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United Kingdom general election, 1970
- Created 2012-04-07
United Kingdom general election of 1970
was held on 18 June 1970, and resulted in a surprise victory for the
, who defeated the
. The election also saw the
and its new leader
lose half their seats. The Conservatives, including the
, were given a majority of 31. The election was the first in which people could vote from the age of 18, after the
Representation of the People Act 1969
s prior to the election had indicated a comfortable Labour victory and had put Labour up to 12.4% ahead of the Conservatives. However on election day, a late swing gave the Conservatives a 3.4% lead.
The Election date was supposedly chosen because
wanted to go to the polls before the introduction of
in early 1971, for which his government had been responsible and which he thought was hugely unpopular and because Wilson sought to gain some momentum by surprising the Conservatives, who were expecting an October election.
Commentators believed that an unexpectedly bad set of balance of payments figures released in polling week, and loss of national prestige after the England football team's defeat in the World Cup, contributed to the Labour defeat.
Other factors that were cited as reasons for the Conservative victory included union indiscipline, rising prices, the risk of devaluation, the government’s imposition of Selective Employment Tax (SET) and a set of jobless figures released on polling day showing unemployment at its highest level since 1940. Interviewed by
, the outgoing Prime Minister
highlighted the possibility that “complacency engendered by the opinion polls” may have resulted in a poor turnout of Labour supporters. As
defending world champions
, England's venture in the World Cup attracted a much keener public interest than the general election did.
American pollster Douglas Schoen and Oxford University academic R. W. Johnson asserted that
had attracted 2.5 million votes to the Conservatives, although the Conservative vote only increased by 1.7 million. Johnson later stated "It became clear that Powell had won the 1970 election for the Tories...of all those who had switched their vote from one party to another, 50 per cent were working class Powellites". The Professor of Political Science
assessed a range of studies, including some which contended that Powell had made little or no difference to the result, but concluded that “At the very least, Powell's effect was likely to have fired up the Conservative vote in constituencies which would have voted Tory in any event”. Election night commentators
and Jeffrey Preece both dismissed any special ‘Powell factor’, as did Conservative MPs
This is the only occasion since the Second World War where a working majority for one party was transformed into a working majority for another party in the course of a single election.
The most notable casualty of the election was
, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, who lost to the Conservative candidate in the
constituency. Brown had held the seat since 1945.
Unusually for the Liberals the by-elections between 1966-1970 had proved fruitless, with many Liberal candidates losing deposits. The Liberals found themselves struggling to introduce their new leader
to the public due to the extensive coverage and attention paid to Enoch Powell. The election result was poor for the Liberals, with Thorpe only narrowly winning his own seat in
On the BBC, the election coverage was led by
. There were various cutaways to the BBC regions. The coverage has been rerun on
on several occasions, including on 18 July 2005 as a tribute to Edward Heath upon his death the previous day. Its most recent screening was on 9 October 2010. BBC coverage of the 1970 general election was parodied by
Monty Python's Flying Circus
in its famous
Election Night Special
from Wikipedia (last updated: 22 May), licensed under
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1970: Heath's surprise victory
pollster Douglas Schoen and Oxford University academic R. W. Johnson asserted that Enoch Powell
BBC Election 1970
MPs elected in the United Kingdom general election, 1970
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