People Like Us: How Harold Wilson’s Ordinariness Changed the Political Identity of Britain
Political leaders of Britain have evolved from removed statesmen, who maintained a distinction between Prime Minister and people, to cultural figures who desperately try to convince the electorate that they are ‘one of us’. In the 1960s, traditional boundaries between politics and society began to erode. Prime Minister Harold Wilson revelled in the 1966 World Cup victory, indulged in Beatlemania, and generally participated in the social life of the United Kingdom; in doing so, he helped reclaim politics for the ordinary person. The premiership of an ageing Yorkshireman seems contradictory against the 1960s backdrop of sexual liberation, changing moral codes, and youth culture. However, this paper argues that Wilson’s image of mundane normality was vital in the seismic shift that Britain experienced during his political tenure. Going beyond existing portrayals of Wilson as a one-dimensional figure and the 1960s as a time of radical upheaval, this paper uses previously unexamined sources relating to the political landscape of his election, his place in British popular culture, and his relationship with the Isles of Scilly to provide a nuanced understanding of such a significant period. With his iconic pipe, Yorkshire accent, and ordinary image, Wilson bridged the gap between the tradition he visually represented and the modern world he was politically and socially constructing. It was this unification that allowed him to successfully oversee a reconstitution of the relationship between people and Prime Minister, a fundamental upon which contemporary society has come to be built.