The ambiguities of opposition: Economic decline, international cooperation, and political rivalry in the nuclear policies of the Labour Party, 1963-64

David Gill

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    3 Citations (Scopus)


    This article explores the twenty-month period between Harold Wilson securing the leadership of the opposition in February 1963 and the General Election of October 1964. It considers how Wilson balanced his own approach to nuclear weapons with the demands of the party and broader international constraints. As the Leader of the Opposition principally sought to satisfy the needs of the party, which often came at the expense of a more conciliatory negotiating position with Washington. In private discussions with foreign officials, he vigorously contested any future commitments to nuclear sharing, and cast doubt on Britain's future as a nuclear power. International pressures, however, eventually led the Leader of the Opposition to produce a number of subtle caveats to his negotiating position. In contrast to this private and more aggressive style of nuclear diplomacy, Wilson's public position was far more ambivalent and intentionally ambiguous. Claims that he could not make a final decision on the future of the Polaris programme, and thus nuclear sharing, until he was in power provided a convenient way to keep the party united without necessarily committing to cancellation. Wilson's criticisms of the Polaris programme also complemented the Labour Party's efforts to highlight the Conservative government's perceived mishandling of the national economy.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1-26
    Number of pages26
    JournalContemporary British History
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2011


    • British Economy
    • Harold Wilson
    • Labour Party
    • Nuclear Weapons
    • US-UK Relations

    Cite this