MR. Harold Wilson is likely to remain Prime Minister for some time to come. That is my considered judgment after the events of the past weeks. There can equally be no doubt that for a time the Prime Minister was in some danger of being toppled or at least in greater danger than he has ever been in before. How did this come about? Mr. Wilson's position has never been as solid within the Labour party as it has seemed to the public. The right wing of the party has never trusted him and never liked him and a hard core of right-wingers have always been implacably opposed to his leadership. They have been reinforced by disgruntled ex-Ministers, such as Mr. Ray Gunter and Mr. George Brown, who have been waiting for the chance to put the knife in. The centre of the party has not been hostile to the Prime Minister but equally has not been enthusiastically for him, but it is this centre of trade unionists and others who have kept the party on an even keel. On the left Mr. Wilson has traditionally found his support and those like Mr. Michael Foot, who have been growing steadily more disenchanted with the Prime Minister's right-wing policies. have nevertheless taken much more from him in this line than they would have ever tolerated from a man say like the late Hugh Gaitskell. The left has been growing increasingly restive and over the past weeks Mr. Wilson achieved the dubious, double of alienating boththe left and the traditionalist centre. The left wing of the party was dismayed and disgruntled by the dismissal of Mr. John Silkin. who has followed a sensible policy of not trying to run the labour party on too tight a rein. and replacing him by Mr. Bob Mellish. The press built up Mr. Mellish as a stern disciplinarian determined to bring all leftish rebels to heel and he added to this impression by an intemperate speech to the Parliamentary Labour Party when he threatened them with a dissolution of parliament if they did not toe the line. This infuriated the left wing of the party and finally disenchanted them with Mr. Wilson and so the Prime Minister lost his most solid segment of support. At the same time by his cavalier treatment of Mr. Silkin, a personal friend and confidant, he was hardly giving encouragement to his other friends in the party to rally round him. If this was Mr. Silkin's reward what would theirsbe? At the same time as Mr. Wilson was cutting himself off from his natural grass roots support he lost the centre of the party and the solid trade union block of Members by his reforming industrial legislation with its threat of fines for workers who go in for unofficial strikes. Now this legislation or some legislation may well be necessary for the good of the country, and it may be good see a government l itics to l t the sta n dcountry n tp to oneof its own vested interests for the general good, but if in so doing you disintegrate your own party the policy must be mistaken and this is precisely what Mr. Wilson has done. He and Mrs. Castle much underestimated the opposition to trade union reform in the Labour Party. They under-estimated the resistance which would be put up by trade union leaders themselves. This is certainly foolish of the trade union leaders since legislative reform is hound to conic and they could make a much better deal for themselves with a Labour than with a Tory Government but nevertheless they have chosen to fight the legislation every inch ofthe way. Mr. Wilson now finds himself as a Prime Minister with no solid bloc of support within the party. This would notmatter so much if he was the darling of the country and could appeal over the heads of Members of Parliament to the electorate as a whole but he cannot do so since his stock in the country, as the opinion polls show, has never been so low. He thus finds himself for the momentthe prisoner of his Cabinet. If the members of the Cabinet could unite in the choice of a successor Mr. Wilson would not last twentyfour hours but the strength of his position is that they cannot do so. Mr. Callaghan is the popular choice for Mr. Wilson's successor (I cannot think why since his economic policies have been the principal cause of the Labour party's decline) but neither Mr. Jenkins nor Mrs. Castle would be prepared to serve under him. So one could go on through the rest of the Cabinet. Hardly any of them, with the exception of Mr. Ted Short and Mr. George Thomas, would go down fighting for Mr. Wilson but they prefer serving under Mr. Wilson and so keeping their options open to submitting to the rule of another colleague. Mr. Wilson's position is then at the moment a weak and unenviable one, but he is a man of courage. optimism, and resolve. Such qualities get you half-way home in a moment of crisis. He is also remarkably pliant and skilful in negotiation and this should get him over the other half of the journey to safety. predict that Mr. Wilson will at once start rebuilding his bridges. The muchvaunted strict discipline and harrying of the left, which Mr. Mellish was supposed to usher in, will not materialise. On the trade union legislation Mr. Wilson will move towards compromise and will hold out olive branches to the embattled trade unionists. In the end the industrial legislation will be even more innocuous than it is now but Mr. Wilson will have survived. Houdini will have done it again. That is my judgment of the situation: whether it is correct only time will tell.
Page 4, 9th May 1969
9th May 1969
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Why Wilson will survive attempts to unseat him
Keywords: Harold Wilson, Bob Mellish, Baron Mellish, Michael Foot, G, New Zealand Labour Party, Politics
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