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1970: Shock election win for Heath

Edward Heath has become the new British prime minister after a surprise victory for the Conservatives in the general election.

The result has confounded all opinion polls conducted before yesterday's election which had predicted a comfortable win for Labour.

But with all 630 seats now declared the Conservatives have won 330 seats, giving them a majority of 30. Labour have won 287 seats.

The new prime minister, Edward Richard George Heath, who has led the Conservative party since 1965, has pledged to "restore honesty to government and integrity to politics" and bring to an end what he referred to as "six long years of hard labour".

New style of government

The outgoing prime minister, Harold Wilson, refused to admit defeat until the last minute.

But just after 1400 hrs today, when the Conservatives reached the required majority of 316 seats, he requested an audience with the Queen to tender his resignation.

Shortly afterwards the Queen invited Mr Heath to Buckingham Palace where she asked him to form a new administration.

Edward Heath was born in Broadstairs on 9 July 1916 and was educated at Oxford university, before becoming MP for Bexley in 1950.

A confirmed bachelor, he has a passion for yachting and classical music.

Throughout the past three weeks, during which all the party leaders have toured the length and breadth of Britain on their arduous election campaign trails, Edward Heath, 53, has consistently offered the British people a new style of government.

As well as his commitment to European unity, he has promised to reduce taxes, cut down on wild-cat strikes by updating the law on industrial relations, and give more help to the poor, the old and the sick by concentrating government subsidies on those that need them most.

As he arrived at Downing Street this evening he was given a rapturous welcome. Huge crowds, who had gathered throughout the afternoon, sang "For he's a jolly good fellow" and shouted "Good old Ted."

In an interview with the BBC, the defeated Harold Wilson said he had always admired Edward Heath although he had not agreed with many of his election tactics, including the Conservatives' attempt to "drag sterling into the campaign."

Devaluation of the pound has remained a controversial issue for both the main parties.

But Mr Wilson said Mr Heath would now have the strongest economic position any prime minister had taken over in living memory.

He suggested the low turn-out of voters - just 70% - may have contributed to his defeat: "We were up against something that no-one foresaw. (...) It was a low poll and a low poll is going to count against us. All the signs were of a high poll."

Mr Wilson and his family left Downing Street via a back door this afternoon and went to Chequers, the Prime Minister's country seat, where they will remain until they find alternative accommodation in London.

In Context
Edward Heath remained prime minister until 1974.

During his four years at Downing Street he brought in the Industrial Relations Act, which caused conflict with the trade unions.

In 1972, two miners' strikes resulted in power shortages. The government reduced the working week to three days as part of several measures to reduce electricity use.

Edward Heath was finally forced to give in to the miners' demands.

In 1973 Mr Heath achieved his long-held ambition to lead Britain into the European Community after many years of campaigning on pro-European issues.

But his fortunes were lost in 1974 when he lost two general elections - one in February and one in October. Harold Wilson took power over a minority government in February and therefore called another election later in the year in which he won a tiny majority.

In 1975, with Conservative confidence dented by his failures to win the elections, he was forced to resign as leader.

He was replaced by the first woman ever to head a political party in Britain, Margaret Thatcher.

Mr Heath refused to serve in Mrs Thatcher's shadow cabinet and years later continued to express disapproval of many of her policies.

He died in 2005.


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