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Labour Party Election Broadcasts from October 1974

Note: The text is based on transcripts held at the Labour History Archive and Study Centre at the People's History Museum, Manchester.

23rd September 1974


Teamwork: that's what counts when you're facing trouble as we in Britain are today. That's why it's vital to have a good team at the top, in government. And whether you're a Labour supporter or not, I'm sure you'll agree with me, that Labour has a very good team, a very experienced team of men and women at the top. Take Shirley Williams, battling for your family budgets, she's made no promises about cutting prices at a stroke, but she's saved the average family about sixty-four p a week by subsidising basic foods like bread, butter, milk, cheese and tea. Anthony Crossland inherited an appalling housing situation as environment secretary. In six months he's frozen all rents, pegged mortgages, helped domestic rate payers hardest hit by Tory rate increases, boosted local authority house building which was at an all time low in February. Now he's announced the public ownership of all development land and stopped land and property speculators making obscene profits at your expense. But could I make one thing clear? These proposals do not apply to the homes and gardens of the owner-occupier.

Home Secretary Roy Jenkins has declared a new deal for women to end the discrimination in pay, housing and jobs which has made women second class citizens. Barbara Castle's pensions plan will give women equal treatment for the first time as well as taking the poverty out of old age by making future pension increases inflation proof. She's already paid out the biggest and quickest increase ever in pensions and other benefits for the sick, disabled, unemployed and widowed. National Health staff have not been forgotten either. Their pay rises will help make the Health Service great again.

Dennis Healey our chancellor can boast that Britain is beginning to pay her way in the world again. Our non-oil trade deficit has been slashed by half, and he's reforming taxation. An extra one and a half million people now pay no income tax at all, while tax increases have been concentrated on the well off.

Michael Foot ended the miners' strike and the three day week within days of becoming employment secretary. He scrapped the industrial relations act to the relief of unions and employers alike. He's cleared the decks for good sense and reason to emerge once more in board rooms and on the shop floor.


It's a good start to an election when a government goes to the country and is able to say 'We've kept faith with you'. It's good for the government's standing, but it's good for the country too. Because it sustains people's belief in the process of democracy. And there are some now who are trying to undermine that belief. They are the enemies on the extreme right and the extreme left. The Labour government has got a splendid record since February, one of which I'm proud - anyone who tells me politicians don't keep their promises will get a swift sharp reply. So we come to you again with some confidence and we say 'Please give the Labour government a clear majority to keep on with the job'. From what I read none of the other party leaders disputes our view that the principle problems the country has to face are rising prices, costs shooting up, the fear of growing unemployment.

Well, the government is tackling all of these. The new food subsidies have been invaluable to the family. The last election when we were talking about this I met a young housewife who said she didn't understand what food subsidies were - she was too young, she didn't remember the last war - well I think she knows now. And she should also know that they've saved her family with two young children over sixty pence a week on her food bills. Well why didn't the Tories do that when they had the chance? It's the family that needs protection when there's a thin time ahead. We know it's costing the country a lot more to live nowadays, the oil that fuels our industries is costing us four pounds a barrel to import, it was only a pound a year ago. Thank goodness we shall have our own supplies by 1980.

But it isn't only fuel oil. Other commodities have gone up too that we bring in to the country, and the result is this - and I want to put it quite straight - we in this country, over the next year or two, are going to be hard put to it even to maintain our standards of life, never mind improving them. That's why you need a Labour government. To protect you, to make sure that the burden of sacrifice is fairly born, that the broadest shoulders do carry it, that the elderly are looked after, and the sick, and the disabled, and that the worker and his wife and children shall be protected from the ravages of unemployment.

And to be sure we can do this the Labour government needs a clear majority, and not be dependent on the whims of other parties' votes. We've a series of clear-cut policies. They are there to meet the present emergency. But where does the Tory leadership stand? They're all over the shop. Some say one thing, some say another. No wonder the Conservative voter is feeling a bit bothered and bewildered and perhaps a bit downcast. Mr Heath, to whom I never deny the virtue of courage, at least has admitted that he went sadly wrong with his industrial relations and with the three day week. But he hasn't a single new economic idea to put before us. I think he needs a little longer in opposition to think it all out.

As for the Liberals, they baffle me. Their remedy apparently is to go back to the very wage policies that led Mr Heath to disaster and the country to the edge of it. Now, apart from these immediate problems of inflation and unemployment, the most serious longer term aspect in Britain is that other countries continue to move ahead faster than we do. True, we've still got a pretty high standard of life but we are falling behind. We cannot continue as we are. We must make radical changes. So this is what the Labour government proposes. First, a new relationship between government and industry, to revive investment, to increase productivity, and to increase profitability. There must be a partnership in which the government takes more direct interest in raising industry's standards, but to do it without smothering private industry. Next, there are our plans for a more equal and fairer society, one that will protect those in need, and will give a new status to women.

Scotland and Wales will have the opportunity to express themselves more fully through their own elected assemblies, whilst they remain part of the United Kingdom - there's no room for separatist, nationalist party in these tiny islands in this day and age. Britain must decide its role in Europe. When our re-negotiations are complete the government will place the facts in front of you. You will be asked through the ballot box to decide your own future. And this will take place within the next twelve months, if there's a Labour government, not with the Liberals or Conservatives in office. But whatever happens, Britain needs to work closely with other countries, for we cannot solve our problems on our own. Countries, even the very largest, need to cooperate with each other, more and more nowadays. But whatever the difficulties, a Labour government will continue to protect your rent, to try to keep down the price of food, the cost of living, and protect the value of your wages.

Our present situation is uniquely difficult, we shall need everybody's cooperation if we are to succeed. Already the trade unions have given a firm promise to help. I believe they mean what they say. And I, I'm sure, when the election is over, the employers will do the same. So with the government's successful record of the last seven months behind us, with our clear programme for the future in front of us, we ask you, we ask the country, for an uncluttered and unencumbered majority on October the 10th, enable us to get on with the job, and ensure that Britain has a great future.

26th September 1974


And to those outside our own ranks, who sneer at the social contract, who'll eagerly eagerly look for every sign of failure and ignore every success, let me say to them that whatever its limitations the social contract is the only way forward that stands any chance of success at all in this country at this time.


That wasn't one of those newspaper know-alls you see so much of on the box these days, that was a real man talking to real people, to people whose hard work is responsible for the fact that, despite all our present troubles, we live so much better today than our fathers and grandfathers did. And Len Murray is dead right. There just is no alternative to the social contract. The point was rammed home the other day by the very man who masterminded Mr Heath's statutory wage policy as head of the civil service - Sir William Armstrong. 'The Conservatives were wrong', he said, 'to try to enforce an incomes policy by law. It may take years', he said, 'but a voluntary agreement is the only way'. A voluntary agreement, and that's what the social contract is. But it takes two to make an agreement. Mr Heath could have had one three years ago if he'd been prepared to meet the unions half way on pensions, rents and prices. And prices are really the key.


We've basically picked on the essentials. We picked on them in terms of how much they mattered to the less well off groups in the community. We picked on them in terms of their nutritional value, and we picked on them because we knew the subsidy would reach the consumer. And it's a very striking fact today that something like three-quarters of all the protein eaten by pensioners comes from our subsidised food, that's one reason why we chose them. All the evidence is that means tested benefits don't reach all the people that they should reach, the best result is about sixty percent but in most cases it's a good deal less than that.

We wanted the subsidies to get to everybody who was badly off, who was hit by inflation, who was elderly, and therefore it goes to everybody but only the better off pay for it through extra taxes. What we said when we came to office was that inflation was hitting everybody, that it was only fair that the retailer should take his share as well, and we just [?] that there should be a ten percent cut in what are called gross profits. Now what that means is profits before you allow for costs. This is then a considerably bigger drop than that in real profits - as much as a quarter in most cases - and we knew we were being tough and we knew we had to do it because we felt that everybody should be involved in the battle against inflation even though it was hard.

What we asked the trade to do - and we didn't we we count everybody except the very small trader - but all the other traders we said to them, 'Look, we want you to concentrate this cut in profit margins on the most essential foods' and we entered into a voluntary agreement under which they concentrated the cut in profits on the essential foodstuffs and not on the luxury things, the lobster soups and so forth, and this we're satisfied has been done with the result that for the first time in a very long time the food index for the less well off groups has risen considerably less fast than the overall er rate in the cost of living.


What we're trying to do in Britain now is to create a new sort of unity between ordinary people and the government, because I don't think we in Westminster have any right to call for sacrifices from those who put us there unless we show that we care about the things that matter to the average family: prices, houses, schools, hospitals and so on. But above all that means jobs - the right to work. The only alternative to our social contract is the medicine the Conservatives tried last time they disguised themselves as a national coalition government in the thirties - mass unemployment. And I do wish that Sir Keith Joseph would answer this simple question: even if you set aside the insult to human dignity involved, how on earth can you justify making people who've got a job pay out eighteen hundred million pounds a year to keep two million active man and women idle on the dole, when the nation wants the goods they could produce as desperately as they want to produce them. And don't forget that this sort of unemployment also means bankruptcies, and bankruptcies on a colossal scale, in fact it means insecurity for everyone.


There are many firms that come to me er as minister and they're in difficulties, they give you no notice and yet er their difficulties have been building up over a long period and if they had discussed it frankly with their own people they would have come up with er solutions which might have been sufficient to deal with it.


There are many private companies that have gone bust, people have lost their jobs, they're all [?] It is no consolation for them to be told that you were employed by a private owner.


I know one man came in one morning with his car you know and everything and he went home the night without anything, no car, finished just like that, that was [?] management. Not just on the floor.


When I was in Liverpool the other day and I went into a firm where the receiver had been put in the managing director er lost his job and he was just as worried as the trade union representatives.

The principle object of our policy now is safeguarding jobs and creating new jobs in areas where they are needed, because there is great anxiety as you know about er er this at the moment and er quite apart from the people who are at present worried er there are areas of the country who over nine out of every hundred men are out of work.

All governments have put in subsidies into private manufacturing industry, it's running at about two million pounds a day. Now another thing that we've done of course is to extend the what are called development areas er Edinburgh - Leith - have been brought in, Merseyside has been made a special development area, Cardiff has been brought in because of anxiety there. And another thing we did is to double the regional employment premium, and this means that where people are working in areas of high unemployment the government can come in [does] through the regional employment premium, provide in effect a subsidy to employment, otherwise you get levels of unemployment that are really quite unacceptable.


There's a great deal the government can do and this government is doing it. But in the end, getting through the present crisis depends on all of us. We just have to learn to live together as a nation in anew and better way. Of course it won't all work perfectly straight off. But anyone who's really interested in the future of our country will be looking at the progress we're making and not the occasional upsets, because getting our industrial relations right is the most important single thing in Britain. We simply can't afford to go back to the sort of running battle between government and people we had only eight months ago. The social contract is a far better way, it is in fact the new deal Britain has been waiting for. It's not just about wages, it's about jobs, prices, houses, everything that really matters.


We've got to restore effective collective bargaining in British industry, as we did in the mining dispute. If we hadn't done it there, that strike and the three-day week would still be on. Then we've established a new conciliation and arbitration service which has already had some success in preventing some disputes from taking place, and I'm sure is going to have much more success in the years ahead. But most important, if you're going to have industrial peace, you must remove the injustices and the anomalies and the unfairness, particularly the anomalies and the unfairness that arose under the compulsory control of wages, under the Tory system which we abolished. And of course it takes time to do all those things. It's going to take time to establish our idea of industrial democracy, so that the workers shall have a much bigger say in the places where they work. Of course it's going to take time, but this is the exciting prospect ahead for this country if only we set aside the er the attacks and the confrontations of the past and realise that we can do it much better in the future.

4th October 1974


Too much talk at election time is about who will win. I want to talk about who will deserve to win. In my view it'll be the party which can show the best prospect of an advanced appearance which makes sense in our present economic difficulties. In a moment you will see Shirley Williams talking about prices, Tony Crossland on housing, and Barbara Castle on the Health Service. These are vital matters, but beyond them there is the fact that many women have a raw deal at work and often in the rest of their lives as well. We'll announce radical proposals for ending as much of this discrimination as it is possible to do by law. The equal pay act will be in full operation by the end of next year, but equal pay must be accompanied by equal opportunities, to be trained for worthwhile jobs and then to get them. And worthwhile jobs and equal pay are not enough if there persists alongside them the indignities of unequal treatment in getting a house or borrowing money or social security provisions. Our measures will end this. They will enable half our population to fulfil their potential to make a greater contribution and to live more worthwhile lives.


Mrs Williams, I'd like to ask you the sort of questions housewives are asking, the sort of women who write and to me and say 'I'm a mere housewife.' They say, 'We're told the Labour government is getting inflation under control, but where's the evidence of that?'


Well I don't believe there are 'mere' housewives. I think that housewives and for that matter their husbands as well are quite intelligent enough to understand the ways in which we can deal with inflation and the things we can't do. Whenever said as a government we would cut prices at a stroke, we knew we couldn't do that. What we did say we would do would be to restrain the galloping rate of inflation and we have. We've started out by introducing food subsidies and by cutting the profits in the retail trade by ten percent.


You spoke er a moment ago about subsidies, are they really the best way to protect the most vulnerable like the elderly and the poor?


The trouble with means tested benefits of the sort the Tories often say we should have used is that they don't reach people who are either too proud or in some cases too ill or too old to apply for them. We wanted to reach everybody. Now some people say 'oh well it's all indiscriminate the millionaire gets a subsidy as well as the pensioner'. So he does, but he pays a devil of a lot for it because taxes to the better off have gone up to pay for the subsidies. It is the less well off who are getting the full benefit, and it's quite a benefit, it's about sixty pence a week for the ordinary family - it will shortly go up to over seventy pence a week - and about thirty five pence a week for the pensioner couple. We think that's a relief worth having.


What about the future? As one hard-pressed housewife said to me only yesterday 'where's it all going to end?'


It's not going to end immediately. We've made it quite clear as a party that we are going to go through and we are going through a difficult time as a country and so are almost all other countries in the western world. A lot depends on our own willingness as a country to act in a grown up manner, that's what we mean by the social contract. In my view it covers workers at home as well as workers in the factories and the offices.


As with prices so with housing. Labour's plans embrace every family's housing needs.


It was under a Labour government that the proportion of people owning their own house for the first time ever in British history rose above fifty percent, rose above half. It was the Tories who clobbered the owner-occupier, they let the price of houses double, they let the mortgage rate go up from eight and a half percent step by step to eleven percent. At the end they had created a total mortgage famine, and they let the whole programme of building houses for the home buyer erm go into a state of total ruin and collapse. The argument against the Thatcher plan is that it is not only grossly unfair within the group of people who have got a mortgage - within that group it helps the better off worse more than the worse off - but also it doesn't help the whole of the rest of the population who generally have lower incomes. I mean take the most extreme example, it does nothing to help the homeless, all the people who are on a council house waiting list, all the people - and there are millions - who are living now in substandard er conditions, it doesn't help those in the slightest degree, so the whole er the whole plan goes absolutely counter to the kind of compassionate and just philosophy we are trying to express through the social contract.


The Conservatives showed little compassion for the lower paid, the teachers, the postmen, the nurses when they were in power.


When I took over I found a very very low state of morale. I don't know how many of you marched against me but I I I can under I understood why because during the past three and a half years average basic wage rates rose thirty eight percent faster than nurses' pay. The Labour government has injected nearly three hundred million pounds more money into the Health Service in the past few months to meet pay increases a-and to meet rises in costs but I think that is one of the priorities in in this country and I certainly wouldn't be prepared to sacrifice the National Health Service in order to try and solve the country's economic difficulties, I think that'll be a way to make them worse.


You have just seen some of the things which we've done in seven months. We're not making promises which we can't keep. People are rightly sceptical of extravagant offers, particularly at a time when everyone knows we're facing formidable tasks and menacing economic problems. The electorate values performance more that vote-catching. Sensible plans for ordered progress towards a fairer society are essential, but a prospectus for easy prosperity next year would earn cynicism and not respect. At the same time we must raise our eyes above the foothills of politics. This election is more than a struggle about statistics. I reject death-bed conversions to national unity which are just a device to keep a defeated Conservative party in power. And we must answer them with our own convincing plans for healing the wounds of the nation.

A separated and divided country, with everyone pursuing only their own individual interests, nursing their own grievances, certainly won't give us either a fairer or a stronger Britain. The most dangerous recipe for a mean, reactionary, inward-looking, petty minded society is to set one group's grievances against another - the old against the young, pensioners against the families, council house tenants against the owner-occupiers, workers against management, countryside against the cities, Britain against the world. If we look around us, in our everyday lives, I think we would most of us agree those who have the most satisfying lives are those who work for others as well as for themselves. The same is as true as a nation as of individuals.

This is the broad-based appeal to conscience and reform which brought me into the Labour party. It embraces I believe the best part of the old liberal tradition of tolerance and freedom. It is socialist because it puts the community first. It is national because it can secure a strong Britain which the alternative harsh materialism has dismally failed to do. It is internationalist, because it recognises that humanity does not stop at the shores of this island. It offers a way out of the blind-alley of gloom and despondency, division and frustration, into which we have been for too long led. It is a basis on which we can both win the election and serve the nation. It is a message of justice and of hope for the future.


For a better deal for women, for families, for pensioners, vote Labour.

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Last Modified: 22 Oct 12
© Richard Kimber