Exclusive: PM ‘must follow Harold Wilson’s statesmanship’ over EU poll conduct

Harold Wilson did not require a post-referendum reshuffle in 1975.
Harold Wilson did not require a post-referendum reshuffle in 1975.
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DAVID Cameron risks Tory unity still further unless he follows Harold Wilson’s statesmanlike example during the 1975 EEC referendum.

Bernard Donoughue, Mr Wilson’s senior policy adviser at the time, says “the signs are not encouraging” for the Prime Minister as the current campaign becomes more personal.

Even though seven senior Cabinet ministers opposed the Wilson government, and campaigned for Britain to leave the European Economic Community, no post-referendum reshuffle was required because the campaign was conducted courteously on both sides.

Writing exclusively in The Yorkshire Post, Lord Donoughue says: “Wilson knew that he would have to continue to conduct the Labour Cabinet from the day after the vote as a collective unity, with the minimum of scars and persisting bitterness. He did so, and that was a tribute to his campaign skills and his career long priority of maintaining party unity.

“Afterwards, there were no scores to be settled, no post-referendum reshuffle. It remains to be seen if David Cameron can achieve that healing and renewed Cabinet unity. The signs are not encouraging.

“Admittedly his party colleagues – not least Boris Johnson – have not made his task any easier.”

Lord Donoughue also contends that his former boss would have backed the Remain campaign, albeit with reluctance, because Britain’s best interests still lie “in an imperfect Europe and an imperfect world”.