Weatherwatch: freezing nights, long strikes and high energy costs of 1973

Fifty years ago the UK faced an energy crisis. War in the Middle East had been followed by a sharp increase in the price of oil, while at home industrial unrest threatened to disrupt the production of coal. There were concerns that a reduced electricity supply would not be enough to keep the country running.

The situation came to a head in November 1973 when the east of the UK suffered a cold spell with numerous night frosts. Southern Scotland and north-west England recorded temperatures of -10C, and Lanarkshire saw a recordbreaking -14.6C. Energy consumption was set to rise sharply.

The Conservative government invoked emergency powers to restrict electrical heating, banning it in offices, shops and public buildings including libraries, bars and restaurants, forcing many to close. Meanwhile heating in all government offices was restricted to 18C. These measures were more severe than expected.

The situation worsened and later in November the government issued the Fuel and Electricity Control Act, taking over the production and supply of fuel and electricity entirely. This allowed the government to impose a three-day working week, with factories and offices closed down to save energy.

Labour only narrowly won the subsequent election in February 1974. Perhaps a milder winter would have produced a different political outcome.


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