This book is the first in the new series The Labour Governments 1964–70 and concentrates on Britain's domestic policy during Harold Wilson's tenure as Prime Minister. It deals, in particular, with how the Labour government and Labour party as a whole tried to come to terms with the 1960's cultural revolution. The book is grounded in original research, takes account of responses from Labour's grass roots and from Wilson's ministerial colleagues, and constructs a total history of the party at this critical moment in history. It situates Labour in its wider cultural context and focuses on how the party approached issues such as the apparent transformation of the class structure, the changing place of women in society, rising immigration, the widening generation gap, and increasing calls for direct participation in politics. Together with the other volumes in the series, on international policy and economic policy, the book provides an insight into the development of Britain under Harold Wilson's government.
than smiles and sunshine. Wilson’s basic proposition was that
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his government had been economically ‘responsible’, even at the risk of
losing electoral support. Yet, as he informed those watching his last
television broadcast of the campaign, economic strength was not an end
in itself. ‘The socialism I believe in’, he stated, ‘means above all using
all our resources for making Britain a better place to live in and for a
Labourgovernment this means sharing prosperity in a way which is fair
and just’. Thus
-leaving age from fifteen to sixteen
years; improve technical training; and increase the number of places in
higher education. The main emphasis was, however, on reforming secondary education, in particular abolishing segregated schooling. Labour’s
overall aim was to equalise opportunities, to improve individual attainment and to increase economic output, as it was asserted that a fairer
society would be more productive.10
The 1945–51 Labourgovernments had applied the 1944 Education
Act (passed by the wartime coalition) because it enshrined the principle
of universal free
and nationalisation. Despite that, Labour’s campaign was judged superior to the
ruling party’s, up to the point at which Gaitskell made what even sympathisers viewed as a serious blunder. He promised that taxes would
not rise under a Labourgovernment, as any extra spending would be
financed through growth. This the Conservatives successfully presented
as an irresponsible electoral bribe and Labour never recovered its
How important such matters were to the final outcome is questionable, as the contest was held during a period of general, sustained and
officials resentfully put it, the Prime Minister had
‘publicly saddled’ Judith Hart with that job when she was promoted to
Paymaster General in October 1968.30 Hart’s task was met with cynicism
by the right-wing press, with the Daily Mail referring to her as ‘“trendy”
Judith’.31 Apart from journalistic scorn, she faced other disadvantages.
In particular, with mounting by-election and municipal losses, 1968 was
not the best of times for a Labour minister to show faith in the people’s
judgement. As Hart stated before her elevation, a Labourgovernment
was ‘by its nature, a
due to other
factors, many of which were beyond its control – it nonetheless illuminates the rationale for the party’s actions.
Given this concern with culture, the work casts its net wider than
most studies of contemporary British political history.2 The actions of
the Labourgovernments are placed in a milieu that includes more than
Cabinet ministers, top civil servants and members of the National Executive Committee, as a focus on the workings of Whitehall and Transport
House tends to abstract politics from society. For one of the purposes
here is to establish
102 Brixton CLP papers, IV/156/1/9, Stockwell ward minutes, 22 September 1960.
103 Anonymous, ‘Down to the grass roots’, Socialist Commentary, 18, January
1954, p. 23; Gould, ‘Riverside’, pp. 16–18.
104 See, for example, D. Coates, ‘Labourgovernments: old constraints and
new parameters’, New Left Review, 291 (1996), pp. 63–4.
105 Bethnal Green CLP papers, TH/8488, GMC minutes, 6 and 24 January 1951.
106 Labour Organiser, 40:464 (1961), pp. 25–6.
107 North Kensington CLP papers, circulars to members, Agenda of Borough
Electoral Committee, Agenda of General
; Daily Sketch, 27 April 1968.
Crossman, Diaries II, p. 785.
PREM 13/2314, Hall’s memo to all private secretaries, 23 and 24 April
CAB 152/11, transcript of Panorama, transmitted BBC1, 29 April 1968.
H. Wilson, The LabourGovernment, 1964–70 (Harmondsworth, 1971),
CAB 152/112, The Urban Programme. Report on development and strategy,
News of the World, 7 April 1968.
This account is based on CAB 134/2899, Ministerial Committee on Immigration and Assimilation, minutes, 10 April 1968, and Note by the Secretary
of State for the Home
-lived triumph as Gaitskell won the support of delegates at the
1961 conference to reverse the decision.104 Heffer recognised that the
young revolutionaries did not want to influence Labour to achieve their
ends – as one of their aims was to destroy the party. He nonetheless
proposed meeting with VSC leaders to encourage them to put their
energies into changing, not attacking, Labour. While even some leftwing MPs believed their party was finished as a radical force, most
believed socialism could come only through a Labourgovernment, so it
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This chapter highlights Labour's attempts to draw younger women into the party and how it handled the issue of equal pay once in power. It first outlines the place of women in the party at the start of the 1960s, to locate subsequent events in their proper context. It focuses on Labour's response to women's changing place in society by looking at how officials promoted a variety of organisational reforms designed to increase the number of younger female members. The chapter then discusses Labour's efforts to come to terms with the perceived need to address gender inequality in the later part of the decade. Labour's women activists were in other respects broadly content with the party's emphases. Furthermore, Labour's women also blamed members of their own sex as much as or more than men for inequalities feminists would subsequently deem to be the result of ‘patriarchy’.