Westminster election, 28 February 1974

The February 1974 election was called by Edward Heath in the context of a miner's strike and general economic crisis. The result overall was a hung Parliament, with Heath's Conservative party getting the most votes but Harold Wilson's Labour Party winning 301 seats to 297 for the Tories. A massively increased vote for the Liberal Party delivered only 14 seats, but along with 23 others (a figure bolstered by the departure from Tory ranks of the Ulster Unionists) it was enough to deny either party a majority. After several days of ultimately unsuccessful negotiations between the Liberals and Conservatives, Harold Wilson formed a minority government, and called another election in October.

In Northern Ireland this election came before the power-sharing executive was even two months old. The anti-Sunningdale Unionist forces had already captured control of the UUP party machinery, and in coalition with Vanguard and the DUP put up single anti-power-sharing candidates in each constituency under the label of the UUUC - United Ulster Unionist Coalition. The majority of votes cast in each of the four Belfast seats supported pro-Sunningdale candidates, but the votes were split and only in West Belfast was one of them (narrowly) elected, SDLP leader Gerry Fitt. The UUUC's victory of 11 out of 12 seats, though with only a fraction over 50% of the total vote, was a heavy psychological blow for the Executive.

This being the first Westminster election fought by the SDLP, they also stood in the two western seats with independent nationalist incumbents, with the result that Unionist candidates won both (a derisory vote going to pro-Sunningdale Unionist candidates, but the Nationalist vote much more evenly split). The Republican vote was particularly fragmented, with Republican Clubs putting in the solid but unsuccessful performance that would be their usual form for the next twenty years, and Albert Price, whose daughters Marion and Dolours were in jail for their role in the IRA's 1973 London bombing campaign, coming close to saving his deposit as an unofficial Sinn Féin candidate in West Belfast. On the traditional left, the NILP vote collapsed from 12.6% in 1970 to 2.2% this time, and two other leftish candidates, Bob Kidd and a Militant, made little impact.

This was also the first Westminster election fought after the introduction of the 1970 boundaries, and the first where 18-year-olds had the right to vote. It's possible, but by no means certain, that these two factors were sufficient to give Gerry Fitt a winning margin in West Belfast. However the changes to constituency boundaries were fairly minor, compared with the later revisions of 1995 and (particularly) 1982.

Election results, February 1974

See spreadsheet archive.
[UUUC] [366,703 votes] [51.1%] [11 MPs] [See below for UUP, Vanguard and DUP]
UUP 232,103 votes 32.3% 7 MPs (North Belfast, South Antrim, Armagh, North Down, South Down, Fermanagh and South Tyrone, and Londonderry)
SDLP 160,437 votes 22.4% 1 MP (West Belfast)
Pro-Assembly Unionists 94,301 votes 13.1%

Vanguard 75,944 votes 10.6% 3 MPs (East Belfast, South Belfast, and Mid Ulster)
DUP 58,656 votes 8.2% 1 MP (North Antrim)
Alliance 22,660 votes 3.2%

Unity 17,593 votes 2.4%

Bernadette McAliskey (Ind Socialist) 16,672 votes 2.3%

NILP 15,483 votes 2.2%

Republican Clubs 15,152 votes 2.1%

Albert Price (Ind) 5,662 votes 0.8%

Bob Kidd (Ind) 1,801 votes 0.3%

Labour & Trade Union 1,162 votes 0.2%

See also:

Results from 1973 to 1982 for each seat: East Belfast | North Belfast | South Belfast | West Belfast | North Antrim | South Antrim | Armagh | North Down | South Down | Fermanagh and South Tyrone | Londonderry | Mid Ulster

Other sites based at ARK: ORB (Online Research Bank) | CAIN (Conflict Archive on the INternet) | Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey

Your comments, please! Send an email to me at nicholas.whyte@gmail.com.

Nicholas Whyte, 25 March 2003, last updated 13 May 2003 by Tineke Vaes.

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