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United Kingdom general election, October 1974

← Feb 1974 10 October 1974 1979 →

All 635 seats in the House of Commons
318 seats needed for a majority
Turnout 72.8%, Decrease6.0%
  First party Second party
  Harold Wilson Number 10 official.jpg Heathdod.JPG
Leader Harold Wilson Edward Heath
Party Labour Conservative
Leader since 14 February 1963 28 July 1965
Leader's seat Huyton Sidcup
Last election 301 seats, 37.2% 297 seats, 37.9%
Seats won 319 277
Seat change Increase18 Decrease20
Popular vote 11,457,079 10,462,565
Percentage 39.2% 35.8%
Swing Increase2.0% Decrease2.1%

  Third party Fourth party
  William Wolfe (cropped).gif
Leader Jeremy Thorpe William Wolfe
Party Liberal SNP
Leader since 18 January 1967 1 June 1969
Leader's seat North Devon Ran in West Lothian (lost)
Last election 14 seats, 19.3% 7 seats, 2.0%
Seats won 13 11
Seat change Decrease1 Increase4
Popular vote 5,346,704 839,617
Percentage 18.3% 2.9%
Swing Decrease1.0% Increase0.9%

UK General Election, October 1974.svg
Colours denote the winning party—as shown in § Results

Prime Minister before election

Harold Wilson
Labour

Appointed Prime Minister

Harold Wilson
Labour

The October 1974 United Kingdom general election took place on Thursday, 10 October 1974 to elect 635 members of the House of Commons. It was the second general election held that year, and the first year that two general elections were held in a single year since 1910; 64 years earlier. The election resulted in the Labour Party led by Harold Wilson winning a narrow majority of just 3 seats.

The election of February that year had produced an unexpected hung parliament. Coalition talks between the Conservatives and other parties such as the Liberals and the Ulster Unionists failed, allowing Labour leader Harold Wilson to form a minority government. The October campaign was not as vigorous or exciting as the one in February. Despite continuing high inflation, Labour was able to boast that it had ended the miners' strike, which had dogged Heath's premiership, and had returned some stability. The Conservative Party, still led by Edward Heath, released a manifesto promoting national unity; however, it's chances of forming a government were hindered by the Ulster Unionist Party refusing to take the Conservative whip at Westminster, in response to the Sunningdale Agreement of 1973.

At the election, the Labour Party won 319 seats, allowing it to form a majority government, albeit with a narrow majority of only 3. The Conservatives and the Liberals each saw their vote share decline, and Conservative Party leader Edward Heath, who had lost three of the four elections he contested, was ousted as party leader in February 1975 and replaced with future Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The Scottish National Party won 30% of the Scottish popular vote and 11 of Scotland's 71 seats; their most successful general election result until 2015, where they won 56 of 59 Scottish seats and replaced the Liberal Democrats as the third party.

Subsequently, Labour's narrow parliamentary majority had disappeared by 1977 through a series of by-election losses and defections. It then required deals with the Liberals, the Ulster Unionists, the Scottish Nationalists and the Welsh Nationalists.

This was the last general election victory for the Labour Party until 1997; the next four consecutive general elections all produced an outright Conservative victory.

The election was broadcast live on the BBC, and was presented by David Butler, Alastair Burnet, Robert McKenzie, Robin Day and Sue Lawley.[1]

Campaign[edit]

The brief period between the elections gave Wilson the opportunity to demonstrate reasonable progress. Despite high inflation and high balance-of-trade deficits, the miners' strike that had dogged Heath was over and some stability had been restored. Following the February election Heath had remained largely out of the public eye.[citation needed]

As was expected,[by whom?] the campaign was not as exciting as the one in February and overall coverage by broadcasters was significantly scaled back. The Conservatives campaigned on a manifesto of national unity, in response to the mood of the public. Labour campaigned on its recent successes in government, and although the party was divided over Europe, their strengths outweighed that of Heath, who knew his future relied on an election victory. Devolution was a key issue for the Liberals and the Scottish National Party, and was now one that the two main parties also felt the need to address. The Liberals did not issue a new manifesto, simply reissuing the one they had created for the last election.[2][3]

Timeline[edit]

Prime Minister Harold Wilson made a ministerial broadcast on television on 18 September to announce that the election would be held on 10 October, less than eight months since the previous election. The key dates were as follows:

Friday 20 September Dissolution of the 46th Parliament and campaigning officially begins
Monday 30 September Last day to file nomination papers
Wednesday 9 October Campaigning officially ends
Thursday 10 October Polling day
Friday 11 October The Labour Party wins control with a majority of 3
Tuesday 22 October 47th Parliament assembles
Tuesday 29 October State Opening of Parliament

Results[edit]

Labour achieved a swing of 2% against the Conservatives. This was the first time since 1922 that a government had won an overall majority with less than 40% of the vote, albeit a majority of only 3. The Conservatives won just 36% of the vote, their worst share since 1945; and a slight drop in the Liberal vote saw them suffer a net loss of 1 seat. In Scotland, the SNP added another 4 seats to their successes in the previous election to become the 4th largest party.

319 277 13 11 15
Labour Conservative Lib SNP O
UK General Election October 1974
Candidates Votes
Party Leader Stood Elected Gained Unseated Net % of total % No. Net %
  Labour Harold Wilson 623 319 20 2 +18 50.2 39.2 11,457,079 +2.0
  Conservative Edward Heath 622 277 2 22 −20 43.6 35.8 10,462,565 −2.1
  Liberal Jeremy Thorpe 619 13 1 2 −1 2.1 18.3 5,346,704 −1.0
  SNP William Wolfe 71 11 4 0 +4 1.7 2.9 839,617 +0.9
  UUP Harry West 7 6 0 1 −1 0.9 0.9 256,065 +0.1
  Plaid Cymru Gwynfor Evans 36 3 1 0 +1 0.5 0.6 166,321 +0.1
  SDLP Gerry Fitt 9 1 0 0 0 0.2 0.6 154,193 +0.1
  National Front John Kingsley Read 90 0 0 0 0 0.4 113,843 +0.2
  Vanguard William Craig 3 3 0 0 0 0.5 0.3 92,262 +0.1
  DUP Ian Paisley 2 1 0 0 0 0.2 0.3 59,451 +0.1
  Alliance Oliver Napier 5 0 0 0 0 0.2 44,644 +0.1
  Independent Labour N/A 7 0 0 1 −1 0.2 33,317 +0.1
  Independent Republican N/A 1 1 1 0 +1 0.2 0.2 32,795 +0.2
  Republican Clubs Tomás Mac Giolla 5 0 0 0 0 0.1 21,633 +0.1
  Unionist Party NI Brian Faulkner 2 0 0 0 0 0.1 20,454 N/A
  Communist John Gollan 29 0 0 0 0 0.1 17,426 0.0
  Democratic Labour Dick Taverne 1 0 0 1 −1 0.1 13,714 +0.1
  NI Labour Alan Carr 3 0 0 0 0 0.0 11,539 0.0
  Independent N/A 32 0 0 0 0 0.0 8,812 −0.1
  Independent Ulster Unionist N/A 1 0 0 0 0 0.0 4,982 N/A
  United Democratic James Tippett 13 0 0 0 0 0.0 4,810 N/A
  Ind. Conservative N/A 4 0 0 0 0 0.0 4,559 0.0
  More Prosperous Britain Tom Keen and Harold Smith 25 0 0 0 0 0.0 4,301 0.0
  Workers Revolutionary Gerry Healey 10 0 0 0 0 0.0 3,404 0.0
  Independent Liberal N/A 3 0 0 0 0 0.0 3,277 −0.2
  Volunteer Political Ken Gibson 1 0 0 0 0 0.0 2,690 N/A
  Irish Civil Rights N/A 7 0 0 0 0 0.0 2,381 N/A
  PEOPLE Tony Whittaker 5 0 0 0 0 0.0 1,996 0.0
  Marxist-Leninist (England) John Buckle 8 0 0 0 0 0.0 1,320 0.0
  English National Frank Hansford-Miller 2 0 0 0 0 0.0 1,115 N/A
  United English National John Kynaston 1 0 0 0 0 0.0 793 N/A
  Marxist-Leninist (Ireland) Carole Reakes 3 0 0 0 0 0.0 540 N/A
  Mebyon Kernow Richard Jenkin 1 0 0 0 0 0.0 384 N/A
  Socialist (GB) N/A 1 0 0 0 0 0.0 118 N/A
All parties shown.
Government's new majority 3
Total votes cast 29,189,104
Turnout 72.8%

Votes summary[edit]

Popular vote
Labour
39.25%
Conservative
35.8%
Liberal
18.32%
Scottish National
2.88%
Ulster Unionist
0.88%
Plaid Cymru
0.57%
Social Democratic and Labour
0.53%
National Front
0.39%
Independent
0.3%
Others
1.08%

Seats summary[edit]

Parliamentary seats
Labour
50.24%
Conservative
43.62%
Liberal
2.05%
Scottish National
1.73%
Ulster Unionist
0.94%
Plaid Cymru
0.47%
Vanguard
0.47%
Others
0.47%

Incumbents defeated[edit]

Conservative[edit]

Liberal[edit]

Ulster Unionist Party[edit]

Democratic Labour[edit]

Independent Labour[edit]

Labour[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Election 1974 (October) – Part 1 on YouTube, UK General Election 1974 – Results Round-up on YouTube
  2. ^ 1974 Oct: Wilson makes it four, BBC News, 5 April 2005, retrieved 8 June 2018 
  3. ^ "10 October 1974", BBC Politics 97, retrieved 8 June 2018 

Further reading[edit]

  • Butler, David E.; et al. (1975), The British General Election of October 1974, the standard scholarly study 
  • Craig, F. W. S. (1989), British Electoral Facts: 1832–1987, Dartmouth: Gower, ISBN 0900178302 

External links[edit]

Manifestos

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