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1974: Labour scrapes working majority

Final results have confirmed that Harold Wilson's Labour government has won a second term in office.

Mr Wilson's goal of converting the first minority government since 1929 into a working majority has been successful - but by the narrowest of margins.

Labour now has a three seat majority after the second general election in the United Kingdom this year.

Voters confounded final opinion polls which had predicted a comfortable lead for Labour of between 10 and 20 seats.

Turnout was 72.8%, a fall of just under 6% from February's parliamentary election with Labour taking a 39.2% share and the Tories 35.8%.

Mr Wilson emphasised that the margin was sufficient and that the new Parliament was "viable" and could "endure".

But Robert Mellish, Labour Chief Whip, was more pessimistic about the new government's predicament and said a single figure majority would pose "considerable strains" on any administration.


"I hope that the Labour leadership will recognise that 60% of the voters are against their policies of socialism "

Edward Heath, Conservative leader

Speaking after the final results Mr Wilson admitted he would have liked a bigger majority, and sought reconciliation with the opposition.

"A general election is inevitably divisive because it is a choice between conflicting parties and policies...it is manifestly essential in the wider national interest that Parliament should give a lead to the country."

He went on: "Britain faces, and has for some considerable time been facing, the gravest economic crisis since the war."

The prime minister will make a broadcast to the nation on Monday setting out how his government will deal with the economy.

Conservative leader Edward Heath made a short statement where he warned against Labour being too ambitious.

He said: "I hope that the Labour leadership will recognise that 60% of the voters are against their policies of socialism and...that they will abandon their divisive policies."

Bad news for Liberals

Although the Conservatives dropped 2% of the overall vote, they made gains against Jeremy Thorpe's Liberal party.

There was disappointment for the Liberals who were down a seat from February and down in their share of the total poll, despite having fought an expensive and elaborate campaign.

The October election has contained more women candidates, more Liberals, more Welsh and Scottish nationalists and more National Front candidates than ever before.

In Context
After the October defeat Edward Heath had lost three out of four general elections. His days as Tory leader were numbered and Margaret Thatcher ousted him in 1975.

Industrial strife, Britain's poor economic performance and the oil crisis that followed the Arab-Israeli war of 1973, provided the background for the 1974 elections.

The Labour government that came to power in February 1974, and again in October, faced difficult economic circumstances.

The government renegotiated the UK's terms of entry into the European Economic Community and had this endorsed in a 1975 referendum.

Harold Wilson was Labour's longest serving prime minister until his record was broken by Tony Blair on 6 February 2005. He resigned in 1976 and was succeeded by Jim Callaghan. He died in 1995.


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