The Feb 74 election

28 Feb

Not a turning of the tide …more a nibble at the edges …

The General Election of Feb 74 was held 40 years ago today. Its been on my mind recently , and I have posted some other comments on it before. The first post war election to result in a hung parliament , one of the few winter elections, a dissolution that seemed to come from siege. The surge in votes for ” others”

Heath had called the election over ” who governs Britain” an attempt to get a mandate for his strong industrial policy. Oddly most polls showed the electorate agreed with his policies and approach. They still didn’t vote for them, and indeed the election never really reflected this issue to the extent you would have thought.

It wasn’t a watershed result , this cant be seen like 45 or 79 as a time when things changed because of firm decisions to do something different. It was a yukky result, one with little for mainstream politicians to take comfort from. As one remarked “There was a loser , but it wasn’t clear who the winner was”. With hindsight there appear to be many winners.
With the drop in support for the two main parties , the revival of the Liberals, the ignition of the Scottish Nationalists , a few strong Independents and the anti-Westminster centric result in Ulster, Feb 74 is a seed ground.
Think of many of the events in the last 40 years which were birthed in that election.Of course not in the result but the issues and actions that manifested in that result.

The disparity between the Liberal vote and seats in Feb 74 leads to the 2011 referendum on electoral reform. The Despair in Heaths policies by his own party created the oxygen of Thatcherism. The rise of Celtic nationalism leads to the creation in 1999 of the Parliament and Assembly. The breaking of the consensus in Ulster politics is the start of a 20 year journey to its own Assembly ( one with popular support this time )The breakdown in the the two party system , though something that has never completely broken has given rise to the likes of the SDP, UKIP and others. A less capricious relationship between voters and parties.

However analysis showed that a swing of 1.5% either way would have given one of the major parties a majority …would it have mattered. Would the Liberals have seemed so hard done by if they hadn’t looked like they could hold the balance of power ? If Heath had won would it have written off the Thatcherite agenda. International perspectives would probably say no, but the timing and architecture might have been different. If Heath had got past the security questions and party dynamics and made Thorpe Home Secretary would this have worked ? They still would have been a minority Government and would have needed to go back to the electorate at some point. That may have given both of them a kicking and who knows how that might have impacted on the 80s. Perhaps the SDP would have been a Tory breakaway.

However there’s no point in the what ifs. Its interesting as to why ? Why did the electorate throw up this strange result. It was perhaps a throwback to the 10 or 15 years that proceeded it. A general relaxing in some attitudes , an attempt at industrial democracy. Heath and Wilson , a failed attempt at being the new Disraeli and Gladstone ( though they did appear in an episode of Captain Pugwash ). Punch and Judy were asked to accommodate the Policeman , the sausage and the dog.

An election no one seemed to win , only added to a media sense that there was a breakdown in governance. 40 years on , it is remarkable how much has changed and yet how much stays the same.

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