Thursday 16 December 2010

The 1970 Parliament (45th Parliament of the UK)

Ted Heath won the 1970 General Election with 330 seats, in a House of 630 members. It was a surprise victory for the Tories. Link to BBC report on the 1970 Election. But the first few years of the 1970s had proved difficult for the Government. It took Britain into the Common Market (which has subsequently become the European Union). This was a long held desire of Ted Heath, a committed European - but he met resistance on his own backbenches. 39 Conservative MPs voted against on the vote for approval of the negotiated terms. The following year the European Communities Act 1972 scraped through Parliament. The Government - despite its majority lost votes on 6 occasions. Philip  Norton describes the considerable increase in backbench dissension in his book -'Conservative Dissidents'.

There was also growing industrial unrest, including two miners strikes. The Industrial Relations Act of 1971 proved controversial and provoked opposition.

The winter of 1973-74 was the worst. The worldwide oil crisis, plus a work to rule by the Miners Union (NUM) led to the imposition of the "Three Day Week", which took effect on the first day of 1974. Commercial consumption of electricity was limited to three consecutive days each week, requiring factories to shut down to conserve fuel supplies. A webpage about the industrial troubles of 1973-4 from the National Archives, is available here. The troubles in Northern Ireland intensified - with Direct Rule imposed on Northern Ireland, Internment and the Bloody Sunday shootings.

Ted Heath called a snap election - which he fought with the slogan "Who Governs Britain?". The answer came after the general election of 28th February 1974. Heath lost his majority - losing a net 37 seats, and Labour became the largest party - with 301 seats to the Tories 297. For a weekend britain didn't know whether it would have a Conservative-Liberal coalition, or a minority Labour Government. The Monday following the election, Heath acknowledged that he had failed to form a coalition - and Labour's Harold Wilson was invited to form a government.

I've always found Ted Heath to be an interesting character. He dominated the Tory Party during the sixties until his surprise defeat for the leadership - when he was defeated by Margaret Thatcher. He remained on the backbenches for a quarter century - a constant critic of his successor.

There are a number of useful biographies of Mr Heath