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General Election 2015 - The 1974 Parallel

The 2015 General Election has drawn parallels in the news and media with the General Election of the 28 of February 1974 which resulted in a hung parliament.  That year Labour, led by Harold Wilson, won 301 seats in the Commons and the Conservatives, led by Edward Heath, won 297 even though they won a larger share of the overall vote.

Heath remained defiant and attempted to remain as Prime Minister, however, he was unsuccessful at forming a coalition and resigned four days after the election result, enabling Wilson to return for his second spell in Number 10.  Labour, however, were unable to create a coalition that would enable them to have an overall majority and ensure the country could have a stable majority government.  Wilson called another election in October of the same year. 

Today the polls are indicating that the 2015 General Election will similarly deliver a hung parliament, driven this time by a movement from a two/three party system to a multi-party system where smaller emerging parties – including UKIP, the Green Party and the SNP – are currently having a lot more sway over the electorate.  It is growing ever more likely that we will see a repeat of the 1974 result.

If that happens, there will be a crucial new factor now determining the resolution of the outcome:  the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act 2011.

The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 received royal assent on 15 September 2011 and has a major impact on the timing of parliamentary elections in the UK.  The Act notes that, unlike in 1974, a sitting Prime Minister no longer has the authority to call an election at anytime.  An early election can now only be called either if two thirds of the House of Commons vote in favour of it (said to be improbable as MPs in marginal seats will not be willing to risk voting for their own redundancy) or if a motion of no confidence is passed and no alternative government is confirmed by the Commons within 14 days.  With both these outcomes in doubt, a quick decision on the future of the next government including a second election in 2015 is not likely.

The Fixed-term Parliaments Act could potential mean that the country has a longer period of uncertainty than that of 1974.  With a Prime Minister no longer being able to call an early election it is possible we will see three attempts to form a government with three different party leaders before the inevitable outcome of the second election can be agreed upon.

My question to all would be, should our attention now turn to discussing and preparing for a second election in 2016 instead of 2015?

By Jonathan Bloom at 10 Mar 2015, 11:06 AM


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