If there is one thing I have tried to keep firmly away from my current work on The Labour Party, Spin and the 1997 and 1966 party machines it’s the controversial relationship between Harold Wilson and his Personal and Political Secretary Marcia Williams (later Lady Falkender). It has proved to be an impossible goal as we can see here.
The archives over in Manchester have given up their once bounty again in two notes dated 28th February 1966 and March 1st 1966. The second one indicates the level of readiness of election technology (a telephone link or “gadget” according to Williams) that was available at the time. Wilson had called the 1966 election, well let’s let Ben Pimlott tell us:
“A week later (second week of February) , the Prime Minister told the newspaper proprietor Cecil King (but not his own colleagues) that he was thinking of 2431 March; King passed on this intelligence to the leader of the opposition before Wilson had officially told Cabinet the actual date (31st of March) at the end of February.”1
King, an ally of Wilson, and chairman of Daily Mirror Newspapers, Sunday Pictorial Newspapers and the International Publishing Corporation, was to fall out with Harold in 1968 in a huge, and mad way via a coup2 but this is a story for another time.
That note, with William’s signature is fun, rather quaint and reflects changing times and indicative the job of a Personal and Political Secretary. By this way this form of PPS is not the be confused with Peter Shore, Wilson’s Parliamentary Private secretary, yes, a PPS just to confuse matters (and to ensure I double-checked). It is not, however, the keynote.
This is the one dated 28 February 1966 from Downing Street, Whitehall and addressed to Percy Clark, the Director of Publicity at Labour’s HQ at Transport House. It makes for an astonishing read if looked at from our Spun age.
Could I put to you the idea of having someone from the press Department in the Prime Minister’s constituency during the campaign.
I think this was done last time, and of course it is even more important this time than last as the agent is very overworked and gets swamped with press calls from both domestic and overseas press.
Could you let me know what you think? I think it might be a good idea if you could see the P. M. Free short time to talk about the press side of things, as he would very much like your advice.
Personal and Political Secretary
Let’s just sit back and read that again. The Director of Publicity is being asked if he thinks it might be a good idea to have, “someone from the press Department in the Prime Minister’s constituency during the campaign.” That’s the 1966 General Election campaign.
Imagine Tony Blair’s PPS writing that as a quick email before lunch? Or David Cameron’s or whoever the hell is going to lead whatever remains of the Labour Party in 2020?
How times change.
1Harold Wilson by Ben Pimlott, Harper Collins, 1993, p396
2The Guardian, 16th September 2011, ‘The day the Mirror’s megalomaniac tried to launch a political coup‘ by Roy Greenslade.