When Mary Wilson voted “No”
I thought I had come across a sensational story when reading Lord Butler’s comments at a Foreign Office seminar in February – the one in which he repeated his disparaging views of Tony Blair’s decision-making before the Iraq invasion. As an aside, talking about how Harold Wilson managed his Cabinet in the European referendum of 1975, he said (page 30):
Incidentally, his wife, Mary Wilson, still alive, aged 96,* lives two blocks along from us, and she said to me the other day with a great glint in her eye, ‘You know, I voted no.’ She said it was the only time she ever voted against Harold. What he could do with his Cabinet he could not necessarily do inside his own household.
That story is not in Ben Pimlott’s biography of Wilson, but she did tell Roy Hattersley about it in a rare interview for the Mail on Sunday in 2007:
In 1975, she had the courage to follow her convictions and vote against one of her husband’s flagship policies.
His government had decided to let the people decide, through a referendum, if Britain should confirm its membership of the Common Market. After the Wilsons had returned to their ministerial car from the polling booth, Mary told her husband: “I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t do it.”
Wilson had voted for Britain to remain in Europe, and his wife had voted to come out. “He was very sweet about it,” says Mary.
Asked if she still holds the same view, the best she can say about Britain’s European destiny is: “You can’t unscramble eggs.”
Well, I think it is an extraordinary tale. I am amazed that there wasn’t more fuss made about it at the time.
Photograph: Mary and Harold Wilson with Zara and Harold Holt, Australian prime minister, in 1967.
*Actually, she was and is 97.Tagged in: 1975 referendum, contemporary history, euroscepticism
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