Wil­son’s short stint at the top

BBC History Magazine - - Snap Elections - Sarah Richard­son teaches on Bri­tish elec­toral pol­i­tics at the Uni­ver­sity of Warwick

WHY WAS IT CALLED?

The Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment led by Ed­ward Heath was ex­pected to win the Fe­bru­ary 1974 elec­tion, but the out­come was the first post­war hung par­lia­ment.

The Con­ser­va­tives polled the most votes, but were marginally be­hind in the number of seats ob­tained (297 to Labour’s 301). The Ul­ster Union­ists, who op­posed Heath’s plan for a power-shar­ing assem­bly at Stor­mont, re­fused to back the Con­ser­va­tives and so Harold Wil­son formed a mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment. His po­si­tion was, how­ever, pre­car­i­ous, and so he called an­other elec­tion in Oc­to­ber 1974, mak­ing his Fe­bru­ary ad­min­is­tra­tion the short­est term of gov­ern­ment since 1681.

DID THE GAM­BLE PAY OFF?

No. The ex­pected com­fort­able Labour party ma­jor­ity did not ma­te­ri­alise. In the end their ma­jor­ity was only three seats. But Heath had lost three out of the four elec­tions he had con­tested as leader and was re­placed by Mar­garet Thatcher in Fe­bru­ary 1975.

This elec­tion marked the resur­gence of mi­nor­ity par­ties, with Labour forced to do deals with the Lib­er­als, the Ul­ster Union­ists, the Scottish Na­tion­al­ists and Plaid Cymru once they lost their slen­der ma­jor­ity in 1977.

Mar­garet Thatcher in 1975, when she suc­ceeded Ed­ward Heath as leader of the Con­ser­va­tives

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