Labour: Power For How Long?

  • D. E. Butler
  • Anthony King


In the two years before the 1964 election the Labour party constructed an elaborate apparatus for the making of electoral strategy. It included the campaign committee, which remained continuously in being from 1962, the National Executive and its various subcommittees, and the publicity organisation under John Harris. This apparatus linked together the permanent staff at Transport House under the NEC, and the party in parliament. It had a single purpose: to win the coming election. The party leader, whether Hugh Gaitskell or Mr. Wilson, was the most powerful single person involved — no major decision could be taken against his will or without his being consulted — but to some extent the apparatus had a life of its own. Certain procedures were developed, and certain constitutional proprieties had to be observed. Even the leader had to work in harness with others.


Prime Minister Opinion Poll Labour Government Labour Party Party Official 
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  1. 1.
    James Margach, ‘Mr. Wilson’s Psychology of Power’, Sunday Times, October 24th, 1965.Google Scholar
  2. Peregrine Worsthorne after an early interview with the Prime Minister, ‘Wilson on His Hundred Days’, Sunday Telegraph, January 24th, 1965Google Scholar
  3. William Rees-Mogg, ‘What’s Gone Wrong?’, Sunday Times, June 6th, 1965.Google Scholar
  4. 1.
    James Margach, ‘Mr. Wilson Learns a Lesson’, Sunday Times, May 16th, 1965.Google Scholar
  5. 1.
    Nora Beloff, ‘ Lib-Lab Breeze from Scillies’, Observer, August 8th, 1965.Google Scholar
  6. 1.
    Sunday Telegraph, September 19th, 1965. This view was not held universally; cf. Michael Steed, New Outlook, Nov.-Dee. 1965, p. 4.Google Scholar
  7. 1.
    For a persuasive statement of the case for an early election, see R. L. Leonard, ‘Why It Should Be March’, Guardian, January 3rd, 1966. Mr. Leonard laid particular stress on the fresh register. He also pointed out that, once having committed himself to October, the Prime Minister could be accused of hanging on for partisan reasons if, when October came, he held back from having an election because it looked as though Labour would lose.Google Scholar
  8. 1.
    It is still not clear which ministers were pressing the Prime Minister in which direction. For a list of the advocates of an early election, see James Margach, ‘April Election is Now Almost a Certainty ’, Sunday Times, February 6th, 1966. Most of the arguments advanced by his colleagues, with the possible exception of Treasury economic forecasts, must have been familiar to Mr. Wilson. He probably heeded them only in so far as they weighed in his calculation of the personal risks of staying on.Google Scholar
  9. 1.
    Quoted by James Margach, ‘Wilson Mopping Up the Centre’, Sunday Times, January 30th, 1966.Google Scholar
  10. Quoted by James Margach, ‘Wilson Mopping Up the Centre’, Sunday Times, January 30th, 1966. On January 30th the reports of all the leading political correspondents suggested that the Prime Minister was edging away from a spring election. It is possible, of course, that Mr. Wilson was merely trying to find out how strong a reaction they would provoke. At this time, too, much was made of Mr. Wilson’s alleged indecisiveness; see e.g. Alan Watkins, ‘Lord Protector Wilson’, Spectator, February 4th, 1966.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© D. E. Butler and Anthony King 1966

Authors and Affiliations

  • D. E. Butler
    • 1
  • Anthony King
    • 2
  1. 1.Nuffield CollegeOxfordUK
  2. 2.University of EssexUK

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