Harold Wilson

Hardcover / ISBN-13: 9781474611954

Price: £25

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Harold Wilson is the only post-war leader of any party to serve as Britain’s Prime Minister on two separate occasions. In total he won four General Elections, spending nearly eight years in Downing Street. Half a century later, he is still unbeaten, Labour’s greatest ever election winner. How did he do it – and at what cost?

Critics then and now have painted him as an opportunistic political calculator, even as a Soviet secret agent. In this powerful new portrait, drawing on previously unavailable sources and first-hand parliamentary insight, acclaimed biographer Nick Thomas-Symonds reveals a more complex figure. Wilson was a new kind of politician but, in his own way, this media-savvy harbinger of modernity was also a deeply traditional man, whose actions often suggest nothing less than a spiritual mission.

In an intriguing paradox, Wilson, influenced by the distinctively democratic faith of his Yorkshire boyhood, united a fractured Labour Party, ushering in the cultural and social changes of the ‘swinging sixties’. His was the government to decriminalise homosexuality, legalise abortion and abolish capital punishment. With a brilliant mind, sure-footed political moves and a feel for public opinion, he was a survivor who over and over again emerged from desperate crises – even, perhaps, conspiracies – to lead his party to victory. It is time at last to learn his secrets.


In this riveting and very readable biography, Thomas-Symonds con­firms that Wilson's governments created a kinder, fairer, and forward-thinking Britain. Above all, as any­one on Scilly would agree, Wilson was a man of the people
Canon Anthony Phillips, CHURCH TIMES
Wilson was one of the most remarkable British political figures of the 20th century ... Nick Thomas-Symonds, in his entertaining and assured biography, paints a portrait of a man who embodied all the contradictions of the movement he led
Daniel Finkelstein, THE TIMES
Very well written ... Wilson, as Thomas-Symonds says, was an underestimated social reformer who expanded higher education and the social services, and made Britain a more pleasant place to live in through such measures as outlawing race and sex discrimination, equal pay for women, maternity leave, safety at work and, above all, the Open University, of which he was particularly proud
Vernon Bogdanor, DAILY TELEGRAPH
The Labour frontbencher Nick Thomas-Symonds - a rare parliamentarian who can write - offers an unashamedly revisionist and readable account of the man who led Labour to four election victories. So often derided as a shameless opportunist, Wilson here shines through as a quick-witted, silver-tongued master strategist
Patrick Maguire, THE TIMES 'Books of the Year'
Nick Thomas-Symonds' excellent new biography puts Harold Wilson in his rightful place as a crucial figure in Labour Party history, winning four General Elections and introducing important reforms that have endured. It deserves to be widely read not only as a fine work of history but also for its lessons in how Labour wins
Keir Starmer
This comprehensive, carefully researched and very readable biography aims to establish Wilson's place in history - not as the neurotic schemer often reported during his sad last years, which were blighted by dementia, nor even as the supreme political fixer portrayed by Pimlott, but as a decent, honourable man, as well as a very clever one, who was in politics to do something, not just to be someone. He was, Thomas-Symonds concludes, one of our greatest prime ministers, who, given the political circumstances, had a remarkable record of solid achievement.
Francis Beckett, THE SPECTATOR
With political biographies it is easy to praise and criticise with the benefit of hindsight. Nick Thomas-Symonds avoid this by also understanding the political mood at the time - and, in having access to new material is able to take a broader view. I'd make it compulsory reading!
Baroness Angela Smith, HOUSE MAGAZINE
A well-researched, fair-minded and enjoyable read
Dominic Sandbrook, THE SUNDAY TIMES
[Wilson] is the subject of a superb new biography by the distinguished historian and Labour frontbencher Nick Thomas-Symonds. It is a book that has all the more resonance because so many of the problems that confronted Wilson are the same ones that the present Government faces... This compelling...excellent biography shows that Wilson was a much bigger figure than the traditional negative caricature suggests... As Thomas-Symonds argues, Britain under him became a more free, equal, tolerant and open society
A timely new biography
Andrew Pierce, DAILY MAIL
In this account, Wilson's concern for the poor, his disgust at racial intolerance and his belief that the prosperity of Britain would best be protected in a European Common Market are the enduring aims of his political life. The Harold Wilson of these pages is not just a dry winner. He is a man animated by passions...Along the way, the reader has a lot to enjoy. The author has a keen eye for the telling story that has not been wearied by repetition...Thomas-Symonds also has a crisp way with vital issues.
I would heartily recommend The Winner to anyone interested in postwar British politics. Mixing anecdote and fact, Thomas-Symonds paints a vivid picture of the era that is hard to find elsewhere
Victoria Honeyman, HISTORY TODAY
In the past there would be weighty figures all over the place who wrote books...Roy Jenkins, Michael Foot...Tony Crosland... [Nick Thomas-Symonds] carries that mantle ..in a way Wilson is his most interesting subject so far
Steve Richards, ROCK & ROLL POLITICS