October 1974 United Kingdom general election

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October 1974 United Kingdom general election
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg
  Feb 1974 10 October 1974 1979  

All 635 seats in the House of Commons
318 seats needed for a majority
Opinion polls
Turnout72.8%, Decrease2.svg6.0%
 First partySecond party
  Harold Wilson (1967).jpg Heathdod (cropped).JPG
Leader Harold Wilson Edward Heath
Party Labour Conservative
Leader since 14 February 1963 28 July 1965
Leader's seat Huyton Sidcup
Last election301 seats, 37.2%297 seats, 37.9%
Seats won319277
Seat changeIncrease2.svg18Decrease2.svg20
Popular vote11,457,07910,462,565

 Third partyFourth party
  Liberal Party logo (pre1988).png William Wolfe (cropped).gif
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 election14 seats, 19.3%7 seats, 2.0%
Seats won1311
Seat changeDecrease2.svg1Increase2.svg4
Popular vote5,346,704839,617

UK General Election, October 1974.svg
Colours denote the winning party—as shown in § Results

Composition of the House of Commons following the October 1974 UK general election.svg
Composition of the House of Commons after the election

Prime Minister before election

Harold Wilson

Prime Minister after election

Harold Wilson

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.


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]


The brief period between the elections gave Wilson the opportunity to demonstrate reasonable progress. Despite high inflation and high balance-of-trade deficits, the miners' strike that had dogged Heath was over and some stability had been restored. Following the February election Heath had remained largely out of the public eye.[ citation needed ]

As was expected, the campaign was not as exciting as the one in February and overall coverage by broadcasters was significantly scaled back. The Conservatives campaigned on a manifesto of national unity, in response to the mood of the public. Labour campaigned on its recent successes in government, and although the party was divided over Europe, their strengths outweighed that of Heath, who knew his future relied on an election victory. Devolution was a key issue for the Liberals and the Scottish National Party, and was now one that the two main parties also felt the need to address. The Liberals did not issue a new manifesto, simply reissuing the one they had created for the last election. [2] [3]


Prime Minister Harold Wilson made a ministerial broadcast on television on 18 September to announce that the election would be held on 10 October, less than eight months since the previous election. The key dates were as follows:

Friday 20 SeptemberDissolution of the 46th Parliament and campaigning officially begins
Monday 30 SeptemberLast day to file nomination papers
Wednesday 9 OctoberCampaigning officially ends
Thursday 10 OctoberPolling day
Friday 11 OctoberThe Labour Party wins control with a majority of 3
Tuesday 22 October 47th Parliament assembles
Tuesday 29 October State Opening of Parliament


Labour achieved a swing of 2% against the Conservatives. This was the first time since 1922 that a government had won an overall majority with less than 40% of the vote, albeit a majority of only 3. The Conservatives won just under 36% of the vote, their worst share since 1918; and a slight drop in the Liberal vote saw them suffer a net loss of 1 seat. In Scotland, the SNP added another 4 seats to their successes in the previous election to become the 4th largest party. Turnout was 72.8%, which was a significant decline on the February election's 78.8% turnout.

1974 (2) UK parliament.svg
UK General Election October 1974
PartyLeaderStoodElectedGainedUnseatedNet % of total %No.Net %
  Labour Harold Wilson 623319191+1850.239.211,457,079+2.0
  Conservative Edward Heath 6222772222043.635.810,462,5652.1
  Liberal Jeremy Thorpe 61913 1 212.118.35,346,7041.0
  SNP William Wolfe 711140+41.72.9839,617+0.9
  UUP Harry West 760 1 10.90.9256,065+0.1
  Plaid Cymru Gwynfor Evans 363 1 0+10.50.6166,321+0.1
  SDLP Gerry Fitt 9 1 0000.20.6154,193+0.1
  National Front John Kingsley Read 9000000.4113,843+0.2
  Vanguard William Craig 330000.50.392,262+0.1
  DUP Ian Paisley 2 1 0000.20.359,451+0.1
  Alliance Oliver Napier 500000.244,644+0.1
  Independent Labour N/A700 1 10.233,317+0.1
  Independent Republican N/A 1 1 1 0+10.20.232,795+0.2
  Republican Clubs Tomás Mac Giolla 500000.121,633+0.1
  Unionist Party NI Brian Faulkner 200000.120,454N/A
  Communist John Gollan 2900000.117,4260.0
  Democratic Labour Dick Taverne 1 00 1 10.113,714+0.1
  NI Labour Alan Carr 300000.011,5390.0
  Independent N/A3200000.08,8120.1
  Independent Ulster Unionist N/A 1 00000.04,982N/A
 United DemocraticJames Tippett1300000.04,810N/A
  Ind. Conservative N/A400000.04,5590.0
  More Prosperous Britain Tom Keen and Harold Smith2500000.04,3010.0
  Workers Revolutionary Gerry Healey 1000000.03,4040.0
  Independent Liberal N/A300000.03,2770.2
  Volunteer Political Ken Gibson 1 00000.02,690N/A
  Irish Civil Rights N/A700000.02,381N/A
  PEOPLE Tony Whittaker 500000.01,9960.0
  Marxist-Leninist (England) John Buckle800000.01,3200.0
  English National Frank Hansford-Miller 200000.01,115N/A
 United English NationalJohn Kynaston100000.0793N/A
  Marxist–Leninist (Ireland) Carole Reakes300000.0540N/A
  Mebyon Kernow Richard Jenkin 1 00000.0384N/A
  Socialist (GB) N/A 1 00000.0118N/A
All parties shown.
Government's new majority3
Total votes cast29,189,104

Votes summary

Popular vote
Scottish National

Seats summary

Parliamentary seats
Scottish National

Incumbents defeated

PartyNameConstituencyOffice held whilst in ParliamentYear electedDefeated byParty
Conservative Jock Bruce-Gardyne Angus South 1964 Andrew Welsh SNP
Michael Ancram Berwick and East Lothian Feb 1974 John Mackintosh Labour
Harold Gurden Birmingham Selly Oak 1955 Tom Litterick Labour
Robert Redmond Bolton West 1970 Ann Taylor Labour
Martin McLaren Bristol North West 1970 Ronald Thomas Labour
Michael Fidler Bury and Radcliffe 1970 Frank White Labour
Barry Henderson East Dunbartonshire Feb 1974 Margaret Bain SNP
James Allason Hemel Hempstead 1959 Robin Corbett Labour
Tom Iremonger Ilford North 1954 by-election Millie Miller Labour
Ernle Money Ipswich 1970 Kenneth Weetch Labour
Tom Boardman Leicester South Chief Secretary to the Treasury (1974) 1967 by-election Jim Marshall Labour
James d'Avigdor-Goldsmid Lichfield and Tamworth 1970 Bruce Grocott Labour
David Waddington Nelson and Colne 1968 by-election Doug Hoyle Labour
Montague Woodhouse Oxford 1970 Evan Luard Labour
Ian MacArthur Perth and East Perthshire 1959 Douglas Crawford SNP
Harmar Nicholls Peterborough 1950 Michael Ward Labour
Peggy Fenner Rochester and Chatham Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (1972-1974) 1970 Robert Bean Labour
Ronald Bray Rossendale 1970 Michael Noble Labour
James Hill Southampton Test 1970 Bryan Gould Labour
Piers Dixon Truro 1970 David Penhaligon Liberal
Robert Lindsay Welwyn and Hatfield Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (1972–1974) 1955 Helene Hayman Labour
Labour Gwynoro Jones Carmarthen 1970 Gwynfor Evans Plaid Cymru
Liberal Paul Tyler Bodmin, Cornwall Feb 1974 Robert Hicks Conservative
Michael Winstanley Hazel Grove Feb 1974 Tom Arnold Conservative
Christopher Mayhew [4] Woolwich East (contested Bath) 1951 by-election Edward Brown Conservative
Independent Eddie Milne [5] Blyth 1960 by-election John Ryman Labour
Edward Griffiths [6] Sheffield Brightside 1968 by-election Joan Maynard Labour
UUP Harry West Fermanagh and South Tyrone Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (1974 –1979) February 1974 Frank Maguire Independent
Democratic Labour Dick Taverne [7] Lincoln Financial Secretary to the Treasury (1969–1970) 1962 by-election Margaret Jackson Labour

See also

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  1. Election 1974 (October) Part 1 on YouTube, UK General Election 1974 Results Round-up on YouTube
  2. 1974 Oct: Wilson makes it four, BBC News, 5 April 2005, retrieved 8 June 2018
  3. "10 October 1974", BBC Politics 97, retrieved 8 June 2018
  4. Elected as a Labour MP
  5. Elected as a Labour MP
  6. Elected as a Labour MP
  7. Elected as a Labour MP

Further reading