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A ‘special relationship’?

Harold Wilson, Lyndon B. Johnson and Anglo-American relations ‘at the summit’, 1964–68

Jonathan Colman

This book is based mainly on government sources, namely material from the White House, State Department, Foreign Office (FO), Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), Prime Minister's Office (PREM) and Cabinet (CAB). Private papers consulted include those of Harold Wilson, Foreign Secretary George Brown and Undersecretary of State George Ball. The book explores a period of the Wilson-Johnson relationship. It considers the seven weeks from Wilson's election until he went to see Lyndon B. Johnson on 7-9 December, a formative period in which Britain cultivated American financial support and which saw pre-summit diplomacy over the NATO Multilateral Force (MLF). The book covers the summit in detail, examining the diplomatic exchanges over the Vietnam War, the British commitment East of Suez and the MLF, as well as the interplay of personality between Wilson and Johnson. By exploring the relationship of the two leaders in the years 1964-1968, it seeks to examine their respective attitudes to the Anglo-American relationship. The book then assesses the significance of an alleged Anglo-American strategic-economic 'deal', Wilson's 'Commonwealth Peace Mission' to Vietnam, and another Wilson visit to Washington. It also considers why the personal relationship between Johnson and Wilson suffered such strain when the Labour government 'dissociated' the UK from the latest American measures in Vietnam. Next, the book addresses the period from August 1966-September 1967, during which Wilson launched an intense but abortive effort to initiate peace negotiations over Vietnam, and London announced plans to withdraw from military bases East of Suez.

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The Labour Governments 1964–70 volume 1

Labour and cultural change

Steven Fielding

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.

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Jonathan Colman

: against doing or saying anything which could imply a shift in the British position away from Washington and towards Hanoi … President Johnson admired and trusted the Prime Minister. He had heard him say several times to doubters or critics that if only a few more Americans had the courage of Harold Wilson the war would already be over. The President saw these matters in intensely

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Conclusion

Harold Wilson and Lyndon B. Johnson: a ‘special relationship’?

Jonathan Colman

This work has examined the question of Harold Wilson, Lyndon B. Johnson and Anglo-American relations ‘at the summit’, 1964–68. By exploring the mutual dealings of the two leaders, it seeks to examine their respective attitudes to the Anglo-American relationship and to one another; how they approached the matters of mutual interest and the extent to which their personal relationship was in any sense a

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Jonathan Colman

remained unimpressed. On 3 June, Bundy wrote to the President, noting Johnson’s ‘scepticism when one or another of us has remarked that the British have been very solid and helpful on Vietnam. And you have recollections … of Harold Wilson’s effort [on 11 February] to telephone his way into a fancy trip to the White House at just the wrong time’. Moreover, Bundy noted, Johnson still felt ‘the wounds of what Home

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Jonathan Colman

consulting the former British Ambassador to Washington, Sir Harold Caccia, Stewart suggested to Wilson that the Prime Minister ‘should first consult Lord Harlech’. Wilson spoke to Harlech ‘by telephone at 1.00 a.m. on Thursday February 11’. He ‘explained the parliamentary situation in this country and the fact that alone of the major powers Britain was appearing to keep silent over Vietnam and appearing simply to tag along in the

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Jonathan Colman

In the months January–July 1966 there was particular strain in the relationship between Harold Wilson and Lyndon B. Johnson. The Labour government won the general election of 31 March with a comfortable majority of ninety-four, but this margin of victory gave rise to a vigorous ‘New Left’ within the Labour Party which would bedevil Wilson’s commitment to Washington. To placate this group, he

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Jonathan Colman

On 6 December 1964, Harold Wilson, along with an unusually large entourage, travelled to the United States to see President Johnson for discussions about a number of issues of mutual concern. These included Britain’s military role East of Suez, the preservation of which the White House urged in support of the United States’s own role in keeping the peace in Asia. For reasons of prestige and to

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Thomas Robb

continuing struggles with the trade union movement, the prime minister decided to call a snap general election under the mantra of ‘Who runs Britain?’ The electorate gave Heath their answer and, in spite of winning the majority of the popular vote, Heath’s Conservative Party failed to achieve a parliamentary majority. Instead, Harold Wilson’s Labour Party had won the largest parliamentary contingent, securing him 301 out of a possible 635 seats. This, however, left him 17 seats short of an overall parliamentary majority, and Heath engaged in talks with the leader of the

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Jonathan Colman

sterling’s parity … instantly added £50,000,000 to defence costs annually’, with the effect that further defence cuts would soon be necessary. 39 On 20 December 1967, Denis Healey, Minister of Defence, advised Wilson to be honest with Johnson when they next met, at a memorial service in Melbourne for the Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt (Holt had drowned on 17 December). Healey told Wilson that ‘that no attempt should be