1 January 1974:
Dark days - Britain is in the grip of both a financial crisis. Inflation is going through the roof. In order to control the rate of inflation, the Conservative government introduces pay caps. The combination of stagnating wages and ever increasing prices breeds unrest amongst British workers. The miners go on strike causing an energy crisis. In order to conserve electricity, commercial companies are limited to a 3 day per week supply. TV companies are required to cease broadcasting at 10.30pm. Most pubs are shut.
9 February 1974:
The Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath unexpectedly visits the Queen to ask for permission to dissolve parliament in preparation for a snap general election. He calls an early election in the hope of gaining a mandate to face down the striking miners wage demands.
28 February 1974:
Labour win the general election with a slim majority – 310 seats to 297. The result is a hung parliament, as neither party win enough seats to form a majority government. Nicholas Scott, the Conservative MP for Paddington South, loses his seat because his constituency is abolished by boundary changes. He stands in the newly created Paddington seat but is beaten by Labour’s Arthur Latham. Terry Davis, the Labour MP for Bromsgrove, also suffers the same fact when his constituency of Bromsgrove is merged with the new town of Redditch.
2 March 1974:
Edward Heath (Conservative MP for Sidcup) meets with the leader of the Liberal party, Jeremy Thorpe (MP for North Devon). The Liberal Party had managed to secure 14 seats in the general election. Heath attempts to persuade the Liberals to forge a Conservative-led coalition. Thorpe states that the Liberals will support the Conservatives if they take meaningful action on electoral reform. When Heath fails to show the necessary commitment to replacing the first-past-the-post voting system with proportional representation, the Liberals walk away from the idea of a coalition.
4 March 1974:
Edward Heath, the Conservative MP for Sidcup, finally admits defeat and resigns. Labour form a minority government with Harold Wilson, MP for Huyton, as prime minister. Labour hold 301 seats and the Conservatives 297. The Liberals have 14. The Independent Labour Party holds 1 seat, as does the Democratic Labour Party. The Northern Irish parties hold 12 seats altogether (Ulster Unionist 7; Vanguard 3; Democratic Unionist 1; Social and Democratic Labour Party 1). The Scottish Nationalist Party holds 7 seats and Plaid Cymru have 2 seats.
Altogether there are 27 votes that could swing either way, for or against the government. Labour and the Conservatives will need to get as many of the members of the minority parties on their side if they want to win any vote in the commons.
Each of the minority parties have demands of their own. The Liberals want a change in the voting system from first past the post (where the seat is allocated to whoever wins the most votes in each constituency) to proportional representation (where seats are allocated in proportion to the percentage of votes that each party wins overall). This would enable the Liberals to gain more seats in parliament, as they rarely win a constituency election out right but when the percentage of the votes for the Liberals are considered as a percentage of the overall votes then they would be entitled to a larger number of parliamentary seats (for example in February 1974 they won 19.3% of the vote which would have entitled them to at least 122 seats in parliament under proportional representation – 108 seats more than they actually won in that election under the first past the post system).
The Northern Irish parties want to change the boundaries of the constituencies in Northern Ireland. In 1972, there were 12 MPs in parliament representing Northern Ireland. The Northern Irish felt that they were under-represented and so wanted boundary changes to increase the number seats in parliament that were allocated to the province. In 1982, the number of parliamentary constituencies allocated to Northern was increased to 17. In 1995, the number of constituencies was increased to 18. In the 1970s, the Northern Irish parties also wanted the British government to build a pipeline between Northern Ireland and Scotland to supply homes with natural gas. There was no natural gas supply in Northern Ireland and most homes were heated using heating oil. The gas pipeline was eventually built in the 1990s and finally opened in 1996.
The Scottish Nationalists want devolution. Devolution would enable Scotland to determine some aspects of its legislation giving the Scottish more power to determine the direction of their country. The Welsh Plaid Cymru MPs are also interested in devolution but not as fiercely committed to it at this point as the Scottish Nationalists.
15 March 1974:
The Social Security Pensions Bill is introduced into parliament by Labour MP for Blackburn, Barbara Castle. The bill aimed to provide better pensions by introducing the State Earnings Regulated Pension Scheme, which provided a pension related to earning alongside the basic state pension scheme. The bill was passed in 1975.
21 March 1974:
Health and Safety Bill is introduced into parliament by the Labour MP for Ebbw Vale, Michael Foot. This bill places a duty on all employers "to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work" of all their employees. The bill is passed and receives Royal Assent.
25 March 1974:
The Rate Support Grant Order, introduced by the Labour MP for Great Grimsby, Anthony Crossland, is debated in parliament. This aimed to equalise the income that local authorities received across the country.
25 April 1974:
In Portugal, Europe’s longest standing authoritarian regime, the Estado Novo, is overthrown by a left-wing group of military officers, the Armed Forces Movement. The revolution is unusual in that the revolutionaries did not use direct violence to achieve their goals. Holding red carnations, the Portuguese people joined the revolutionary soldiers on the streets of Lisbon to support the revolution. In the aftermath of the revolution a new constitution was drafted, censorship was formally prohibited, free speech declared, political prisoners were released and the Portuguese overseas territories were immediately given their independence.
24 May 1974
John Stonehouse, MP for Walsall North, raises the issue of the state of the West Midland’s canals. One of his main concerns is the safety of young children around the canals. He quotes the current statistics for such drowning incidents.
18 September 1974
Prime Minister Harold Wilson (MP for Huyton) announces a second general election in October. He hopes to transform his minority Labour government into a Labour government with a solid majority.
10 October 1974
Labour win the general election with a slim majority of three. Harold Wilson (MP for Huyton) remains as prime minister. Labour hold 319 seats and the Conservatives 277. The Liberals have 13. The Northern Irish parties hold 12 seats altogether (Ulster Unionist 6; Vanguard 3; Democratic Unionist 1; Social and Democratic Labour Party 1; Independent Republican 1). The Scottish Nationalist Party hold 11 seats and Plaid Cymru have 3 seats. Even though the Labour government now has a slim majority, it is still in a precarious position.
20 November 1974:
John Stonehouse, Labour MP for North Walsall and potential future Labour leader, goes missing while on a business trip to Miami Beach. He is feared drowned after vanishing while swimming in the sea. His clothes were found in a pile on the beach. It was feared that the Mafia might be involved in his disappearance. There are also rumours that Stonehouse was a Czech spy.
18 December 1974:
Harold Wilson (MP for Huyton) makes a speech in parliament denying that John Stonehouse, the Labour MP for North Walsall, is a Czech spy.
24 December 1974:
John Stonehouse, the Labour MP for North Walsall, who vanished while swimming off Miami Beach is found alive in Australia. Stonehouse had been hoping to start a new life down under with his secretary, Shelia Buckley, with whom he had been having an affair. He arrived in Australia on a false passport bearing the name J. D. Norman on 27 November 1975. He then left Australia the following day and flew around the world via Singapore, Denmark and the Lebanon before returning to Australia on 10 December. He aroused the suspicions of the Australian police who placed him under surveillance believing him to be the missing Lord Lucan (who had disappeared on 10 November 1974 and was wanted in connection with the brutal murder of his children’s nanny). Stonehouse was deported back to Britain and detained in Brixton Prison. He technically remains an MP during this time.
20 January 1975:
The Channel Tunnel Bill into parliament is discussed in parliament. At the point, the project is in danger of collapsing, due to the fact that the political turmoil of the previous year had slowed down the decision making process. While the British and French government still wish to go ahead and have asked for a year’s postponement of the decision. The companies involved, however, are on the verge of pulling out. The Secretary of State for the Environment, Anthony Crossland (MP for Great Grimsby) declares the Channel Tunnel project to be dead in the water. The Channel Tunnel Bill was reintroduced into the House of Commons in February 1986 and received Royal Assent in July 1987. The Channel Tunnel finally opened on 6 May 1994.
4 February 1975:
Edward Heath, the Conservative Party leader and MP for Sidcup, calls a leadership election under duress. After having lost two general elections in 1974, there were calls for him to resign. At the time, the Conservative leader could not be forced out of office. A new leader could only be appointed if the position was vacant. The backbench Conservative MPs of the1922 Committee called for a review of the rules of leadership elections and for Heath to put himself forward for re-election. Heath eventually agreed.
Heath faced two challengers for the leadership in the first ballot, the backbencher Hugh Fraser and the relative outsider, Margaret Thatcher (then Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment and MP for Finchley). Many expected Heath to win the day with a landslide, especially after the only ‘viable’ alternative to Heath, Keith Joseph (MP for Leeds North East), ruled himself out of the contest following controversial remarks calling on poor people to have less children. To everyone’s surprise, Thatcher, won the first ballot with 130 votes to Heath’s 119. The other challenger, Hugh Fraser (MP for Stafford) came third with only 16 votes. Heath resigned as party leader after his defeat in the first ballot.
11 February 1975:
The Conservative leadership election went to a second ballot. Thatcher was now up against four new rivals: William Whitelaw (Chairman of the Conservative Party and MP for Penrith and the Border), Geoffrey Howe (Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Services and MP for East Surrey), James Prior (Shadow Secretary of State for Employment and MP for Waveney) and John Peyton (Shadow Leader of the House of Commons and MP for Yeovil). Thatcher won the ballot with an increased majority of 149 votes. She became the first woman to be elected leader of a major political party in the UK.
20 March 1975:
William Hamling, the Labour MP for Woolwich West, dies triggering a by-election.
25 April 1975:
Democratic elections take place in Portugal. The election is won by the Socialist Party of Portugal.
30 April 1975:
The Aircraft and Shipbuilding Bill is introduced into parliament by the Labour Party. The bill aimed to establish two state owned companies to be called British Aerospace and British Shipbuilders.
5 June 1975:
There is a referendum on the UK’s Membership of the European Community. Britons are asked whether they should remain in the European Community. The country votes yes.
26 June 1975:
At the Woolwich West by-election, Labour lose the seat to the Conservative MP Peter Bottomley. Labour are down to a majority of one.
7 July 1975:
The timetable for the consideration of legislation that would enable the devolution of Scotland and Wales is discussed in the House of Commons.
20 October 1975:
Whilst on bail, John Stonehouse, who is still the MP for North Walsall, enters the House of Commons and makes a speech in which he attempts to explain his ‘extraordinary and bizarre’ behaviour. He claims to have been in the grip of a complete mental breakdown and to have committed psychiatric suicide. He claimed to have been an idealist when he entered the House of Commons, but to have had his idealism completely broken by the reality of political life. As a result of this traumatic experience, he had taken on a foreign and parallel personality.
24 October 1975:
On a deserted stretch of road, Andrew Newton, an airline pilot, attempts to shoot and kill Norman Scott. Norman Scott had been involved a sexual relationship with Jeremy Thorpe (the leader of the Liberal Party and MP for North Devon) during the early 1960s, at a time when homosexuality was illegal (it was decriminalised in 1967). Scott had been repeatedly threatening to expose his relationship with Thorpe, which would have been disastrous for Thorpe’s political career. Newton fails to shoot Scott but he succeeds in shooting killing Scott’s dog Rinka.
3 November 1975:
The Queen opens the first North Sea Oil Pipeline in Aberdeen.
25 November 1975:
Political, economic and social crises in post-Carnation Revolution Portugal, gave rise to serious confrontations between socialists and communists during what became known as the “hot summer” of 1975. This marked the start of the counter-revolutionary movement. A failed far-left-wing coup against the democratically elected socialist government on 25 November, followed by a counter-coup led by Ramalho Eanes, a pro-democracy moderate and head of Portuguese public television, and supported by moderate socialist Mário Soares re-established the democratic process. In 1976, Eanes became president of Portugal, while Soares became Prime Minister.
18 January 1976:
Disillusioned by the Labour Party’s lack of commitment to secure a devolved Scottish Assembly, Jim Sillars (Labour MP for South Ayrshire) and John Robertson (Labour MP for Paisley) leave the Labour Party to form the Scottish Labour Party. Jim Sillars became the Leader of the Scottish Labour Party. The Scottish Labour Party was, however, short lived. In the 1979 general election, the newly established party failed to win any seats. It was formerly disbanded in 1981. The Labour Party are now in a minority of one.
10 February 1976:
The government narrowly win a vote that the Dock Work Regulation Bill be read a second time. The bill tries to create more job stability for dock workers.
16 March 1976:
Harold Wilson (MP for Huyton) announced that he will resign as Prime Minister and leader of the labour party. He claimed that he had always planned to resign at the age of 60, and that he was physically and mentally exhausted. His doctor had detected problems which would later be diagnosed as colon cancer, and Wilson had begun drinking brandy during the day to cope with stress. By 1976 he might already have been aware that he was in the first stages of early-onset Alzheimer's disease.
16-19 March 1976:
During Andrew Newton's trial for the attempted murder of Norman Scott, Scott makes allegations that he was involved in a sexual relationship the leader of the Liberal Party, Jeremy Thorpe (MP for North Devon). Newton was found guilty of possessing a firearm with intent to endanger life, and sentenced to two years' imprisonment.
25 March 1976:
The first ballot of the Labour leadership election is held. There are six candidates: Tony Benn (Secretary of State for Energy – MP for Bristol South East); Jim Callaghan (Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – MP for Cardiff South East); Anthony Crossland (Secretary of State for the Environment – MP for Great Grimsby); Michael Foot (Secretary of State for Employment – MP for Ebbw Vale); Dennis Healy (Chancellor of the Exchequer – MP for Leeds East); and Roy Jenkins (Home Secretary – MP for Birmingham Stechford). The ballot is close run, with Michael Foot winning with 90 votes and Jim Callaghan, just behind, on 84.
30 March 1976:
There is a second ballot in the Labour leadership election between three candidates: Callaghan, Foot and Healey. Jim Callaghan (MP for Cardiff South East) wins with 141 votes. Michael Foot (MP for Ebbw Vale) is close behind him on 133 votes. Dennis Healey (MP for Leeds East) comes third with 38 votes.
5 April 1976:
A final third ballot is held in the Labour leadership election between Jim Callaghan (MP for Cardiff South East) and Michael Foot (MP for Ebbw Vale). Callaghan wins with a resounding 176 votes. Harold Wilson (MP for Huyton) resigns as Prime Minister and leader of the labour party. Callaghan becomes both Prime Minister and leader of the labour party
6 April 1976:
Brian O’Malley, the Labour MP for Rotherham, dies suddenly at the age of 46 from complications following brain surgery. He had worked alongside Barbara Castle (MP for Blackburn) on the Social Security Pensions Bill.
7 April 1976:
John Stonehouse, MP for North Walsall, resigns from the Labour Party leaving the government in a minority of one.
8 April 1976:
Bob Mellish (MP for Bermondsey) steps down as the Labour Party’s Chief Whip. Mellish was a staunch supporter of Harold Wilson (MP for Huyton) and was upset when he announced his resignation as Prime Minister and Leader of the Labour Party. In the leadership election that followed, Mellish backed Michael Foot (MP for Ebbw Vale). Mellish, however , was not a fan of Jim Callaghan (MP for Cardiff South East). When Callaghan won the leadership ballot, Mellish resigned from the cabinet.
27 April 1976:
John Stonehouse’s (MP for North Walsall) trial begins.
10 May 1976:
Jeremy Thorpe (MP for North Devon) resigns as leader of the Liberal Party. He denies Norman’s Scott’s allegations that they had a homosexual relationship but acknowledges that the rumours are doing damage to the Liberal Party.
27 May 1976:
A House of Common’s vote on the Aircraft and Shipping Bill descends into grave disorder after the Government are accused of breaking with the convention of pairing MPs who are ill or absent. The first vote was tied and the speaker then chose casting his deciding vote with with the Opposition. There was then a second vote on the same point, which the Government won by one vote when Tom Pendry (MP for Stalybridge and Hyde), who was supposed to be paired and absent, voted anyway. In protest, Michael Heseltine (Shadow Secretary of State for Industry and MP for Henley) removed the House of Commons mace from its place on the table and brandished it at the Government benches, where Labour MPs were celebrating winning the vote by singing ‘The Red Flag’. The Speaker suspended the sitting for 20 minutes. When it resumed, the House immediately adjourned. The pairing system was suspended, making it even more difficult for the government to win a vote.
9 June 1976:
Margaret Thatcher proposes a vote of no confidence in the government. The government win the vote 309 votes to 290.
24 June 1976:
Labour win the Rotherham by-election. Stanley Crowther becomes the MP for Rotherham.
Reg Prentice (MP Newham North-East) is deselected by his constituency labour party, which he claims had been infiltrated by the militant left.
7 July 1976:
David Steel (MP for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles) becomes the leader of the Liberal Party.
5 August 1976:
Big Ben suffers its first and only major breakdown. The air brake speed regulator of the chiming mechanism broke due to torsional fatigue causing one of the clock’s fully wound weights to spin the winding drum out of the movement. The clock was severely damaged. It was shut down for a total of twenty-six days over the next nine months. Radio four replace the chimes of Big Ben with the pips.
6 August 1976
John Stonehouse is convicted of 18 counts of theft, fraud and deception and sentenced to seven years in jail. Many of the charges relate to fraudulent business that Stonehouse had been operating in the UK. He spent three years in jail. He was released after a series of heart attacks. HE married Buckley in 1981. He died in 1988 of a heart attack. In 2010, the National Archive released papers that revealed John Stonehouse had actually been a Czech spy.
27 August 1976
John Stonehouse finally resigns as an MP, triggering a by-election for Walsall North.
10 September 1976:
Roy Jenkins steps down as a Labour MP to take up the position of President of the European Commission. As a result a by-election is held in his former constituency of Birmingham Stechford on 31 March 1977. The by-election is won by the Conservative Candidate Andrew James Mackay.
28 September - 1October 1976:
At the Labour Party Conference, Reg Prentice (MP for Newham East) appeals for support after he is deselected by his constituency party, but to no avail.
30 November 1976:
The Scotland and Wales Bill is introduced into parliament. This bill aims to put legislation in place that would enable the devolution of both Scotland and Wales and create of Scottish and Welsh assemblies.
21 December 1976:
Reg Prentice, Minister of State for Overseas Development and the Labour MP for Newham East, resigns from the cabinet.
22 February 1977:
The Scotland and Wales Bill is defeated in a commons vote by 312 votes to 283 votes.
Labour and the Liberal party make a pact. An agreement was negotiated, under the terms of which the Labour Party agreed to support a number of Liberal Party policy proposals and in exchange, the Liberal Party agreed to vote with the government in any subsequent motion of no confidence.
17 March 1977:
The Aircraft and Shipping Industries Bill receives Royal Assent and becomes an act of parliament. It brings into being two nationalised companies British Aerospace and British Shipbuilders. British Aerospace was privatised in 1981. British Aerospace merged with Marconi Electronic Systems to become BAE Systems in 1991. BAE Systems is currently Britain’s largest exporter and the second largest defence contractor in the world. Unfortunately British Shipbuilders did not fare as well. By 1982, British Shipbuilders had had to close half of its shipyards due to overcapacity. In 1983, the British Shipbuilders Act can into force which compelled the company to privatise its remaining assets. The company ceased shipbuilding operations in 1989.
23 March 1977:
The Labour government faces another vote of no confidence sparked by it’s loss to the Conservatives in the matter of the Scotland and Wales Bill. Labour survives by 322 votes to 298. Margaret Thatcher (MP for Finchley) accuses the Labour Government of having made a ‘shadowy deal’ with the Liberals to win the vote.
Ashfield by-election. Held after the following the resignation of Labour MP David Marquand. Conservative candidate Tim Smith was the narrow winner in what was thought to have been a very safe Labour seat. Marquand resigned so that he could take up the position of Chief Advisor to Roy Jenkins at the European Commission.
9 May 1977:
Big Ben’s clock starts again.
14 June 1977:
Labour back benchers Jeff Rooker (MP for Birmingham Perry Barr) and Audrey Wise (MP for Coventry South West) introduce the Rooker-Wise Amendment. At the time inflation was spiralling upwards while income tax brackets remained static. This meant that as wages increased in line with the rate of inflation, workers ended up paying a higher percentage of their wages in tax. The Rooker-Wise Amendment linked personal tax allowances to the rate of inflation so preventing the erosion of non-taxable income. The Rooker-Wise Amendment was added to the budget after a Common’s vote. The Amendment was supported by the Conservative whip and was an embarrassing defeat for the Labour government.
21 June 1977:
Audrey Wise (MP for Coventry South West) is arrested for assaulting a policeman while on the picket-line supporting striking female Asian workers from the Grunwick Film Processing Laboratories in Willesden. The women working at the film processing laboratory had gone on strike to protest against low wages, long hours, compulsory overtime and bullying. Audrey Wise accused the management of treating their workers like slave labour. She claimed to have been trying to stop a policeman arresting a young female protestor, when the policeman grabbed her and arrested her instead. She was found guilty and fined £20.
8 October 1977:
Reg Prentice, MP for Newham North-East, leaves the Labour Party and joins the Conservative Party. He is elected as the Conservative MP for Daventry in 1979.
24 June 1978:
Joseph Harper (Labour MP for Pontefract and Castleford) dies while in office.
4 August 1978:
Jeremy Thorpe is charged with incitement to murder. He is accused of having hired Andrew Newton through an acquaintance to murder his former lover Andrew Scott.
7 September 1978:
Liberal-Labour pact collapses.
1 March 1979:
There is a referendum on Scottish and Welsh devolution. The Scots vote yes to the creation of a Scottish Assembly by a small majority, but they do not secure the required 40% of the vote required to trigger devolution. The Welsh vote no. The Scottish Nationalists, unhappy with the outcome of the referendum, agree to support the Conservatives in a vote of no confidence in the government.
28 March 1979:
Labour lose a vote of no confidence by one vote (310 votes to 311) triggering a general election. The vote of no confidence was proposed by Margaret Thatcher. Walter Harrison, Labour’s Deputy Chief Whip had spoken to Dr Alfred Broughton, MP for Batley, who was at home in bed after a heart attack. Harrison thought that the journey from Yorkshire would kill Broughton. Callaghan and the chief whip, Michael Cocks, agreed that Broughton should not be summoned for the vote.
Harrison approached the Conservative Deputy Chiefl Whip Bernard “Jack” Weatherill to obtain pair for Broughton. Weatherill said that pairing had never been intended for votes on Matters of Confidence and so it would be impossible to find a Conservative MP who would agree to abstain. He offered to abstain himself, at the risk of endangering his own political career. Harrison was so impressed by Weatherill's offer that he released him from the obligation to find a pair.
The Government lost by the vote of no confidence by one vote. At first, the Conservatives thought that they had lost the vote by two votes, as when they estimated the count they forgot to include the two Conservative MPs who were doing the counting.
Frank Maguire, the Irish Nationalist MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, who may well have voted to support the government was also absent from the vote. His mysterious disappearance earned him the nickname the ‘lost leprechaun’. It was rumoured that he had either become locked in the toilets or was held by the whips in one of the bars in the Palace, who plied him with drinks, so that he could be pushed into the relevant lobby for the 10pm division.
After the vote the Conservatives cheered and the Labour left-wingers sang the socialist anthem ‘The Red Flag’. A general election was triggered. The Conservatives were voted into power on 10 May 1979 and Margaret Thatcher (MP for Finchley) became the UK’s first female Prime Minister.