History doesn’t repeat itself but, as Mark Twain probably never said, it has a definite tendency to rhyme. This water-stained campaign flyer was produced by Beeston Labour Party candidate Tony Gardner for the second general election held during 1974. That February, Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath had gambled on a fresh election to increase his majority under the slogan “Who Governs Britain?” only to end up facing a hung parliament.
Having failed to build a coalition with Jeremy Thorpe’s Liberals or secure an agreement with the Ulster Unionists to support him, Heath was forced to concede that he couldn’t form a government and passed the role of Prime Minister to Harold Wilson. Having struggled to run the country as a minority administration for a few months, Wilson called a second election in October. This finally gave him the narrowest of working majorities: a mere three seats.
Unfortunately for Tony Gardner, Beeston wasn’t to be one of the gains made by Labour. A local Labour activist until his death in 2011, Gardner had already been MP for Rushcliffe between 1966 and 1970, when he lost to Kenneth Clarke. By 1974, boundaries had been redrawn and Gardner stood in Beeston, which now included part of his old seat, but he was twice defeated by the Tories’ Jim Lester. Beeston was absorbed into the Broxtowe constituency in 1983.
The political arguments on Gardner’s flyer, interestingly enough, make their pitch against the general background of their day, commenting on “the oil crisis”, “soaring food prices” and a Conservative government pursuing “a deliberate policy of confrontation” with unions and working people. Labour proposed solutions such as “help for poorer families and the disabled”, “the effective redistribution of wealth; particularly inherited wealth” and “more house-building.”
Gardner also clearly represented the political mainstream of his day and many of his arguments still resonate, perhaps none more than his remark that “the people of Britain will respond to the challenges we face, provided they see that the burdens will be fairly shared.” As for history, Wilson’s narrow win in 1974 led to Heath’s resignation and the appointment of a new Tory leader named Margaret Thatcher. She was widely considered unelectable by her own party’s old guard at the time.