Hugh Gaitskell and Harold Wilson: fifty years on

Chris Hallam's World View

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Sudden deaths in frontline British politics are mercifully quite rare. In 1970, Iain Macleod died suddenly a month after becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer, a desperate blow to Edward Heath’s new Tory Government. In 1994, Opposition leader John Smith died suddenly of a heart attack. Had he lived, it seems virtually certain he would have led Labour back into power in 1997 instead of Tony Blair.

Although he had been leading Labour for seven years at the time of his death fifty years ago (he led the Opposition for longer than any other post-war leader except Neil Kinnock) it is less certain Hugh Gaitskell would ever have enjoyed the trappings of Downing Street even had he lived. True, Labour did win power again in October 1964. But this was only after Gaitskell’s successor Harold Wilson had immeasurably boosted the party. And even then it was a narrow win. Gaitskell had…

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