Ted Heath will probably be remembered as the prime minister who called the election in February 1974 over his dispute with the miners and campaigned with the question ‘Who governs?’ Heath actually won more votes (37.9%) than Harold Wilson’s Labour Party (37.2%), but the First Past the Post electoral system delivered four more seats for Labour than for the Conservatives.
A hung parliament resulted and could have opened the way for the first post-war coalition. Talks between Heath and Liberal leader, Jeremy Thorpe failed to reach agreement. It is interesting to imagine the nature of a coalition between these two leaders, who were polar opposites in personality. Heath was a former army officer, organised but inflexible and scrupulously secretive – his cabinet was probably the most leak-proof ever and his private life still remains a mystery. He never married and kept any relationships secret. Jeremy Thorpe, by contrast, was a showman, famous for leaping over fences and travelling by hovercraft on his election campaigns. His private life was plastered all over the press when he was charged with, but later acquitted of, conspiracy to murder.
The failure of the 1974 coalition talks led to Harold Wilson’s return to power as Labour prime minister, leading a minority government. Wilson called another election in October 1974, which gave him a slim parliamentary majority.
Will the sale of Heath’s home result in the discovery of a cache of papers shedding any more light on its secretive former occupant?