Having given us the sketch of Britain on the day Wilson was returned to power, chapter 1, offers us a quick history of that return to power. This is well written, and it reads like a novelisation of events. The problem is that this is what this is, there are areas of colour filled in which are entirely fictitious (or based on sources that are not referenced). Elsewhere, selective and one-sided quoting gives a misleading picture
So we have a wonderfully written evocation of Wilson as a lost man, at first contemplating defeat, “downcast”, “trudging” (on both pages 7 and 8 of Seasons), hushed, dimmed and somehow reduced. Dominic is keen to point out that he was not there, this is what he has gleaned from the sources. The problem is this is not what the sources say.
In a paragraph based on Bernard Donoughue’s Downing Street Diary, Dominic tells us that on election day Wilson had “drafted an elaborate escape plan” although as the election result started to come, the plan was no longer needed (Seasons, p7). But what we have here is half the story, Donoughue tells us that Wilson also had plans of what to do if he won, he would stay for a couple of years, unite the party, maybe line up Roy Jenkins as successor (Donoughue, p42). The full picture is that Wilson had a plan of what to do if he won, and what to do if he lost. Very reasonable given how close the election was. By painting a picture of Wilson only considering what to do when he lost, Dominic is giving us a distorted picture.
Dominic continues his caricature of Wilson. Behind in the polls, he is a solitary, pathetic figure “a downcast little figure trudging through the rain” (Seasons, p7). Again, this is based on Donoughue’s vignette of the evening of election where Wilson and Donoughue accompanies Wilson on a walk through his Liverpool constituency, “He looks like the local candidate and I sensed that everybody saw him as a loser, who would soon be just a back bench MP At times we walked in the rain, just the two of us…. rather lonely figures lost in anonymous wet streets.” (Donoughue, p43). But this is a moment when defeat seems likely. But elsewhere that day Wilson and his team were “very cosy” and in “good form”. (p41). The picture is of an up and down rollercoaster, the ghost train all the way. Again, what does not fit “the thesis” is missed out.
That was Thursday, election day. Jump forward to Monday 4th March and the portrait of Wilson as a sad, tired man continues. So we have Wilson who “looked older than his fifty-seven years, a white haired little man in a crumpled suit.” Wilson is trudging (again) into number 10, “And as he laconically raised his hand in victory, there were no fine words….”We have a job to do,” he said slowly, his flat Yorkshire voice barely audible above the mingled cheers and boos of the crowd…..” (Seasons, p8).
Again the picture is clear, a tired man, being booed, slouching into Number 10. There are three references for this paragraph, and I have read them all. They are Time 18/3/1974, The Times and The Daily Mirror 5/3/1974.
What Time says is:
“With practiced aplomb, Harold Wilson last week took charge of Britain as if he had been swept into power by a landslide. Shortly before 8:30 last Monday night, a black Rover drew up in front of No. 10 Downing Street; the crowd that had gathered outside gave an approving cheer. Pausing on the doorstep, the new Prime Minister impatiently waved aside the applause. “We have a job to do,” he said in his flat Yorkshire accent.” (Time, 18/4/1974). No boos, no tired, no crumbled. The impatience of a man wanting to get back into power of the Time article becomes the terse irritability of a man who has “no fine words” but is, indeed, trudging.
Similarly, The Daily Mirror is, unsurprisingly for a Labour paper, positive, and there is no sign of these negative words in The Times (5/3/1974)
Donoughue is not referenced in this paragraph, but it is good to see what his diary has to say here. “Back to No. 10 Downing Street and everyone feels marvellous….. This is rubbing out the past…” (Donoughue, Diaries p54). Or this from Ian Aitken and Peter Chippindale in The Guardian (5/3/1974) “Mr Wilson arrived at No. 10 two hours after Mr Heath had left. He was given a rapturous ovation by a crowd of about three hundred people outside. As he stepped from his car he looked serious, but then he stood on the steps and smiled at the crowd.” Even the Daily Express who one might expect to be critical, has “To cheers from the crowd of around 300, Mr. Wilson in a dark grey suit and white shirt with club tie walked into to Number 10…. and Mrs. Wilson looking as if she had come from the hairdresser said she was feeling “just fine”” (5/3/1974).
In the next paragraph, Dominic has “It wasn’t like old times. Things have changed too much for that” quoted from The Mirror (5/4/1974) The optimism had “evaporated” says Dominic on this evidential base. But this is about the circumstances inherited, not optimism, The Mirror continuing, “now there are problems with roaring inflation, runaway prices, huge balance of payments deficits…And not even the comfort of an overall majority” (The Daily Mirror, 5/3/1974).
So having created a sense of pessimism that the facts simply do not bear, Dominic can contrast this to the 1964 election full of hope. But “British morale” had been battered and dented by the previous “almost eight years” in a “litany of disaster”. And now comes one of Dominic’s lists. Throwing things at the proposition in the hope that some of them will stick without the need for anything like analysis. The list is devaluation (presumably 1967, the start of the “nearly eight years”), The outbreak of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland”, “A crippling miners’ strike”, The collapse of the stock market. (Seasons, p8). The point is that this is not an analysis, it is a list of things that are not shown to have dented morale, just assumed to have. But at least he hasn’t made these up.