The Election in Retrospect
Calling a general election has traditionally been considered one of the key powers exercised by a prime minister. It is a politically consequential decision. Harold Wilson in 1970 and Ted Heath in 1974 both called elections earlier than needed—and both lost. Indeed, there were striking similarities between Theresa May in 2017 and Heath’s snap (‘Who Governs?’) general election in February 1974. Heath, also backed by opinion poll leads, had reluctantly called the election to give him a stronger hand to reinforce his statutory incomes policy against the coal miners’ industrial action. But his party was ill-prepared, he had been persuaded to call the election, the public mood was volatile and he lost. In 2017, May’s party had clear poll leads but was ill-prepared, the mood was volatile and the voters baulked at the invitation to back her.