United Kingdom general election, 1979: Wikis

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1974 · members United Kingdom members · 1983
United Kingdom general election, 1979
All 635 seats to the House of Commons
3 May 1979
First party Second party Third party
Margaret Thatcher cropped2.png James Callaghan.JPG David Steel, October 2007.jpg
Leader Margaret Thatcher James Callaghan David Steel
Party Conservative Labour Liberal
Leader since 11 February 1975 5 April 1976 7 July 1976
Leader's seat Finchley Cardiff South East Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles
Last election 277 seats, 35.8% 319 seats, 39.2% 13 seats, 18.3%
Seats won 339 269 11
Seat change +62 -50 -2
Popular vote 13,697,923 11,532,218 4,313,804
Percentage 43.9% 36.9% 13.8%
Swing  %  %  %

Incumbent PM
James Callaghan
Labour

February 1974 election MPs
October 1974 election MPs
1979 election MPs
1983 election MPs
1987 election MPs

The United Kingdom general election of 1979 was held on 3 May 1979 and is regarded as a pivotal point in 20th century British politics. The Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher defeated James Callaghan's incumbent Labour government in the first of four consecutive general election victories for the Conservative Party.

Contents

Background

Callaghan had succeeded Harold Wilson as Labour Prime Minister after the latter's surprise resignation in April 1976. By March 1977 Labour's small 1974 majority had become a minority government after several by-election defeats, and from March 1977 to August 1978 Callaghan governed by an agreement with the Liberal Party through the Lib-Lab pact. Callaghan then considered calling an election in the autumn of 1978 but ultimately decided that a possible economic upturn in 1979 could favour his party at the polls.

However, events would soon overtake the Labour government. A series of industrial disputes in the winter of 1978-79, dubbed the "Winter of Discontent", led to widespread strikes across the country and seriously hurt Labour's standings in the polls. When the Scottish National Party (SNP) withdrew support for the Scotland Act 1978, a vote of no confidence was held and passed by one vote on 28 March 1979, forcing a general election. As the previous election had been held in October 1974, Labour could have held on until the autumn of 1979 if it had not been for the lost confidence vote.

Margaret Thatcher had won her party's 1975 leadership election over former leader Edward Heath.

David Steel had replaced Jeremy Thorpe as leader of the Liberal Party in 1976, after accusations of homosexuality and allegations of a conspiracy to commit murder forced Thorpe to resign (see Rinkagate). The scandals led to a fall in the Liberal vote after what was thought to be a breakthrough in the February 1974 election.

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Campaign

The three main parties all advocated cutting income tax. Labour and the Conservatives did not specify the exact thresholds of income tax they would implement but the Liberals did, claiming they would have income tax starting at 20% with a top rate of 50%.[1]

The Labour campaign reiterated their support for the National Health Service and full employment and focused on the damage they believed the Conservatives would do to the country. In an early campaign broadcast, Callaghan asked: "The question you will have to consider is whether we risk tearing everything up by the roots". Towards the end of Labour's campaign Callaghan claimed a Conservative government "would sit back and just allow firms to go bankrupt and jobs to be lost in the middle of a world recession" and that the Conservatives were "too big a gamble to take".[2]

The Conservatives campaigned on economic issues, pledging to control inflation and to reduce the increasing power of the unions who supported the mass strikes. They also employed the advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi. The Conservative campaign was focused on gaining support from traditional Labour voters who had never voted Conservative before, first-time voters and people who had voted Liberal in 1974.[3] Mrs. Thatcher's advisers, Gordon Reece and Timothy Bell, co-ordinated their presentation with the editor of The Sun, Larry Lamb. The Sun printed a series of articles by disillusioned former Labour ministers (Reginald Prentice, Richard Marsh, Lord George-Brown, Alfred Robens and Lord Chalfont) detailing why they had switched their support to Mrs Thatcher. She explicitly asked Labour voters for her support when she launched her campaign in Cardiff, claiming that Labour was now extreme.[4] An analysis of the election claimed that the Conservatives gained an 11% swing among the skilled working-class (the C2s) and a 9% swing amongst the unskilled working class (the DEs).[5]

Results

In the end, the overall swing of 5.2% was the largest since 1945 and gave the Conservatives a workable majority of 43 for the country's first female Prime Minister. The Conservative victory in 1979 also marked a change in government which would continue for 18 years until the Labour victory in 1997.

UK General Election 1979
Candidates Votes
Party Standing Elected Gained Unseated Net  % of total  % No. Net %
  Conservative 622 339 63 1 + 62 53.4% 43.9 13,697,923 + 8.1
  Labour 623 269 4 54 - 50 42.4% 36.9 11,532,218 - 2.3
  Liberal 577 11 1 3 - 2 1.7% 13.8 4,313,804 - 4.5
  SNP 71 2 0 9 - 9 0.31% 1.6 504,259 - 1.3
  Ulster Unionist 11 5 1 2 - 1 0.79% 0.8 254,578 - 0.1
  National Front 303 0 0 0 0 N/A 0.6 191,719 + 0.2
  Plaid Cymru 36 2 0 1 - 1 0.31% 0.4 132,544 - 0.2
  Social Democratic and Labour 9 1 0 0 0 0.16% 0.4 126,325 - 0.2
  Alliance 12 0 0 0 0 N/A 0.3 82,892 + 0.1
  Democratic Unionist 5 3 2 0 + 2 0.47% 0.2 70,795 - 0.1
  Ecology 53 0 0 0 0 N/A 0.1 39,918 + 0.1
  United Ulster Unionist 2 1 1 0 + 1 0.16% 0.1 39,856 N/A
  Independent Ulster Unionist 1 1 1 0 + 1 0.16% 0.1 36,989 + 0.1
  Independent Labour 12 0 0 0 0 0.16% 0.1 27,953 - 0.1
  Irish Independence 4 0 0 0 0 N/A 0.1 23,086 N/A
  Independent Republican 1 1 0 0 0 N/A 0.1 22,398 - 0.1
  Independent 62 0 0 0 0 N/A 0.1 19,531 + 0.1
  Communist 38 0 0 0 0 N/A 0.1 16,858 0.0
  Scottish Labour 3 0 0 0 0 N/A 0.1 13,737 N/A
  Workers' Revolutionary 60 0 0 0 0 N/A 0.1 12,631 + 0.1
  Workers Party 7 0 0 0 0 N/A 0.1 12,098 0.0
  Independent SDLP 1 0 0 0 0 N/A 0.0 10,785 N/A
  Unionist Party NI 3 0 0 0 0 N/A 0.0 8,021 - 0.1
  Independent Conservative 7 0 0 0 0 N/A 0.0 4,841 0.0
  Labour (NI) 3 0 0 0 0 N/A 0.0 4,441 0.0
  Mebyon Kernow 3 0 0 0 0 N/A 0.0 4,164 0.0
  Democratic Labour 2 0 0 0 0 N/A 0.0 3,785 - 0.1
  Wessex Regionalist 7 0 0 0 0 N/A 0.0 3,090 N/A
  Socialist Unity 10 0 0 0 0 N/A 0.0 2,834 N/A
  Independent Democratic 5 0 0 0 0 N/A 0.0 1,087 N/A
  United Country 2 0 0 0 0 N/A 0.0 1,033 N/A
  Independent Liberal 2 0 0 0 0 N/A 0.0 1,023 0.0
  Independent Socialist 2 0 0 0 0 N/A 0.0 770 0.0
  Workers (Leninist) 2 0 0 0 0 N/A 0.0 767 0.0
  New Britain 2 0 0 0 0 N/A 0.0 717 0.0
  Fellowship 2 0 0 0 0 N/A 0.0 531 0.0
  More Prosperous Britain 6 0 0 0 0 N/A 0.0 518 0.0
  United English National 2 0 0 0 0 N/A 0.0 238 0.0
  Cornish Nationalist 1 0 0 0 0 N/A 0.0 227 N/A
  Social Democrat 1 0 0 0 0 N/A 0.0 144 0.0
  English National 1 0 0 0 0 N/A 0.0 142 0.0
  Socialist (GB) 1 0 0 0 0 N/A 0.0 78 0.0

Total number of votes cast: 31,221,362. All parties shown.

N.B. The Vanguard Progressive Unionist Party had folded in 1978. Of its three MPs, two joined the Ulster Unionist Party (one held his seat, the other lost to the Democratic Unionist Party) and the third defended and held his seat for the United Ulster Unionist Party.

James Kilfedder had been previously elected as an Ulster Unionist MP, but left the party, defending and holding his seat as an Independent Ulster Unionist. He subsequently founded the Ulster Popular Unionist Party but did not use that label in this election.

Votes summary

Popular vote
Conservative
  
43.87%
Labour
  
36.94%
Liberal
  
13.82%
Scottish National
  
1.62%
Ulster Unionist
  
0.81%
National Front
  
0.61%
Plaid Cymru
  
0.42%
Social Democratic and Labour
  
0.4%
Independent
  
0.4%
Others
  
1.11%

Seats summary

Parliamentary seats
Conservative
  
53.39%
Labour
  
42.36%
Liberal
  
1.73%
Others
  
2.52%

See also

References

  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ Hugo Young, One of Us (Pan, 1990), p. 131.
  3. ^ John Campbell, Margaret Thatcher: The Grocer's Daughter (Jonathan Cape, 2000), p. 432.
  4. ^ [2]
  5. ^ David Butler and Dennis Kavanagh, The British General Election of 1979 (Macmillan, 1980), p. 343

Manifestos


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