Wilson’s short stint at the top
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