The Labour Party wins the 1966 General Election, its second majority under the leadership of Harold Wilson. The decisive election saw a 3.8% swing from the Conservatives to Labour, and remains the only time Labour’s popular vote went up when in government.
Prior to the election, a lost by-election saw Labour’s majority reduced to just 2, and they performed badly in 1965 local elections. However as they began to resurge in popularity, aided by the promise of sanctioning the Humber suspension bridge at the Hull North by-election and the economic ‘National Plan’, Wilson called an election. Meanwhile, Edward Heath’s had only recently risen to the Conservative leadership, so was not well-known and the party were at an instant disadvantage. Opinion polls put Labour clearly ahead, and hence the campaign was never greatly competitive or suspenseful.
Labour focused on their economic compenence in government, and the popular Wilson was championed as the modernising Prime Minister, with the Conservatives last spell in government referred to as “Thirteen wasted years” and Heath trailing in popularity ratings. Heath advocated European integration, to which Labour’s cabinet was more divided and cautious on, alongside trade union and social security reform. They also all
eged that the economic stability could not be sustained and criticised Wilson’s pragmatic approach – an “illusionist without ideals”. However, economic critiques were rebuffed by Labour’s claim of beginning to fix the Conservatives’ dangerous legacy of a high trade deficit, and concern about impeding economic difficulties were overcome by rising wages.
The results saw Labour win resoundingly with a much more workable majority of 364 seats (+48, 48% vote), the Conservatives reduced to only 253 (-52, 41.9% vote) and the Liberals won 12 (+3, 8.5% vote).
Labour in government had achievements such as the legalisation of abortion, abolition of capital punishment, decriminalisation of homosexuality and foundation of the Open University. However, Labour’s dominance was hampered by the devaluing the pound in 1967 and shelving trade union reform plans, and the government was embarrassed when France vetoed Britain’s second bid for membership of European Economic Community. Heath’s Conservative Party, although not predicted to in the polls, defeated them in 1970.