as it did between the general elections of October 1964 and March 1966. But once it had a secure majority after the 1966 election, bitter wrangles erupted, principally over incomes policy and deflation. At conference ‘between 1966 and 1969 “the floor” defeated “the platform” with a regularity unparalleled in the Party’s history ... defeats for “the platform” changed from being a rarity.’ [60]

The national executive, and by implication the government, were defeated fourteen times in conferences between 1966 and 1969, and as Lewis Minkin puts it: ‘No Labour Government (indeed no British Government of any complexion) had been so extensively rebuffed by its own Party Conference. It was not just a range of reverses. It was the depth of opposition. ’ [61]

The rift between the conference and the executive was duplicated in a rift between the executive and the government, even though ministers made up about half the executive’s membership:

Under all previous Labour Governments the NEC had behaved with a devoted loyalty, publicly mute and privately circumspect in its criticisms. [But] it was prepared now, for the first time in Party history, to be publicly identified with critics and criticism of Labour Government policy. [62]

The PLP was also far from being united behind the government. The measures introduced in July 1966, which included the wage freeze and increases in indirect taxes, found a significant minority of the PLP repeatedly voting in opposition to the government. In March 1967 60 MPs abstained in protest against a refusal to make further defence cuts. Wilson rounded on the left at the PLP meeting, warning them that ‘a dog is only allowed one bite’, and threatening them with a general election unless they came to heel. The following month Norman Atkinson moved a private member’s motion in the Commons calling for the ‘cessation of the bombing of North Vietnam’. Fifty-nine Labour MPs and three Liberals, supported the motion. [5*]

The limits of PLP opposition, however, were shown by how few left-wing resignations there were from the government, and the fact that those who did resign (such as Frank Cousins) were soon replaced by others from the left (Tony Benn and Judith Hart). Nevertheless the PLP was discontented as never before.

Undoubtedly the issue that caused the greatest strife was the White Paper In Place of Strife. When it was debated in parliament on 3 March 1969, fifty-five Labour MPs voted against and approximately forty abstained. Three weeks later the party executive adopted, by sixteen votes to five, a resolution saying ‘it could not accept legislation based on all the proposals of the White Paper.’ [63] Among the majority were James Callaghan (home secretary and party treasurer), Jennie Lee (minister for the arts), and Tom Bradley (parliamentary private secretary to Roy Jenkins, the chancellor of the exchequer). Two other ministers are believed to have abstained. [64]

Opposition continued to mount. On 7 May 1969 Douglas Houghton, the chairman of the PLP, denounced In Place of Strife: ‘No good that any contentious Bill of this kind can do to industrial relations or the economy will redeem the harm we can do to our Government by the disintegration or defeat of the Labour Party.’ [65] In the cabinet meeting on 17 June, the chief whip, Robert Mellish, claimed that there was no chance of any penal legislation passing the Commons. According to one source this precipitated a dramatic shift in ministerial alignments and ‘at the end, Wilson and Castle were virtually isolated’. [66]

The struggle around In Place of Strife is instructive. First, the federal structure of the party, where there is no precise chain of command, makes for contradictory positions and tendencies in different branches of the labour movement – the trade unions, the constituency parties, the PLP and the executive. In Place of Strife tried formally to integrate working-class organisations – the unions – and their activity into the British state. Unions accept Labour’s political synthesis of class and nation. That is why they are federated to the party. Yet they still resist complete state integration. The Labour government’s desire to put nation before class came into conflict with the actual foundation of the Labour Party in the organised working class. As Panitch put it:

while Labour’s structural ties with the unions were the condition of its success as an integrative party in the quasi-corporatist state, the defeat which Labour suffered on the penal clauses was indicative of the extent to which Labour’s ties with the unions can also act as a structural constraint on its ability to act out its integrative role. [67]

However we must be precise when we say the unions defeated In Place of Strife. It was not the trade union bureaucracy but the activity of the rank and file that shattered it. Of course union leaders protested against Labour Government policies – from the wage freeze to trade union legislation – but they did nothing. When the wage freeze was made statutory in 1967 the TUC expressed regret, but considered any attempt to evade the freeze was against the interests of the unions which accepted it. Frank Cousins told the 1967 TGWU conference why he opposed striking against the freeze: ‘We did not do so because we do not want to destroy the Government; we wanted to persuade them’. [68] And this was the man who had recently resigned from the government in protest at the 1966 statutory incomes policy.

The 1967 Prices and Incomes Bill was not formally endorsed by the TUC because of rank and file resentment but the General Council continued to counsel wage restraint ... the only public demonstrations were mobilized by the newly-organised and Communist-led Liaison Committee for the Defence of Trade Unions. [69]

At the 1968 TUC Congress the vote against pay policy was carried by a majority of seven to one. But this did not mean the General Council was ready to campaign. Instead it would ‘watch how the Government used its power after it was passed.’ [70] The passivity of the trade union leaders also showed itself over In Place of Strife. Thus the General Council almost unanimously rejected a one-day protest strike against the Bill. [71] This was notwithstanding the emergence of a new generation of union leaders, such as Hugh Scanlon, who won top union positions through the support of Broad Left organisations comprising Communist Party and left Labour activists. Although the rhetoric of such leaders showed the influence of the prevailing militancy, Scanlon convinced his union, the AEU, to refuse official backing for the May Day strikes against In Place of Strife.

It was the pressure of rank and file do-it-yourself reformism that generated the effective opposition to In Place of Strife. This led to the Ford strike of February–March 1969 and widespread strikes on May Day. Any resistance that came from the union bureaucracy stemmed from the pressure of workers below.

The contradictory nature of the Labour Party, being the political expression of the trade union bureaucracy, but still separate from it, revealed itself clearly in the antagonism between the labour movement and the Labour government. The government, committed to the management of capitalism, was unwilling and unable to bow to the wishes of the Labour Party conferences, the executive or the PLP. To use Wilson’s expression, the dog had barked, but could it or would it bite?

There has been an ebb and flow in conference authority throughout Labour’s history. The formula established in 1907 gave conference the right to propose, but left the parliamentary wing to dispose. This could be interpreted in widely different ways. The shock of MacDonald’s treachery in 1931 dramatically raised the status of conference. The effect lasted into Attlee’s reign. In the few cases where he went against the wishes of the Labour Party conference, a verbal formula was produced to paper the cracks. But Wilson did not give a damn. Throughout 1966–70 he ran roughshod over the wishes of the different bodies of the movement, going further than anyone before in openly flouting conference decisions. Minkin records:

Harold Wilson’s response to the 1966 Party Conference marked a clear break from the practice of the Attlee Government. In the assertion that ‘the Government must govern’ there was none of the deferential formulae of the past. Nor was there the use of any of the procedural loopholes which might have been forthcoming. It was now clearly a matter of rejecting the authority of the Party conference over the policy of a Labour Government ... The authority of the Conference sunk to a new low as the Government carried out a range of policies diametrically opposed to Conference decisions. Defeats for Government policy at Conference became as repetitive as they were ineffectual. [72]

This contempt for conference and the executive showed itself graphically in the drafting of the 1970 election manifesto. Wilson, aided by Peter Shore and Tony Benn, drafted the manifesto behind the back of the executive and then presented it as a fait accompli. At the executive’s final meeting before the election campaign, Douglas Houghton is reported to have said: ‘Look, if the Government doesn’t want to carry out any of your promises it won’t.’ [73] The result was:

the controversial policy items were all either smoothed over with vague or ambiguous formulae, stated in non-committal terms or simply avoided entirely ... important Conference commitments disappeared behind innocuous phraseology. Thus the Conference policy of dissociation from United States’ policy in Vietnam became opposition to a ‘purely military solution’ and support for ‘the Geneva agreements and the withdrawal of all foreign troops.’ The specific commitments to Wealth and Gift Taxes, faced with unremitting opposition from succeeding Chancellors, were obscured by a vague promise to ensure ‘a greater contribution to the National Revenue from the rich’.

What emerged, therefore, was cautious, complacent and of uninspiring generality. The Manifesto defined the Party’s purposes in terms acceptable to almost any person of goodwill, ‘a steadily growing economy, a ‘better society for all the people of Britain; a strong, just and compassionate society’ ... Thus by the time of the General Election, the Labour Party Conference appeared to have moved into irreversible decline as a political institution. Its authority over a Labour Government was openly defied. Its immediate decisions had minimal impact upon the Government policy. [74]

The rift between the government on the one hand and the executive and even a great proportion of the PLP on the other, was a reflection of the estrangement of the trade unions from the government, and this was, at one remove, a reflection of the massive rise of workers’ industrial struggle and its conflict with government policies.

Labour was certainly not under the control of the labour movement. If it had been, In Place of Strife would never have been published. But neither was it completely independent of the movement.

Wilson and the Labour left

On being elected leader of the Labour Party Wilson had been greatly praised by spokesmen of the left. Frank Allaun, the hardy socialist warrior, went so far as to say ‘Harold Wilson is the best Labour leader since Keir Hardie.’ [75] Perry Anderson of the New Left Review believed ‘Wilsonism has made the Labour Party into the dynamic left-wing of European Social Democracy’ and that Labour had ‘at last, after fifty years of failure, produced a dynamic and capable leader.’ [76]

The most uncritical accolade was found in Michael Foot’s Harold Wilson: A Pictorial Biography, which describes Wilson as:

a dedicated person, dedicated to politics, to the Labour Party, to his own interpretation of Socialism which he believes can contribute so much to the well-being of the British people. The word, be it noted, means sacredly, solemnly or formally devoted, wholly given up. Zestfully devoted might be the final, more accurate definition in this case. [77]

Elsewhere Foot emphasised Wilson’s ‘political acumen, political skill and survival power ... a coherence of ideas, a readiness to follow unorthodox courses, a respect for democracy ... above all a deep and genuine love of the Labour movement.’ [78]

But Realpolitik, the need to adapt socialist ideals to ruling-class needs, lurked close to the surface. Foot wrote:

Like it or not, the Labour Party programme on which we fought the election was one in which we envisaged working a mixed economy in a country involved in the Western alliance and in the predominantly capitalist Western world. The operation is extremely difficult, but, as Jimmy Maxton once said, if we thought we couldn’t ride two horses we should never have joined the bloody circus.’ [79]

Maxton’s aphorism might suit circuses, but it became increasingly difficult to ride the capitalist horse and the workers’ horse when they galloped in opposite directions!

Thus when it came to incomes policy Tribune faced two ways. At first it published a number of articles in support. Michael Barrett Brown and Royden Harrison described George Brown’s incomes policy with words borrowed from Marx: ‘The scene is once again set for a decisive victory for the political economy of Labour’. [80] In 1965 an article welcomed wage controls, complaining only that the government should have ‘accepted the need for “teeth” earlier.’ [81]

However, the government’s handling of the seamen’s strike abruptly ended the honeymoon. ‘Support the Seamen!’ was Tribune’s front-page slogan. Now the paper turned sharply against the government’s incomes policy: ‘The Labour movement is being asked to accept the prospect of wage control and the operation of an unfair incomes policy in the context of a rampantly capitalist economy,’ wrote Foot. [82] A week later he wrote: ‘The latest trick in the Government pantomime leads all that has gone before. They have dressed up one of the Ugly Sisters as Cinderella.’ [83]

Still the left Labour MPs suffered moral torture when it came to voting on the wage freeze in parliament. Ian Mikardo, in an article entitled Why we Abstained, said they ‘were naturally unhappy about adding to the considerable difficulties which the Prime Minister and the economics Ministers already have on their plate. This is no contumacious defiance: there never was a sadder or more regretful revolt.’ [84]

At least Tribune was prepared to criticise openly. When health charges were reimposed it shouted: ‘The Shame of it All!’ Tribune campaigned consistently against Wilson’s policy in Vietnam and against In Place of Strife but was conspicuously silent on the question of industrial action against the Bill. A letter from Peggy Duff, Nigel Harris and others, entitled, Tribune’s Sham War? complained: ‘Last week’s Tribune did not even mention, let alone support or encourage, the strikes against the Government’s anti-strikes legislation, which were planned to take place on May Day.’ [85]

Although more in sympathy with working-class demands than the right, the Labour left was just as distant from the actual struggle. In this period it was in practical terms irrelevant. Its difficulties were compounded by the fact that, like Voltaire’s Dr Pangloss, the left wanted to believe that in the Labour Party ‘all was for the best in the best of all possible worlds.’ Only when harsh reality slapped it in the face did this change. But even then the commitment to Labour and its electoral progress prevented the left from giving a real lead to the movement fighting back against Wilson’s policies.

Alienation of workers from the Labour Party

Wilson’s plea at the 1966 election – that Labour could only be effective with a strong majority in the Commons – produced the best result for Labour since 1945. This made the electoral decline that followed all the more striking. As the thrust of Labour’s policies became clear after 1966, it created massive disillusion among the party’s traditional supporters. This showed in huge losses at parliamentary by-elections:

Until 1966, it had for many years been a rare exception for a seat to change hands in a by-election. The Labour Governments of 1945–51 lost only one seat ... In the whole of their thirteen years the Conservatives lost only ten seats – eight to Labour, two to the Liberals.

The astonishing thing about the by-elections of the 1966 Parliament was that, far from being an exception, the loss of seats by the government became for a time the almost invariable rule ... By the time they lost office in June 1970 they had shed sixteen seats out of the thirty-one they defended in just under six years of office – more than in their whole previous parliamentary history (fifteen were lost between 1900 and 1964). Swings which had once seemed disastrous now came as a relative relief. No government in thirty years had experienced anything remotely like it. [86]

Elections do not control capitalism, but they allow a protest vote when promises are betrayed. These by-elections showed the growing contradiction between expectations of full employment and rising living standards and the growing inability of governments to meet these expectations. A pattern of see-saw between the parties was established in 1966 and would continue for more than a decade. [6*]

At local elections Labour fared no better. In April 1967 a Tory landslide ended thirty-three years’ control of the Greater London Council, leaving Labour just eighteen seats out of a hundred. The May 1968 local elections cost Labour 919 seats. In London Labour lost fifteen of its eighteen boroughs. A nearly equivalent disaster took place at the 1969 local elections when some 917 seats were lost.

In the 1970 general election, Labour received 1,800,000 fewer votes than in 1951, notwithstanding the six million people who had been added to the electorate register, mainly because the voting age had been reduced from twenty-one to eighteen.

Widespread cynicism prevailed at the time. This was reflected in a National Opinion Poll Survey conducted in February 1968. [88] Although too much reliance should not be placed on surveys of this sort, the extreme figures are particularly illuminating.


Per cent

Most politicians promise anything to get votes


Most politicians care more about party than country


Politicians are all talk and no action


Most politicians are in it for what they can get


Once MPs are elected, they forget about the voters


One cause of disillusionment was that the majority of the electors could see no real differences between the parties, nor any connection between their own vote and their daily lives. As one book puts it:

The leaders of both parties ... steered towards the middle. The real clashes of principle in 1966–70 and in the [1970 General Election] campaign seemed extraordinarily few. [89]

This became, in turn, one of the main reasons put forward to explain Labour’s defeat in 1970. Colin Crouch wrote:

there is little purpose ... in a social democratic party seeking to become the party of the national consensus simply by adopting the policies of its opponents. Not only does this involve a complete loss of purpose in the party itself, it is also likely to fail. An electorate may well decide that a Conservative Party is a better party to head a conservative consensus. [90]

This seemed to be confirmed by the turnout at the 1970 election, which, at 72 percent, was the lowest since 1935. The result was determined by ‘the reluctant decision of just enough electors that the Conservatives were, marginally, the lesser of two evils.’ [91] The Tories won 46.4 percent of the votes cast, to Labour’s 43 percent.

The greatest demoralisation was inflicted on Labour activists. According to Minkin: ‘the roots of the Party shrivelled.’ [92] Thus a third of constituency parties did not bother to send delegates to the Labour Party conference which followed the 1970 election [93]

too much had been sacrificed for many to stomach. The monument to it all could be seen in the empty committee room, the lapsed membership, the tireless activist of former years now nodding gently before the television screen. [94]

Ken Coates wondered: ‘How many thousands of good socialists have withdrawn in disgust? ... How many local Parties have been, to all apparent signs, demobilised? Certainly there have been heavy losses.’ [95] The prevailing gloom dominated the conference. One delegate described the state of the local parties:

Party morale collapsed. Membership fell dramatically and in some constituencies, like mine, became non-existent ... Ask ... how lonely they felt, and then tell them about political loneliness. [96]

We know that the official figure for individual Labour Party membership grossly overestimates the real membership (and overstates still further the active membership). But still it is indicative that the individual membership dropped from 830,116 in 1964 to 690,191 in 1970. In 1964 when Wilson came to office, there were sixty-six constituency parties with a membership of more than 2,000, but when he lost the 1970 general election the number had fallen to twenty-two. Some local parties underwent a traumatic decline, such as Brixton Labour Party, which in 1965 had 1,212 members and in 1970 only 292. [97]

The end of the reformist era

The permanent arms economy had slowed the decline in the rate of profit, it had not halted it. Furthermore the uneven burden of arms spending created unique problems for Britain – a second rate capitalist economy with a first rate imperialist role. Since the Second World War there had been a clear inverse relation between the level of wages and the level of unemployment: a high wage economy seemed to mean low unemployment. But after 1965 both moved in the same direction. Inflation, fuelled by US spending on the Vietnam war, spread throughout international capitalism. This added in Britain to the problems of recurring balance-of-payments crises, pushed back priority given in government circles to the reduction of unemployment and encouraged attacks on wages.

Keynesianism fitted Labour’s synthesis of class and nation so well because it suggested what was good for the workers was good for the nation. But now that fear of balance-of-payments crises and inflation dominated government thinking. Trade unionists, and shop steward militants in particular, were blamed for the country’s economic failings. High wages were declared to be the enemy of the national interest.

Labour’s politics faced a dilemma. The foundation of gradualism is the belief that the government controls the national situation and can build reform upon reform. But under Wilson the truth slipped out. The capitalist economy dictated to the government. Reforms gained in the Attlee era had not been a springboard to future progress but had been due to exceptional circumstances – and these had now disappeared.

Take nationalisation. It was assumed that one takeover would lead to another, in cumulative fashion. As a matter of fact state ownership of unprofitable industry under Attlee became an impediment to further nationalisation under Wilson. Not only did it give the press an opportunity to discredit the whole notion of nationalisation, but it also meant that those industries taken into public ownership could not contribute financially to the buying of further enterprises. In the 1960s, siphoning money from the private sector in order to nationalise further industries became economically difficult if not impossible. Attlee’s government had nationalised some 20 per cent of all industry. Apart from steel, which the Wilson government renationalised after the Tories had privatised it, the basic ownership pattern of British industry hardly changed between 1951 and 1970.

The post-war boom had imposed a relative symmetry on state policies which was labelled Butskellism. The new policies imposed by crisis were also symmetrical: by 1970 there was little qualitative distinction between Labour and Tory programmes. As Reginald Maudling, deputy leader of the Conservative Party, said in 1967, the Labour government had ‘inherited our problems. They seem also to have inherited many of our remedies.’ [98]

Although Attlee’s administration lost the 1951 election, it ended on a note of optimism and confidence. When Labour fell from office in 1970 its supporters looked back on the Wilson governments with a feeling of bitterness, anger and disillusion.


1*. This reminds one of the following words attributed to Ramsay MacDonald:

‘The power of the financier is to be that by which Labour Parties and Labour governments are likely to be brought to grief ... The class which is the creditor class can bring to its knees any public movement with which it disagrees, because by refusing to continue credits, by unsettling confidence, by raising the price of money, it can always create panic and crisis, and thereby turn the people back upon the paths upon which they have entered.’ [15]

2*. It is funny to see Labour leaders clutching at straws in face of the bankruptcy of their economic policies. Crossman wrote on 31 July 1966:

‘When I told Anne over lunch today that the World Cup could be a decisive factor in strengthening sterling she couldn’t believe it. But I am sure it is. It was a tremendous, gallant fight that England won. Our men showed real guts and the bankers, I suspect, will be influenced by this, and the position of the Government correspondingly strengthened.’ [20]

3*. These years saw a great upsurge in the working class struggle internationally, of which the general strike of May 1968 in France and the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia are but two examples. [38]

4*. Nonetheless, when it came to economic sanctions against South Africa Wilson was not ready to give an inch, and his arguments were much the same as Thatcher used some 20 years later. On 13 April 1964 Wilson told West European Socialist leaders that an effective trade embargo ‘would harm the people we are most concerned about, the Africans and those whites fighting to maintain some standard of decency’. Despite the unanimous call of African leaders for economic sanctions, the following day he declared: ‘Sanctions which hit at the people of South Africa, without influencing its Government, would be futile and tragic.’ Three years after the Labour government came to power, the minister of state at the Board of Trade ‘could proudly tell a businessman’s dinner that trade with South Africa had grown at a remarkable speed. In two years South Africa had jumped from fourth to second in the table of Britain’s largest customers.’ [58]

5*. At the second reading of the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill, 35 Labour MPs voted against the government. Although the government whips were out for the third reading, only 109 Labour MPs voted in support, sixteen voted against and some 200 abstained. At the second raiding of the Prices and Incomes Bill (1968), one Labour MP voted against and thirty-four abstained. Forth-nine voted against NHS prescription charges. In June 1968 twenty-three Labour MPs opposed the Prices and Incomes Bill, and about twenty abstained. In December 1969 forty-nine Labour MPs entered the lobbies against the government’s Vietnam policy. Six months later this had risen to 61, with nearly a hundred abstaining.

6*. Proportion of by-elections showing falls in the government vote amounting to over 20 percent of the total poll: 1945–51, 3 percent; 1951–55, 2 percent; 1955–59, 10 percent; 1959–64, 18 percent; 1964–66, zero; 1966–70, 34 percent. [87]


1. Signposts for the Sixties, p. 16.

2. P. Foot, The Politics of Harold Wilson (London 1968), p. 135.

3. Labour Conference 1963, pp. 133–140.

4. Morgan, Crossman, p. 1026.

5. New Statesman, 6 March 1961, quoted in W. Beckerman (ed.) The Labour Government’s Economic Record: 1964–1970 (London 1972), p. 159.

6. G. Brown, introduction to The National Plan, September 1965, Cmnd 2764.

7. F. Engels, Anti-Dühring (Peking 1976) p. 352.

8. The National Plan, p. 4.

9. The National Plan, p. 55.

10. A. Glyn and B. Sutcliffe, The Collapse of UK Profits, in New Left Review, March/April 1971.

11. P. Foot, p. 154.

12. H. Wilson, The Labour Government 1964–70 (London 1974), pp. 61–2.

13. M. Stewart, Politics and Economic Policy in the UK Since 1964 (London 1978), p. 33.

14. Wilson, p. 65.

15. Martin, p. 80.

16. Stewart, pp. 72–3.

17. R. Opie, Economic Planning and Growth, in Beckerman, p. 170.

18. Stewart, pp. 88–9.

19. S. Brittan, The Steering of the Economy (London 1971), p. 337.

20. The Crossman Diaries 1964–70, p. 211.

21. The Observer, 7 March 1966, quoted in K. Coates, The Crisis of British Socialism (Nottingham 1971), p. 111.

22. TUC Report 1962, p. 244.

23. Labour Conference 1963, p. 189.

24. The Economist, 3 October 1964.

25. S. Brittan, The Treasury under the Tories 1951–1964 (Harmondsworth 1965), p. 276.

26. The Crossman Diaries 1964–70, pp. 187-8 (entries for 26 May 1966 and 14 June 1966).

27. Wilson, p. 300.

28. Hansard, 20 June 1966.

29. L. Panitch, Social Democracy and Industrial Democracy (London 1976) ,pp. 109–10.

30. Joe Haines, in Daily Mirror, 1 August 1986.

31. Employment and Productivity Gazette.

32. T. Cliff and C. Barker, Incomes Policy, Legislation and Shop Stewards (London 1966), p. 135.

33. M. Stewart and R. Winsbury, An Incomes Policy for Labour, Fabian Tract 350, October 1963, p. 18.

34. The Economist, 5 June 1965.

35. The Economist, 4 September 1965.

36. The Times, 11 November 1969.

37. Cliff and Barker, p. 136.

38. For a details account, see C. Harman, The Fire Last Time: 1968 and After (London 1988).

39. Cliff and Barker, p. 105.

40. Wertheimer, p. 91.

41. P. Foot, p. 251.

42. Letter sent on Gaitskell’s behalf by PLP Secretary, quoted in P. Foot, p. 252.

43. Hansard, 27 November 1963, quoted in P. Foot, p. 252.

44. Hansard, 27 November 1963, quoted in P. Foot, p. 253.

45. P. Foot, p. 254.

46. The Crossman Diaries 1964–70, pp. 67–8 (entry for 5 February 1965).

47. The Crossman Diaries 1964–70, p. 120 (entry for 2 April 1964).

48. Wilson, p. 664.

49. Hansard, 1 April 1965.

50. Hansard, 8 February 1966.

51. The Crossman Diaries 1964–70, p. 163.

52. R. Crossman, The Diaries of a Cabinet Minister, vol. 1 (London 1975), pp. 344 and 361.

53. P. Foot, p. 272.

54. P. Foot, pp. 275–6.

55. The Crossman Diaries 1964–70, p. 330.

56. The Crossman Diaries 1964–70, p. 331.

57. Wilson, p. 597.

58. P. Foot, pp. 273–4.

59. D. Seers and P. Streeten, Overseas Development Policies, in Beckerman, p. 128.

60. L. Minkin, The Labour Party Conference (Manchester 1978), pp. 237 and 326.

61. Minkin, p. 297.

62. Minkin, pp. 298 and 300.

63. Labour Conference 1969, p. 29.

64. P. Jenkins, The Battle of Downing Street (London 1970), p. 79.

65. Cited in Jenkins, p. 119.

66. Jenkins, p. 154.

67. Panitch, p. 248.

68. The Guardian, 12 July 1967, quoted in Panitch, p. 138.

69. Panitch, p. 145.

70. TUC Report 1968, p. 354.

71. TUC 1969, p. 212.

72. Minkin, pp. 294–5 and 290.

73. Sunday Times, 31 May 1970, quoted in Minkin, p. 312.

74. Minkin, p. 314.

75. Tribune, 22 February 1963.

76. P. Anderson, Critique of Wilsonism, in New Left Review, September–October 1964.

77. M. Foot, Harold Wilson: A Pictorial Biography (Oxford 1964), p. 11.

78. Tribune, 22 February 1963.

79. Tribune, 4 December 1964.

80. Tribune, 8 January 1965.

81. Tribune, 10 December 1965.

82. Tribune, 16 September 1966.

83. Tribune, 23 September 1966.

84. Tribune, 28 October 1966.

85. Tribune, 2 May 1969.

86. C. Cook and J. Ramsden, By-Elections in British Politics (London 1973), p. 223.

87. D. Butler and D. Stokes, Political Change in Britain (London 1974), p. 206.

88. T. Forrester, The Labour Party and the Working Class (London 1976), p. 24.

89. D. Butler and M. Pinto Duschinsky, The British General Election of 1970 (London 1971), p. xiv.

90. C. Crouch, Politics in a Technological Society (London 1970), p. 18.

91. Butler and Pinto Duschinsky, p. 346.

92. Minkin, p. 290.

93. Tribune, 9 October 1970.

94. D. McKie and C. Cook (eds.), The Decade of Disillusion: Politics in the Sixties (London 1972), p. 4.

95. Coates, pp. 181–2.

96. Labour Conference 1970, p. 171.

97. P. Seyd and L. Minkin, The Labour Party and Its Members, in New Society, 20 September 1979.

98. D. Butler and D. Kavanagh, The British General Election of 1979 (London 1980), p. 2.

Last updated on 20 August 2017