Martin Bright

The Inevitability of Gradualness

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I have been reading Marcia Williams's 1972 memoir of her time with Harold Wilson, Inside Number 10 (no don't ask why) and come to the chapter with the wonderful title The Inevitability of Gradualness. Here, Wilson's former personal and private secretary weighs up the successes and failures of the 1960s Wilson governments. On the negative side, failure to reform the civil service, on the plus side the Open University: that sort of thing.

At one point Williams quotes New Statesman and Observer contributor Francis Hope writing in the New York Times about the Wilson years: "The achievements of the Labour Government were mostly minor acts of decency." I discover that Hope later died in a plane crash over France, but I congratulate him posthumously for this wonderful piece of analysis.

Hope's words made me think of the achievements of  the New Labour era. There have been some major acts of decency (the minimum wage, the human rights acts, devolution), but these have to be weighed against major acts of indecency (the Iraq War, detention of terror suspects without charge, the abolition of the 10 pence tax band).