David Steel on the last time there was a hung parliament

Lord (David) Steel recalled his involvement in the various negotiations during the 1970s, the last time there was an election which produced a hung parliament, in a letter to The Times during the campaign – it seemed worth dusting down in the current circumstances …


Your leader today on hung parliaments contained a number of dubious assertions.

First, you say that in February 1974 Mr Heath’s offer of coalition foundered on his refusal to include electoral reform. As a survivor of those discussions I have to say that this was not the most determining factor. One was that even with the dozen Liberal MP’s added to the Tories there would not have been a government majority (hence no ability to deliver electoral reform or much else for that matter).

Second, Mr Heath had gone to the country early seeking a mandate on “who governs Britain” and been refused it by the electorate.

Then you suggest that a hung parliament would be economically disastrous. The last time we had a balanced parliament was in March 1977 when the Callaghan government had gradually lost its majority.

The facts speak for themselves: the very day that the Lib-Lab agreement between Mr Callaghan and myself was announced the pound and the share index both rose. Inflation had started on a sharp upward trend in the last year of the Heath government and had reached the alarming rate of almost 20% that month. During the 15 months of the so-called Lib-Lab pact it fell to under 9% only to climb again during the minority Labour period that followed, returning to 19% in the first months of the Thatcher government. Mortgage interest fell from 12.25% at the start of the pact to 8.5% at its end only to start upwards again after it, reaching 15% under Mrs Thatcher.

These facts do not fit the hysteria promoted by Mr Cameron about no overall majority, and more voters obviously are considering that a government which includes Nick Clegg and Vince Cable is likely to be a better government than one without them.

Finally, you call for Mr Clegg to plump in advance for whom he would work with, but as you rightly point out the present electoral system has its vagaries, and Nick Clegg is absolutely right to stick to his argument that the electorate must first decide the composition of the Commons, and that the party leaders must thereafter act responsibly in accord with their decisions. It is called democracy.

David Steel (Lord Steel of Aikwood)

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  • Fascinating to see what has and hasn’t changed, as we approach a milestone in British politics. And regardless of who our Prime Minister is moving forward, yesterday’s election will mark the moment when leadership of the country passed from the Baby Boom Generation to Generation Jones. GenJones, which is the heretofore “lost” generation between the Boomers and Xers, will dominate the new Parliament, as many Boomer MPs are replaced by Jonesers. It looks like significant media attention has accompanied this generational transition in numerous countries. If GenJoneser Cameron becomes PM, I think we’ll see the kind of GenJones media buzz that happened when GenJonesers Obama, Sarkozy, and Merkel took over leadership from their Boomer predecessors.

    I quite enjoyed this piece in the Independent this week which discusses Cameron and Clegg’s identities as GenJonesers:

  • Terry Gilbert 8th May '10 - 7:31am

    Steel is right to say what really happened and remind people of the significant differences from today. Though his letter is not the most readable text I have seen on the economics. Perhaps he should have sent in your graph, Mark 😉

  • Great stuff from one of people who inspired me into Politics.

    It has been so irritating to see people write to the newspapers saying they remember the winter of discontent under the Lib/Lab pact. (even though the pact had ended before the winter of discontent) and to note how they had forgotten the strong majority Heath Government with the 3 day week !

  • Laura milne 8th May '10 - 9:47am

    This message is on behalf of a facebook group which myself and friend rhiannon created. Yesterday we where advised by your head office to make a facebook group to get peoples opinions heard. We started up the group at 8pm last night and no have 4,482 members; the group is continuing to increase. Would you please view the link, we have phoned the office sereral times now and had to leave messages. We are just trying to be heard. Also we have phoned radio stations and emailed majour news channeles and newspapers and still nothing is being done. Follow up this link thank you.

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