The Road to ….Devaluation.

19 Jun

Three Years Hard Labour

This book by William Davis was published in 1968. I’m not sure how or when I got hold of a copy, I must have had it for years as it has 2 pounds 20 pence written in pencil on the inside. I have had a fascination with the Wilson Government(era?) for a long time and not sure why I had never read this book.

It has a wonderful cover which I am copying a poor picture of. It shows Harold Wilson on a one pound note. It makes me laugh anyway. If only it was peeping out of a pocket, perhaps it is. The cover is by Bentley,Farrell,Burnett who seemed to do a range of Sergeant Pepper style book covers..


Anyway this book is perhaps the clearest most entertaining book about the first(and second) Wilson Government. Focussing on the economic policy making and in particular the, what later seemed doomed ,attempt to keep the pound at $2.80. The utter lack of control or planning or real ideas comes through on every page. The individual characters are as alive on the page as they were then. It’s a ” Servants of the People” for the white heat generation. So much of the story will be familiar, some not so. The vagaries of the Selective Employment Tax, perhaps the worst designed Tax of modern times. The account found here of Callaghan’s ” performance ” in the House trying to neither confirm or deny the devaluation talks is the clearest you will find anywhere.

I found myself thinking of a number of things, firstly did it matter. The book doesn’t cover the next stage but Roy Jenkins had to make further emergency budgets and cuts to before finally getting some breathing space in 1969. It a long haul and devaluation may have been a card not the only card to play. Would it have mattered if they had done it straight away ? Personally I think a Devaluation that was planned controlled and had a good wrap around package in November 1964 could well have had a better impact. It would have looked strong. The thing Labour never looked in this period ( economically anyway ) was in control.

It also juxtaposes with the Gordon Brown era. I have on the shelf below this book a book called Gordon Brown the first year in power. Written by Pym and Kochan it has an awfully cheesy cover of Brown stood outside number 11. Again it gives a great account of economic policy making in a period of a new government. However this one is in control …of everything. The ideas, the plan the message all well supported.

The other juxtaposition is between Wilson’s attempts to placate the international markets with bluff and bluster and with the current “Grexit” debate. The Greeks, whose position is more favourable to mine than Wilson’s, have been nothing but honest and clear. Had Wilson stood outside Downing street in October 1964 and said here’s the deal, here’s the mess were in, here’s who we wont punish and here’s a way many can contribute ….maybe the last 40 years would have been different. Would the financial markets have really pursued Britain into the ground, its doubtful, they were in that horrible phrase, too big to fail.




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