February 28, 1974 – CBS News – Special Report – The British Elections – CBS Radio – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
February 28, 1974 – This day Britain headed to the polls for the first of an unprecedented two elections to be held that year.
“In February 1974, faced with the unappetising choice of a failed Tory administration and an incoherent Labour opposition, the country shrugged. The third party, the Liberals, enjoyed their biggest share of the vote since 1923 and the Scottish Nationalists returned their highest number of MPs yet (seven). Wilson, meanwhile, finished just behind Heath in the popular vote but ahead on seats, with 301 to the Conservatives’ 297. In addition, Labour’s position in the Commons was stronger than it looked, because even though it was 30 seats short of a working majority, none of the smaller parties – from the Liberals to the Scottish Nationalists and the various flavours of Irish unionists – wanted to help Heath stay in office.
Wilson opted to eschew a formal coalition with a smaller party and to carry on in the hope of securing a more comfortable parliamentary position at a later date, just as he had turned a Labour majority of four seats in 1964 into one of 96 in 1966. But Labour’s position after the October 1974 election was little better than it had been in February, with a majority of just three, and the Scottish Nationalists, on their best ever showing in parliament, with 11 seats.
The economy in Britain was still being buffeted by adverse global winds and capital flight, the trade unions were restive, and there was the question of Barber’s deficit to be addressed. The small majority would have been hard to manage in the best of times – but unlike in 1964, when Labour was largely united, the party’s divisions, partly suppressed during the years of opposition, sprang back into the open in office.
Passing legislation turned into a war of attrition that wore hard on Labour parliamentarians – for the most part, elderly men with hard careers in manual labour behind them. It proved next to impossible for the government to get bills through the House without them acquiring wrecking amendments and vexatious extra spending commitments, many of these from MPs who were notionally on the government’s side.”
And here is a CBS Radio News Special report, as it was broadcast on February 28, 1974.
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