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BBC News Vote 2001 Vote2001 | Audio Video 
Election Battles 1945-1997
Intro 1945 1950 1951 1955 1959 1964
1966
1970 1974
Feb
1974
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1979 1983 1987 1992 1997
1966: Wilson's Labour landslide
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Overview
Battlefield
Campaign
Personalities
Issues
Results
1966: Heath laughing
The new Tory leader, Edward Heath

Watch and listen 1966
The election results, complete with swingometer
quicktime 56k real 56k
Ted Heath takes to the crowds
quicktime 56k real 56k
Jo Grimond campaigns for the Liberals
quicktime 56k real 56k
Harold Wilson takes on the hecklers in Birmingham
real 28k
Harold Wilson enters Downing Street
real 28k
Key events
1964 Massive trade deficit
1965, Jan Labour loses Leyton by-election
1965, May Labour trails in local elections
1965, July Heath succeeds Alec Douglas-Home
1965, September National Plan published
1966, Jan Labour triumph in Hull by-election

Having just scraped home in 1964, Harold Wilson knew he would have to face the country again soon.

Labour's priority then must have been to project an image of a party fit to govern. But when the largest balance of payments deficit since the war was revealed it only highlighted the government's shaky position, as did defeat in the Leyton by-election.

The loss cut Labour's wafer thin majority and dashed the hopes of a Commons return for Wilson's choice of foreign secretary, Patrick Gordon-Walker.

But as 1965 saw Labour fare badly in local elections the Conservatives treated defeated leader Sir Alec Douglas Home with traditional ruthlessness, installing Edward Heath in his place.

In Heath the Tories hoped they had found their answer to Wilson. Oxford educated, the former Tory chief whip triumphed in a three-way contest, beating Reginald Maudling and Enoch Powell.

The tricky tactical position of the Liberals was made plain when Labour ignored overtures from party leader Jo Grimond to lend his support to the government - even with parliament balanced on a knife edge Liberal attempts to win influence were ignored.

As the months passed, Labour's grip on power tightened, and with a surprisingly solid swing towards the government in a by-election in early 1966 Wilson decided the time was right for Labour to gamble on winning a solid mandate.