Monday, January 03, 2005

1974 And All That

I've been reading the papers released under the 30 year rule about the February 1974 election. How's that for an opening line guaranteed to get people fleeing to a different blog?
The frustrating thing about middle-age is that there's a diminishing chance of you living to see the secret papers about events that are happening now. So following current events is like reading a novel whilst knowing that the final chapter is missing and will only be published after your death. Of course, if we had a genuine Freedom of Information Act, unlike the one that's just come into force, it needn't be like this.

But back to 1974. Ted Heath, in the middle of the miners' strike, had called an election on the issue 'Who Runs Britain?' The electorate's reply was 'Not you mate, but, er, we're not too sure about the others either.' It was the first hung Parliament since 1929.
There followed several days of negotiations with Jeremy Thorpe, leader of the Liberals. The interesting thing is that Thorpe said to Heath: "......if it is any help, we have not been in contact." So, although it was widely reported that they were having talks, there was official silence on the matter. Everyone in the Westminster village knew what was going on but the people who must at all costs be kept in the dark (until January 2005) were the poor bloody voters.

I remember that election for an early lesson I learned that most people did not share my interest in politics. The election was on a Thursday, talks continued throughout the weekend and on the Monday I happened to be staying in an hotel in Worcester. The television in my room wasn't working so, as an announcement was expected that evening, I went down to the television lounge. The half dozen or so businessmen ensconced there were watching some crappy American import and refused to switch channels to the news to discover who would be running the country for the next five years.

Unrelated Historical Footnote: younger readers might be interested to know that in the Seventies it was considered acceptable for trade unionists to march through London chanting 'Heath is a poof.' There was a also a joke circulating at the time that when Heath's yacht capsized he refused to be rescued because he was clinging to a buoy. God, how we laughed


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