Harold Wilson is said to have assured his biographer, who protested that he was not a socialist, that neither was he. If anyone is looking for a partisan encomium in this excellent book, it won't be found.
To some extent, this is a history of the office of Prime Minister. Harold Wilson led a party which is alleged to be all about breaking with the past and forging a new path in accordance with the lights of the supposed, latest insights of its followers. But the whole exercise of writing an historical book such as this begs questions about the way he related to such ideas.
Harold Wilson was a statistician extraordinary, of course. But this work, written in the early years of his retirement, shows he was also very historically aware.
Yet the main feeling I got was that the most remarkable thing about the book is that it was written at all, that is, authored by someone who held the office of Prime Minister. And he pulls it off, too. (Some other, former British Prime Ministers would not have sounded as convincing: for example, could John Major write an authentic-sounding work on why he perfected the legacy of Edmund Burke in the Conservative Party? or Gordon Brown, on how he and the legacy of Keir Hardie ought to stick together?)
The Prime Minister of whom Harold Wilson reminds me most is Stanley Baldwin, who gets quite sympathetic treatment in the book. This is in the sense that both men, who exercised more than one term of Prime Ministerial office, were outwardly affable, mediator figures whose own, personal positions were often obscure and elusive, to the frustration of ministerial colleagues and the bafflement of the public.
So Harold Wilson, like Baldwin, as a highly astute practitioner of the art of the possible? Maybe this, rather than party ideology, is what being Prime Minister is more about?