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Diary of an ‘irregular’ sheds light on Wilson government

Lionel Barber, Editor of the Financial Times, Sir Samuel Brittan and Professor Roger Middleton

Lionel Barber, Editor of the Financial Times, Sir Samuel Brittan and Professor Roger Middleton

Press release issued: 20 April 2012

A diary which provides a unique insight into the Wilson government is published this month. Inside the Department of Economic Affairs: Samuel Brittan, the Diary of an 'Irregular', 1964-6 , is edited by Professor Roger Middleton in the Department of History.

Inside the Department of Economic Affairs: Samuel Brittan, the Diary of an 'Irregular', 1964-6 , is edited by Professor Roger Middleton in the Department of History.

The rise and fall of the Department of Economic Affairs (DEA) parallels the promised but eventually unfulfilled modernization agenda of the 1964-6 Wilson government.

The diary kept by Samuel Brittan (in contravention of civil service rules) for the fourteen months in which he served as an 'irregular' (now known as special advisers) in the DEA provides a unique source for understanding the growth ambitions of the new government and why they quickly ran into the sands.

Published here in full, with extensive notes, the diary sheds light on the Wilson government more broadly, giving insights into the 'great reappraisal' of economic policy, the reform of government institutions and the personalities of those involved.

Samuel Brittan emerged as the most important economic journalist of his generation (at the Financial Times from 1955, with brief interruptions, to the present).  His diary is of interest for that reason alone, but it has a double value because of the special place that his book, The Treasury under the Tories, 1951-64, has in diagnoses of successive failures in postwar British economic policy.  The diary is central to understanding why Brittan turned against 1960s dirigisme and thus constitutes an important contribution to the early intellectual history of the reaction against the postwar consensus.

This diary is part of a series of work that Professor Middleton has produced in a project entitled 'Brittan on Britain', including a paper in the Historical Journal and forthcoming in a collection, one of the editors of which is his colleague in the Department of Historical Studies, Dr Hugh Pemberton.

Inside the Department of Economic Affairs: Samuel Brittan, the Diary of an 'Irregular', 1964-6 is published by Oxford University Press, £50.  The book was launched at an event at the Financial Times on 10 April, hosted by the British Academy.

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