Monday, 24 November 2014

Political history: For a few hundred votes more....

40 years ago, two general elections took place in the UK. February 1974 is much better remembered, not only for the strong Liberal surge which shook both the Conservatives and Labour (the Conservatives more so) and the first real establishment of Plaid Cymru and the SNP as a force in British politics, but also for a hung Parliament that resulted. The October 1974 general election by contrast is less well-known today, partly because a majority government did come out of it and also because of the lower turnout.

Both were very tightly fought, though-the Conservatives were just ahead of Labour in terms of vote share (37.8% to 37.5%) but ended up with four seats fewer because of the unfairness of first past the post; the Liberals were even more hard done by since nearly 20% of the votes cast only rewarded them with just over 2% of Westminster seats (14 out of 623 mainland seats, although they only put forward 517 candidates). In October 1974, the Liberals fielded a candidate in almost every single mainland constituency (except Argyll, Glasgow Provan, Fife Central, and Lincoln where they supported Dick Taverne) meaning for the first time in the history of universal suffrage in Britain, each constituency had at least 3 candidates standing (1979 had three two candidate contests, in Birmingham Handsworth, Dudley West and Salford East, the last time that this has happened, and ever will happen, in any UK constituency)

With Labour only coming out of it with a majority of three, it was already looking unstable, and within three years Labour (by now under the rather weak James Callaghan) ended up having to make a pact with the Liberals under David Steel, which ultimately resulted in a vote of no confidence in March 1979, infamously won by a single vote.

What I can say is this, however: a swing of just 1% more in Labour's favour would have pushed enough crucial marginal into their hands to form a stable enough government for five years- eight seats alone that were held by the Conservatives over Labour were held with a majority of one percent or less.

A still small but firm majority of 19 that would have been given had those eight seats (Plymouth Drake, Croydon Central, Northampton South, Beeston, Bosworth, Brentford & Isleworth, Aberdeen South, and Reading North) would have been workable in those circumstances, and that vote of no confidence mentioned above (which was a strong contributing factor in the decisive majority the Conservatives won in 1979) would never have happened.

What else might have been had what I described above happened? I leave it to you, the readers of my blog, to make your own opinions here :)

Alan.

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