|‹ 1970 · members members · 1974 ›|
|United Kingdom general election, February 1974|
|All 635 seats to the House of Commons|
|28 February 1974|
|First party||Second party||Third party|
|Leader||Harold Wilson||Edward Heath||Jeremy Thorpe|
|Leader since||14 February 1963||28 July 1965||18 January 1967|
|Leader's seat||Huyton||Bexley||North Devon|
|Last election||288 seats, 43.1%||330 seats, 46.4%||6 seats, 7.5%|
|1966 election • MPs|
|1970 election • MPs|
|February 1974 election • MPs|
|October 1974 election • MPs|
|1979 election • MPs|
The UK general election of February 1974 was held on 28 February 1974. It was the first of two United Kingdom general elections held that year, and the only election since the Second World War not to produce an overall majority in the House of Commons for the winning party, instead producing a hung parliament.
This election saw Northern Ireland diverging heavily from the rest of the UK, with all twelve MPs elected being from local parties (eleven of them representing unionist parties), following the decision of the Ulster Unionists to withdraw support from the Conservative Party in protest over the Sunningdale Agreement. It also saw the first Plaid Cymru MPs to be elected in a general election, in Wales (they had previously won a by-election).
Although the incumbent Conservative government of Edward Heath polled the most votes by a small margin, the Conservatives were overtaken in terms of Commons seats by Harold Wilson's Labour Party due to a more efficiently-distributed Labour vote, and the decision by Ulster Unionist MPs not to take the Conservative whip.
The two largest parties both lost a considerable share of the popular vote, largely to the Liberals under Jeremy Thorpe who polled two and a half times the share of the national vote compared to the previous election. But even with over six million votes the Liberals elected only 14 MPs, polling the most votes (~432,823) ever collected by a party for each MP elected in a UK general election.
Heath did not resign immediately as Prime Minister. Assuming that Northern Ireland's unionist MPs could be persuaded support a Conservative government on confidence matters over one led by Wilson, he entered into negotiations with Thorpe to form a coalition government. Thorpe, never enthusiastic about supporting the Conservatives, demanded major electoral reforms in exchange for such an agreement. Unwilling to accept such terms, Heath resigned and Wilson returned for his second spell as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
The fact that the Liberals did not have sufficient seats to be able to support a government led by either major party on their own made the formation of a stable government in this Parliament a practical impossibility. Wilson would call another election in October of the same year.
|UK general election February 1974|
|Party||Standing||Elected||Gained||Unseated||Net||% of total||%||No.||Net %|
|Conservative||623||297||5||42||- 37||46.771||37.9||11,872,180||- 8.5|
|Labour||623||301||34||14||+ 20||47.401||37.2||11,645,616||- 5.9|
|Liberal||517||14||8||0||+ 8||2.204||19.3||6,059,519||+ 11.8|
|SNP||70||7||6||0||+ 6||1.102||2.0||633,180||+ 0.9|
|Ulster Unionist||7||7||1||2||- 1||1.102||0.8||232,103||N/A|
|Plaid Cymru||36||2||2||0||+ 2||0.314||0.5||171,374||- 0.1|
|Social Democratic and Labour||12||1||1||0||+ 1||0.157||0.5||160,137||N/A|
|National Front||54||0||0||0||0||0.2||76,865||+ 0.1|
|Democratic Unionist||2||1||1||0||+1||0.2||58,656||+ 0.1|
|Independent Liberal||8||0||0||0||0||0.2||38,437||+ 0.2|
|Unity||2||0||0||2||- 2||0.0||17,593||- 0.4|
|Democratic Labour||1||1||1||0||+ 1||0.0||14,780||N/A|
|Independent Conservative||18||0||0||0||0||0.0||11,451||- 0.1|
|National Democratic||1||0||0||0||0||0.0||1,161||- 0.1|
|Ind. Labour Party||1||0||0||0||0||0.0||991||0.0|
|Independent Social Democrat||1||0||0||0||0||0.0||661||N/A|
|More Prosperous Britain||1||0||0||0||0||0.0||234||N/A|
|John Hampden New Freedom||1||0||0||0||0||0.0||203||N/A|
Total votes: 31,321,982. All parties are shown. Results based on the notional 1970 results on the boundaries which came into force in 1974. The seats won by the Ulster Unionists are compared with those won by Unionist MPs in the 1970 election. The Protestant Unionist Party became the core of the Democratic Unionist Party and their candidates are compared with the result of the Protestant Unionist in 1970. The sole Republican Labour Party MP elected in 1970 subsequently left that party to co-found the Social Democrat and Labour Party in 1970 and the remains of the party disintegrated by 1974.