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United Kingdom general election, 1970: Map

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The United Kingdom general election of 1970 was held on 18 June 1970, and resulted in a surprise victory for the Conservative Party under leader Edward Heath, who defeated the Labour Party under Harold Wilson. The election also saw the Liberal Party and its new leader Jeremy Thorpe lose half their seats. The Conservatives, including the Ulster Unionists, would be 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.

Most opinion polls prior to the election had predicted 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 fixed because Harold Wilson wanted to go to the polls before the introduction of decimal coinage in early 1971, for which his government had been responsible and which he thought was hugely unpopular. The date of 18 June was fixed 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.

In "exhaustive research" of the election, the American pollster Douglas Schoen and Oxford University academic R. W. Johnson believed it "beyond dispute" that Enoch Powell had attracted 2.5 million votes to the Conservatives. Johnson later wrote that "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 in the election, 50 per cent were working class Powellites. Not only had 18 per cent of Labour Powellites switched to the Tories but so had 24 per cent of Liberal Powellites". Johnson further believed that the votes Powell brought to the Conservatives were "quite possibly four or five million".

The most notable casualty of the election was George Brown, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, who lost to the Conservative candidate in the Belper constituency. Brown had held the seat since 1945.

On the BBC, the election coverage was led by Cliff Michelmore along with Robin Day, David Butler and Robert McKenzie. There were various cutaways to the BBC regions. The coverage was shown again on BBC Parliament on 26 September 2003, and a third time on 18 July 2005 as a tribute to Edward Heath upon his death the previous day. The 1970 General Election's BBC coverage was also parodied by Monty Python's Flying Circus in its famous Election Night Special sketch.

Opinion poll summary

ORC (Opinion Research Council): Conservative lead of 1%

Harris (Express Newspapers): Labour lead of 2%

NOP (National Opinion Polls): Labour lead of 4%

Marplan: Labour lead of 9%

BBC Exit Poll in Gravesend constituency: Conservative lead of 1%

It should be noted that the ORC and BBC poll were conducted the day before and the day of polling. All other polls were conducted the weekend before polling.

Results

Total votes cast: 28,305,534. All parties are listed. The Conservative figure includes eight Ulster Unionists.

Votes summary

Seats summary

Televised declarations

(From BBC Parliament Replay.)These declarations were covered live by the BBC where the returning officer was heard to say "duly elected".


Constituency Winning party 1966 Constituency result by party Winning party 1970
Con Lab Lib PC SNP Others
Guildfordmarker

27,203 13,108 8,822
 hold
Cheltenhammarker

22,823 14,213 8,431
 hold
Salford West

14,310 16,986
 hold
Wolverhampton North Eastmarker

15,358 17,251 1,592
 hold
Salford East

9,583 15,853 3,000
 hold
Wolverhampton South Westmarker

26,252 11,753 2,459 318
 hold
Newcastle upon Tyne Centralmarker

4,256 13,671 1,433
 hold
Newcastle upon Tyne Northmarker

15,978 12,518
 hold
Exetermarker

21,680 20,409 6,672
 gain


See also



References



Manifestos




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