When Harold Wilson became head of the Labour Party in Britain, succeeding Hugh Gaitskell, who had died in February of 1963, he hit the proverbial ground running. Thrust into a world of uncertainty, via the Cold War and the heating up of East-West tensions over Berlin. The Common Market, which had just voted not to include Britain by way of pressure from Charles De Gaulle. The Vietnam War and considerations over just how much Britain would contribute, should a full-blown war break out.
On the upside, employment was at its lowest and the British economy was considered strong. Still, there was a lot of unsettling issues on the horizon, which would only come to the forefront over months and years.
Wilson’s rise to Prime Minister was a year off – but then, 1964 would be a pivotal year for a lot of things.
During his first few weeks in office, Harold Wilson paid a visit to Washington to get better acquainted with the Kennedy style and American positions on world affairs. It was during this visit that he was persuaded to appear on the NBC News program Meet The Press and undergo a barrage of questions regarding the then-current state of affairs in Britain.
With all the controversy bubbling up over Brexit these past few weeks, listening to this interview with Harold Wilson gives some historic perspective on things. Granted, the world of 1963 was considerably different than the world of 2016. Britain was still a very powerful force in the world and was in the midst of a very strong economy, some fifty-three years ago. And even though not being a member of the Common Market was a point of concern, it wasn’t the much feared exclusion some thought it would be. Britain was still holding on to some colonial possessions (though less than there were prior to World War 2), but it still prided itself on being self-sufficient. The difference between then and now is marked, but it was an important period of time.
Here is that complete Meet The Press interview with newly installed Labour Party Leader Harold Wilson, as broadcast on April 7, 1963.