The Beatles Had A Complex Relationship With A Labour Prime Minister

Harold Wilson never quite won them over...

The Beatles virtually defined the 60s in this country, acting as a bell-wether for cultural change. The Fab Four helped to inaugurate a palpable shift, leaving the world in a different – arguably more positive – place than when they first found it. The group’s enormous popularity, however, saw them earn overtures from Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson – something they never quite reciprocated.

On the surface, the two parties have a lot in common. The Beatles hailed from Liverpool, far from the pop apparatus of London, yet rose to the very top. Harold Wilson was born to a working class family in Huddersfield, studied PPE at the University of Oxford, and went on to become leader of the Labour Party.

It took the General Election of 1964 to bring the two together. Harold Wilson sought to create ‘the New Britain’, using the “white heat” of technology for forge new pathways for the country.

Winning an incredibly narrow majority, he began sounding out the flavour of the month – The Beatles.

Outgoing Conservative leader Alec-Douglas-Home had actively mocked the Beatles’ music, so Harold Wilson sought to do the opposite. In the opening weeks of 1965 the band are named in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list, with John, Paul, George, and Ringo each given MBEs.

As a bemused John Lennon said at the time: “I thought you had to drive tanks and win wars to get the MBE.”

Princess Margaret was also bemused, with an utterance that was printed in the Birmingham Post and Mail: “I think MBE must stand for Mr. Brian Epstein.”

So, did The Beatles fall under Mr Wilson’s spell? Erm, not quite. The Prime Minister increased the top rate of tax for high earners, and given their global popularity The Beatles sat in that bracket – and paid a packet as a result.

George Harrison’s ‘Taxman’ was their riposte, the opening song from 1966 album ‘Revolver. Harold Wilson gets a name-checked, but he probably didn’t appreciate it: “Taxman… Mr Wilson / Taxman… Mr Heath”

George later explained that the song was written “when I first realised that even though we had started earning money, we were actually giving most of it away in taxes; it was and still is typical. Why should this be so? Are we being punished for something we have forgotten to do?”

John Lennon’s political evolution took him to the Revolutionary Left. Shortly after the Labour government fell in 1970, he commented: “I thought that the Wilson Government was a big let-down but this Heath lot are worse.”

The songwriter was also the sole Beatle to return his MBE – noting the Wilson government’s decision to actively arm and train Nigerian troops in the Biafran conflict.

So, if we wake up to a Labour Prime Minister on Friday morning (July 5th) he shouldn’t expect an easy ride from pop culture figures – we’ve been down this road before.

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