How do the behind-the-scenes negotiations actually work when there's a hung parliament? Two diaries by former insiders reveal the horse-trading requiredby Ian Irvine / May 1, 2010 / Leave a comment
Cecil King, former chairman of the Mirror Group, writes in his diary on 2nd March 1974:
The figures for the general election are now all in and the result is a complete deadlock. Obviously the great British public thinks nothing of either main party and the electoral system does not help the other parties. So there are 297 Tories, 301 Labour, 14 Liberals, 11 Ulster anti-Faulkner Unionists, 7 Scottish Nationalists, 2 Welsh Nationalists, and sundry odds and ends. It was announced last night that Ted [Heath, the PM] is trying to form an anti-Socialist alliance. The Liberals seem willing to play ball but may demand a new PM. To me the situation demands a change as there will have to be an election before very long, and if the Tories go into another election with Ted in the lead, they will be massacred.
Ian Paisley [Ulster Unionist whip, above right] originally told me he hoped to win four or perhaps six seats. In fact he got 11. Paisley rang this morning; would we convey a message to Ted that his 11 did not want a Labour government and would support a Conservative government, on condition there was a fresh election to the Assembly?… Paisley said he would welcome William Whitelaw as the new PM (if it came to that) as he knows Whitelaw well.
3rd March 1974
Last night I rang [Jeremy] Thorpe [leader of the Liberal party] and told him about Paisley’s message; Paisley had… no objection to this. Thorpe was grateful and said Ted had not told him about Paisley’s offer at their meeting in the afternoon.
The political situation remains completely confused. Several Liberals have attacked the idea of any deal with the Tories; Wilson is sticking to his determination to have no deal with anyone; the Welsh and Scottish Nationalists are thought likely to vote Labour rather than Conservative… I should have thought the result will be either a minority Labour government, or a coalition…
4th March 1974
No response to Paisley’s message to 10 Downing St. Ted does not seem to have got the idea at all. The Tories surely cannot go into another election, presumably this year, with Ted in the lead. It is extraordinary how in this crisis the newspapers, television and radio all conspire to belittle the importance of the 11 Ulster members, and in particular to write as if Paisley is a man of straw.
5th March 1974
Yesterday evening all attempts by Heath to do a deal with Liberals broke down, so he resigned and Wilson reigns in his stead. Alastair Campbell writes in his diary five days before the election on 26th April 1997:
I got there just before 7 and [Tony Blair] stunned me straight out with the boldest plan yet. “How would people feel if I gave Paddy [Ashdown] a place in the cabinet and started merger talks?” Fuck me. I loved the boldness of it, but doubted he could get it through the key players. He had the Clause 4 glint in his eye. He’d hinted at it a few times in the past, but this sounded like a plan. He was making a cup of tea, and chuckling. “We could put the Tories out of business for a generation.”