Yesterday, when I heard Theresa May was going to announce a General Election, I immediately thought of Ted Heath’s massive gamble in 1974. Is this her “Who Governs Britain” moment?
In February 1974, a petulant Ted Heath called a general election on the premise that he was the best person to lead the country. Weeks later, he got his answer in no uncertain terms. “Not you, Ted”.
Here’s the Tory Party Election Broadcast from February, 1974. You’ll notice how little has changed since then.
That General Election resulted in a hung parliament. Heath tried to convince the Liberal Party, led by Jeremy Thorpe, to support him in coalition. But the Liberals demanded some movement on proportional representation before entering into such an agreement. Heath refused to budge, so the Queen asked Harold Wilson to form a minority government.
Wilson went to the country in October to consolidate his government’s position and won 18 more seats. Heath had clearly bitten off more than he could chew. His outgoing administration left a massive balance of trade deficit, which precipitated the Sterling Crisis of 1976, and led to the Labour government applying for a short-term IMF loan, which was paid off in 1979.
Throughout the 1980s, Thatcher’s Tories used the same language of crisis that May and Cameron have used since 2010. Namely, that Labour “bankrupted” the country and they were “cleaning up the mess” (sic) left by them. Yet, if they’d been faced with the same decision, the Tories would have also applied for an IMF loan. The same is true of the 2008 sovereign debt crisis. They’d have borrowed money to bail out the banks. When most of the media is on your side, you can tell as many lies as you like and get away with it.
The myths and lies of the 1970s have been woven into the political fabric of this country by the corporate media, and have been accepted uncritically by Tories, Liberals, voters and right-wing Labour MPs, who are too cowardly to fight back. It’s time to put an end to this madness. Voting the Tories out on 8 June is the start of that process.