Most pundits expected the Labour Government to be returned with a solid majority of 20 to 30 MPs. Opinion polls showed Labour running 10 points clear of the Tories. But throughout the lacklustre campaign, Heath remained confident that victory was possible. This election was the fourth fought with Wilson and Heath as the leaders of the main parties; as such it failed to inspire the public.
Labour entered the campaign with strong attacks on the record of Heath's previous government (1970-1974) under the slogan "Labour keeps its promises". Wilson never tired of reminding voters of Heath's three-day week, which Labour labelled the "dark ages". But although Labour was strong on the offensive, its campaign was not without the occasional jitter.
Despite Wilson's attempts to keep the Cabinet silent on the issue of the Common Market, Shirley Williams reminded the voters that Labour was divided on Europe when she announced she would quit politics if Britain were to withdraw from the EEC. Persistent rumours about Wilson's health dogged Labour's campaign.
The Conservatives got off to an early start when copies of the Tory manifesto were leaked to the press, forcing them to publish it before Wilson called the election. Heath ran under the banner of national unity. In the final days of the campaign he proposed a government of national unity even if the Conservatives won a majority.
Heath's ideas worried Labour despite Wilson's firm rebuff. "Coalition would mean Con policies, Con leadership by a Con party for a Con trick." Labour continued to play up the success of the social contract in getting the miners back to work where Heath had failed.
As well as national unity, Heath also tried to lure the voters by promising to hold down the mortage interest rate to 9.5%. But even this didn't seem to work. On the eve of the election, opinion polls showed Labour nearly 15 points ahead. However, the polls were to be proved wrong, just as they had been earlier in the year.
The Liberals under Jeremy Thorpe capitalised on the disillusionment of the floating voter with the two main parties in the February election, polling an impressive six million votes. Thorpe's problem was how to hold on to these first-time Liberal voters.
Thorpe, like Heath, talked of a Government of National Unity, believing that the country faced problems of such magnitude that they were above party allegiances. Thorpe hoped a Liberal breakthrough in this election would break, "the stranglehold of the present class-ridden two-party system".
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