October 1974 United Kingdom general election

The October 1974 United Kingdom general election took place on Thursday 10 October 1974 to elect 635 members of the British House of Commons. It was the second general election held that year, the first year that two general elections were held in the same year since 1910, and the first time that two general elections were held less than a year apart from each other since the 1923 and 1924 elections, which took place 10 months apart. The election resulted in the Labour Party led by Harold Wilson winning the narrowest majority recorded, 3 seats. This enabled the remainder of the Labour government, 1974–1979 to take place, which saw a gradual loss of its majority.

October 1974 United Kingdom general election

 Feb 1974 10 October 1974 1979 

All 635 seats in the House of Commons
318 seats needed for a majority
Opinion polls
Turnout72.8%, 6.0%
  First party Second party
 
Leader Harold Wilson Edward Heath
Party Labour Conservative
Leader since 14 February 1963 28 July 1965
Leader's seat Huyton Sidcup
Last election 301 seats, 37.2% 297 seats, 37.9%
Seats won 319 277
Seat change 18 20
Popular vote 11,457,079 10,462,565
Percentage 39.2% 35.8%
Swing 2.0% 2.1%

  Third party Fourth party
 
Leader Jeremy Thorpe William Wolfe
Party Liberal SNP
Leader since 18 January 1967 1 June 1969
Leader's seat North Devon None
(Contested West Lothian)
Last election 14 seats, 19.3% 7 seats, 2.0%
Seats won 13 11
Seat change 1 4
Popular vote 5,346,704 839,617
Percentage 18.3% 2.9%
Swing 1.0% 0.9%

Colours denote the winning party—as shown in § Results

Composition of the House of Commons after the election

Prime Minister before election

Harold Wilson
Labour

Prime Minister after election

Harold Wilson
Labour

The election of February that year had produced an unexpected hung parliament. Coalition talks between the Conservatives and other parties such as the Liberals and the Ulster Unionists failed, allowing Labour leader Harold Wilson to form a minority government. The October campaign was not as vigorous or exciting as the one in February. Despite continuing high inflation, Labour was able to boast that it had ended the miners' strike, which had dogged Heath's premiership, and had returned some stability. The Conservative Party, still led by Edward Heath, released a manifesto promoting national unity; however, its chances of forming a government were hindered by the Ulster Unionist Party refusing to take the Conservative whip at Westminster, in response to the Sunningdale Agreement of 1973.

The Conservatives and the Liberals each saw their vote share decline, and Conservative Party leader Edward Heath, who had lost three of the four elections he contested, was ousted as party leader in February 1975 and replaced with future Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The Scottish National Party won 30% of the Scottish popular vote and 11 of Scotland's 71 seats; it was their most successful general election result until 2015.

Subsequently, Labour's narrow parliamentary majority had disappeared by 1977 through a series of by-election losses and defections. It then required deals with the Liberals, the Ulster Unionists, the Scottish Nationalists and the Welsh Nationalists.

This was the last general election victory for the Labour Party until 1997; each of the next four consecutive general elections produced a Conservative parliamentary majority.

The election was broadcast live on the BBC, and was presented by David Butler, Alastair Burnet, Robert McKenzie, Robin Day and Sue Lawley.[1]