chapter  8
9 Pages

The TUC–Labour Party Liaison Committee 1972–74: How the parliamentary leadership was saved from the Conclusion

WithLabour Party 217

Harold Wilson returned to Downing Street on 4 March 1974 to lead a minority Labour government, and a sort of normality returned to British politics.1 The miners returned to work (handsomely rewarded) and the state of emergency and the three-day working week that had provided the backdrop to the February general election came to an end. It was universally accepted that a second general election would be necessary before long, but Wilson and his colleagues lost little time in addressing the most contentious legislative measures of the Heath government: the Industrial Relations Act, the Housing Finance Act and the Common Market. For the TUC, everything (including the Social Contract) took second place to the repeal of the Industrial Relations Act. Len Murray, installed as general secretary of the TUC in succession to Victor Feather, left ministers in no doubt that the Act had to go ‘before taking any further chances with the voters’. By July 1974 he had his wish. The Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974 repealed the Industrial Relations Act and abolished the NIRC. Ministers acted with no less urgency over housing. Within four days of taking office, the Labour government announced a rent freeze ‘and took steps towards the dismantling of the Housing Finance Act’. The sale of council houses was actively discouraged by Anthony Crosland, newly appointed as Secretary of State for the Environment. As for the Common Market, responsibility for the renegotiation of the terms of British membership lay with James Callaghan at the Foreign Office, who announced, in all seriousness, that he intended to follow the manifesto on the issue, in a speech that just happened to be given on April Fool’s Day.