History / Politics

Harold be thy name

To celebrate the centenary of the birth of Harold Wilson, here’s a selection of quotes by, and about, the only Labour leader to win four general elections.

Harold the politician

‘We complimented the Prime Minister for his “Wind of Change” speech. What we want to see now is less wind and more change.’ – Harold Wilson, 1960

‘There is not one Labour Member of Parliament who could have been elected on his own efforts. He is elected to be in his place and to do the job he was sent to do.’ – Harold Wilson, 1971

‘May I say, for the benefit of those who have been carried away by the gossip of the last few days, that I know what’s going on. I’m going on.’ – Harold Wilson, 1969

‘In the Labour Party we spend all our time talking about getting rid of the leader and never do it.’ – Harold Wilson, 1972

‘However tired people may be of me, I think that most people will regard me as the lesser of the two evils.’ – Harold Wilson, during the 1970 general election campaign

‘The opinion polls have a lot of explaining to do.’ – Harold Wilson, on losing the 1970 general election

‘I see myself as a deep-lying half-back, feeding the ball forward to the chaps who score the goals.’ – Harold Wilson, 1974

‘I get a little nauseated when I hear the phrase “freedom of the press” used as freely as it often is. A large part of our proprietorial press is not free at all.’ – Harold Wilson, 1974

‘I know more about football than politics.’ – Harold Wilson, 1974

‘I would rather go to the House of Commons than the theatre.’ – Harold Wilson, 1970

Harold Wilson: ‘Why do I emphasise the importance of the Royal Navy?’ Heckler: ‘Because you’re in Chatham!’ – 1964

Harold the statesman

‘There is no future for Britain in a Little England philosophy. There is no future either for anyone in a Little Europe philosophy.’ – Harold Wilson, 1966

‘The whole world is our kith and kin.’ – Harold Wilson, 1966

‘I have not always in my dealings with General de Gaulle found quotations from Trafalgar and Waterloo necessarily productive. And he has been very tactful about the battle of Hastings.’ – Harold Wilson, 1967

‘A fine politician if, perhaps, never truly a statesman.’ – Edward Heath, 1998

Harold and the Left

‘You don’t need to worry about the outside left. They’ve got nowhere else to go.’ – Harold Wilson, 1968

‘I can’t trust Wilson as far as I can throw him anymore. In fact he’s so devious you can’t be sure he won’t turn out to have been honest after all.’ – anonymous Labour MP, 1966

‘He rapidly distanced himself from the Labour Party: he treated it as one would treat an elderly, boring maiden aunt, sending her a birthday card (in October) every year but never inviting her to visit and never listening to what she said.’ – Ian Mikardo, 1988

‘This Party needs to protect itself against the activities of small groups of inflexible political persuasion, extreme so-called left and in a few cases extreme so-called moderates, having in common only their arrogant dogmatism.’ – Harold Wilson, 1975

‘I am absolutely sick … of the views of Harold Wilson, for whom I have in some respects the greatest contempt.’ – Tony Benn, 1970

‘Tony immatures with age.’ – Harold Wilson on Tony Benn, 1975

‘He supported Clause IV, won four elections and worked with the left. It was an extraordinary achievement.’ – Tony Benn, 1995

Harold the economist

‘If a tenth of the energy being put to tax evasion in the City of London were devoted to developing our export trade, we would have no economic crisis today.’ – Harold Wilson 1956

‘We need to think more about earning money and less about making it.’ – Harold Wilson, 1964

‘One man’s wage increase is another man’s price increase.’ – Harold Wilson, 1970

‘Everyone should have an equal chance – but they shouldn’t have a flying start.’ – Harold Wilson, 1963

Harold the moderniser

‘The Britain that is going to be forged in the white heat of this revolution will be no place for restrictive practices or for outdated methods on either side of industry.’ – Harold Wilson, 1963

‘We want the youth of Britain to storm the new frontiers of knowledge.’ – Harold Wilson, 1963

‘In the modern world of automation and sweeping technological change, Luddism means not so much machine-breaking as a failure to co-operate in technological advance.’ – Harold Wilson, 1964

‘He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.’ – Harold Wilson, 1967

Harold the man

‘I don’t smoke when I am asleep.’ – Harold Wilson, 1977

‘I only saw Harold Wilson really squiffy on one or two occasions, roughly as often as I saw George Brown completely sober. To compare Wilson’s drinking to Brown’s is to liken a dripping tap to Niagara Falls.’ – Joe Haines, 1999

‘Of course I overwork. Everyone does who enjoys his work.’ – Harold Wilson, 1973

‘At 60 you might come back. At 70 they think you are gaga.’ – Harold Wilson, 1981

Harold as others saw him

‘If Harold Wilson ever went to school without any boots, it was merely because he was too big for them.’ – Harold Macmillan

‘What is most damaging to your reputation and position in the country is that you are believed, perhaps wrongly, to be devious, tricky, opportunistic.’ – Roy Jenkins, 1971

‘I think [the electorate] may take the view that Harold Wilson is a better conservative prime minister than Ted Heath would be.’ – Jeremy Thorpe, 1967

‘Mr Wilson has long been accused of deluding himself that he can deal with a problem by making a speech about it.’ – Jo Grimond, 1971

‘Harold Wilson and Ramsay MacDonald were once the left-wing candidates for the Labour leadership and we all know what happened to them.’ – David Marquand, 1979

‘He has nothing else to give: just like an old boxer shadow-boxing. He knows the moves and goes through the motions, but he has lost his punch and the appetite to fight.’ – Bernard Donoughue, 1976



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