BBC Homepage News World Service Sport Education My BBC BBC News Vote 2001
BBC HOMEPAGE | NEWS | WORLD SERVICE | SPORT | MY BBC help
BBC News Vote 2001 Vote2001 | Audio Video 
Election Battles 1945-1997
Intro 1945 1950 1951 1955 1959 1964 1966 1970
1974
Feb
1974
0ct
1979 1983 1987 1992 1997
1974 February: On balance, Wilson wins
Back
Next

Overview
Battlefield
Campaign
Personalities
Issues
Results
1974 February: Miners
Miners' rally for higher wages

Watch and listen 1974 Feb
The highlights of election night from BBC Radio 1
real 28k
The miners' strike: Political leaders call for a settlement
real 28k
Lancashire textile workers and the 3-day week
quicktime 56k real 56k
Heath "needed the miners' strike says Wilson
real 28k
Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe after negotiations with Heath
real 28k
Harold Wilson on the inconclusive results
quicktime 56k real 56k
Key events
1970 Tory chancellor Iain Macleod dies
1972 Miners' strike
1973, 1 Jan, UK joins Europe
1973 Yom Kippur war
1974, Jan, Three-day week
1974, Feb Miners' strike

The run-up to the first election of 1974 was unusually stormy.

Industrial relations between the government and the unions turned sour as Heath’s attempts to calm the economy’s troubles with government-enforced pay freezes and calls for pay restraint failed.

To make things worse Heath’s economic policy zig-zagged and he also reversed the party policy on nationalising the "lame ducks" of British industry when Rolls Royce and shipbuilding were taken into the public fold.

But not all the government’s problems were of its own making. In 1973, war between the Arabs and the Israelis saw the price of oil rocket with predictable results for the UK’s increasingly fragile economy.

As demand for coal increased the miners sensed an advantage and pressed their wage demands further.

As the government’s prestige rested on its ability to manage the economy and make its pay restraint policy work, little common ground between the two sides could be hammered out.

With the miners rejecting a 13% pay rise, an overtime ban followed. By January 1974 a three-day working week followed, and a state of emergency was declared.

The following month 81% of the miners voted in favour of strike action and Heath’s patience ran out.

Believing public sympathy would rest with the government he called an election three days after the miners announced their intentions.