The Shortest Parliament

  • David Butler
  • Dennis Kavanagh


On February 28, 1974, for the first time in forty-five years, the British electoral system did not produce a clear majority in parliament. Labour, with 301 seats, was only four ahead of the Conservatives and none of the other three main groups, the Liberals, the Nationalists and the Ulstermen, could by itself provide the 17 or the 21 seats which the big parties needed for a clear lead. As soon as Mr Heath had failed to form a coalition with other parties and Mr Wilson had made it plain that he would not try, it was inevitable that another election would come soon, perhaps in a matter of weeks. In fact the parliament lasted six months, but, even so, it was the shortest parliament since 1681.1


White Paper Industrial Relation Grand Coalition National Unity Labour Government 
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  1. 8.
    Mr Jenkins, Mr Lever and Mrs Williams were balanced by Mr Foot, Mr Shore and (later) Mr Benn. This left an important pivotal role for the other two members, Mr Wilson and Mr Callaghan. See ‘The Intricacies of Wilson’s Balancing Act’, Sunday Times, June 9, 1974.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© David Butler and Dennis Kavanagh 1975

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Butler
    • 1
  • Dennis Kavanagh
    • 2
  1. 1.Nuffield CollegeOxfordUK
  2. 2.University of ManchesterUK

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