All the signs indicated a victory for Labour. Opinion polls in early March gave the Government an 11-point lead over the Conservatives. Labour's manifesto, Time for Decision, skillfully emphasised Labour's achievements during the previous 18 months. A national transport plan was envisaged to integrate road and rail transport, investment was to be carefully targeted and an ambitious house building programme was unveiled. Even a touch of socialism managed to peep out of the manifesto, under the guise of the re-nationalisation of the steel industry.
Above all, the Labour campaign emphasised Wilson himself. One journalist remarked, "Harold Wilson is the Prime Minister's most potent weapon". Labour bullishly entered the campaign under the slogan "You know Labour works".
The Conservatives, who dubbed themselves the "party of peacemakers", had 131 action points in their manifesto, Action not Words. These included the old staples of low inflation, curbing the power of the trade unions and reform of the welfare state. The Conservatives were, on the whole, unsettled throughout the campaign, which ran flawlessly for Labour. They struggled hard to come to grips with the twin problems of fighting the election as the opposition under the direction of a new and untried leader.
For the first time since 1955, the House of Commons continued to sit even though an election had been called. On 1 March, Labour unveiled a "little Budget". Jim Callaghan, the Chancellor, announced a scheme of tax rebates for mortgage holders and he also promised the decimalisation of sterling by February 1971.
During the campaign's early stages, Heath ruffled Labour's feathers by raising the possibility of Britain joining the Common Market. Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart said the Government would not enter the Common Market until after its agricultural policy had changed. Callaghan said Britain was willing to join but needed to negotiate. The two party leaders then traded blows over the subject, with Wilson accusing Heath of "rolling on his back like a spaniel at any kind gesture from the French".
Wilson was determined to keep the peace within the Labour Party over Europe. He needed to make some encouraging noises about the Common Market, but he couldn't afford to risk angering his own backbenchers. Wilson wanted to employ what one of his campaign managers, Richard Crossman, called a "deliberately boring approach". Wilson wanted a quiet campaign and was unwilling to raise any issues.
On 10 March, Heath, in the most memorable phrase of the campaign, described Britain's shaky economic position as "9-5-1". Heath referred to the 9% rise in wages, 5% increase in prices and a 1% rise in production. These figures, he claimed, contained the sad truth about Britain's economic ills. Labour dismissed Heath's accusations, which in any case had failed to make any impact on the voters.
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