The 1979 United Kingdom general election was held on 3 May 1979 to elect 635 members to the British House of Commons. The Conservative Party, led by Margaret Thatcher, ousted the incumbent Labour government of James Callaghan with a parliamentary majority of 43 seats. The election was the first of four consecutive election victories for the Conservative Party, and Thatcher became the United Kingdom's and Europe's first elected female head of government.
The previous parliamentary term had begun in October 1974, when Harold Wilson led Labour to a majority of three seats, but within eighteen months he had resigned as Prime Minister to be succeeded by James Callaghan, and within a year the government's narrow parliamentary majority had gone. Callaghan had made agreements with the Liberals, the Ulster Unionists, as well as the Scottish and Welsh nationalists in order to remain in power. However, on 28 March 1979 following the defeat of the Scottish devolution referendum, Thatcher tabled a motion of no confidence in Callaghan's Labour government, which was passed by just one vote (311 to 310), triggering a general election five months before the end of the government's term.
The Labour campaign was hampered by the series of industrial disputes and strikes during the winter of 1978–79, known as the Winter of Discontent, and the party focused its campaign on support for the National Health Service and full employment. After intense media speculation, Callaghan had announced early in the autumn of 1978 that a general election would not take place that year having received private polling data which suggested a parliamentary majority was unlikely.
The Conservative campaign employed the advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi and pledged to control inflation as well as curbing the power of the trade unions. The Liberal Party was damaged by allegations that its former leader Jeremy Thorpe had been involved in a homosexual affair, and had conspired to murder his former lover. The Liberals were now being led by David Steel, meaning that all three major parties entered the election with a new leader.
The election saw a 5.2% swing from Labour to the Conservatives, the largest swing since the 1945 election, which Clement Attlee won for Labour. Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister, and Callaghan was replaced as Labour leader by Michael Foot in 1980. Results for the election were broadcast live on the BBC, and presented by David Dimbleby and Robin Day, with Robert McKenzie on the "Swingometer", and further analysis provided by David Butler. It was the first general election to feature Rick Wakeman's song "Arthur" on the BBC's coverage.
|1979 United Kingdom general election|
All 635 seats in the House of Commons
318 seats needed for a majority
Colours denote the winning party—as shown in § Results
After suffering a vote of no confidence on 28 March 1979, Prime Minister James Callaghan was forced to announce that he would request a dissolution of Parliament to onset a general election. The key dates were as follows:
|Saturday 7 April||Dissolution of the 47th Parliament and campaigning officially begins; 2,576 candidates enter to contest 635 seats|
|Wednesday 2 May||Campaigning officially ends|
|Thursday 3 May||Polling day|
|Friday 4 May||The Conservative Party wins power with a majority of 43|
|Wednesday 9 May||The 48th Parliament assembles|
|Tuesday 15 May||State Opening of Parliament|
Britain's economy during the 1970s was so weak that Labour minister James Callaghan warned his fellow Cabinet members in 1974 of the possibility of "a breakdown of democracy", telling them: "If I were a young man, I would emigrate." Callaghan succeeded Harold Wilson as the Labour prime minister after the latter's surprise resignation in April 1976. By March 1977 Labour 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 had considered calling an election in the autumn of 1978, but ultimately decided that imminent tax cuts, and a possible economic upturn in 1979, could favour his party at the polls by calling one later. Although published opinion polls suggested that he might win, private polls commissioned by the Labour Party from MORI had suggested the two main parties had much the same level of support.
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 Callaghan to call 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.
David Steel had replaced Jeremy Thorpe as leader of the Liberal Party in 1976, after allegations of homosexuality and conspiracy to murder his former lover forced Thorpe to resign. The Thorpe affair led to a fall in the Liberal vote after what was thought to be a breakthrough in the February 1974 election.
This was the first election since 1959 to feature three new leaders for the main political parties. 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%.
Without explicitly mentioning Thatcher's sex, Callaghan was (as Christian Caryl later wrote) "a master at sardonically implying that whatever the leader of the opposition said was made even sillier by the fact that it was said by a woman". Thatcher used the tactics that had defeated her other male opponents: constantly studying, sleeping only a few hours a night, and exploiting her femininity to appear as someone who understood housewives' household budgets.
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".
The Labour Party manifesto The Labour way is the better way, was issued on 6 April. Callaghan presented four priorities:
The Conservatives campaigned on economic issues, pledging to control inflation and to reduce the increasing power of the trade unions who supported mass strikes. They also employed the advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi who had created the "Labour Isn't Working" poster.
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. 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 Thatcher. She explicitly asked Labour voters for their support when she launched her campaign in Cardiff, claiming that Labour was now extreme. Choosing to start her campaign in the strongly Labour-supporting city was part of Thatcher's strategy of appealing to C2 skilled laborers that both parties had previously seen as certain Labour voters; she thought that many would support her promises to reduce unions' power and enact the right to buy their homes. An analysis of the election result showed 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).
Thatcher's stance on immigration in the late 1970s was perceived as part of a rising racist public discourse, As Leader of the Opposition, Thatcher believed that the National Front was winning over large numbers of Conservative voters with warnings against floods of immigrants. Her strategy was to undermine the Front narrative by acknowledging that many of their voters had serious concerns in need of addressing. In January 1978, Thatcher criticised Labour immigration policy with the goal of attracting voters away from the Front and to the Conservatives. Her rhetoric was followed by an increase in Conservative support at the expense of the Front. Critics on the left reacted in accusing her of pandering to racism. Sociologists Mark Mitchell and Dave Russell responded that Thatcher had been badly misinterpreted, arguing that race was never an important focus of Thatcherism. Throughout her premiership, both major parties took similar positions on immigration policy, having in 1981 passed the British Nationality Act with bipartisan support. There were no policies passed or proposed by her government aimed at restricting immigration, and the subject of race was never highlighted by Thatcher in any of her major speeches as Prime Minister.
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, including the entire 1980s, until the Labour victory of 1997. The SNP saw a massive collapse in support, losing 9 of their 11 MPs. The Liberals had a disappointing election; their scandal-hit former leader Jeremy Thorpe lost his seat in North Devon to the Conservatives.
This was the last election as of 2017 in which the Conservatives recorded at least 30% of the vote in Scotland. The Tories did manage to hold most of their Scottish seats in 1983 before going into decline thereafter.
|Party||Leader||Stood||Elected||Gained||Unseated||Net||% of total||%||No.||Net %|
|National Front||John Tyndall||303||0||0||0||0||N/A||0.6||191,719||+0.2|
|Plaid Cymru||Gwynfor Evans||36||2||0||1||−1||0.31||0.4||132,544||−0.2|
|Ulster Popular Unionist||James Kilfedder||1||1||1||0||+1||0.16||0.1||36,989||+0.1|
|Irish Independence||Fergus McAteer and Frank McManus||4||0||0||0||0||N/A||0.1||23,086||N/A|
|Workers Revolutionary||Michael Banda||60||0||0||0||0||N/A||0.1||12,631||+0.1|
|Workers' Party||Tomás Mac Giolla||7||0||0||0||0||N/A||0.1||12,098||0.0|
|Unionist Party NI||Anne Dickson||3||0||0||0||0||N/A||0.0||8,021||−0.1|
|NI Labour||Alan Carr||3||0||0||0||0||N/A||0.0||4,441||0.0|
|Mebyon Kernow||Richard Jenkin||3||0||0||0||0||N/A||0.0||4,164||0.0|
|Democratic Labour||Dick Taverne||2||0||0||0||0||N/A||0.0||3,785||−0.1|
|Wessex Regionalist||Viscount Weymouth||7||0||0||0||0||N/A||0.0||3,090||N/A|
|United Labour||Paddy Devlin||1||0||0||0||0||N/A||0.0||1,895||N/A|
|United Country||Edmund Iremonger||2||0||0||0||0||N/A||0.0||1,033||N/A|
|Workers (Leninist)||Royston Bull||2||0||0||0||0||N/A||0.0||767||0.0|
|New Britain||Dennis Delderfield||2||0||0||0||0||N/A||0.0||717||0.0|
|More Prosperous Britain||Tom Keen||6||0||0||0||0||N/A||0.0||518||0.0|
|United English National||John Kynaston||2||0||0||0||0||N/A||0.0||238||0.0|
|Cornish Nationalist||James Whetter||1||0||0||0||0||N/A||0.0||227||N/A|
|Social Democrat||Donald Kean||1||0||0||0||0||N/A||0.0||144||0.0|
|English National||Frank Hansford-Miller||1||0||0||0||0||N/A||0.0||142||0.0|
|The Dog Lovers' Party||Auberon Waugh||1||0||0||0||0||N/A||0.0||79||0.0|
|Government's new majority||43|
|Total votes cast||31,221,362|
The Montgomeryshire by-election, 1962 was a parliamentary by-election held on 15 May 1962 for the British House of Commons constituency of Montgomeryshire.1979 Scottish National Party leadership election
There was an election to choose a new leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) held in 1979. The election saw Gordon Wilson become the party's new national convenor.
William Wolfe had been the leader of the SNP since winning a leadership election in 1969, and initially the party had performed well under his leadership. In 1978, he announced that he intended to stand down the following year and, as a result, he had little involvement with the party's campaign in the 1979 United Kingdom general election. The election went very badly for the SNP, which lost nine of its eleven seats in Parliament.Immediately after the election, a group of left-wingers in the party, including Roseanna Cunningham and Margo MacDonald, formed what became the 79 Group. In response, those who wished to prioritise independence over all other considerations formed the Campaign for Nationalism in Scotland. Both groups put forward candidates for election to various posts in the election held at that year's conference, held in Dundee.The most significant election at the conference was that for party leader. Three candidates stood to replace Wolfe:
Stephen Maxwell, Vice Chair (Publicity), chair of the unsuccessful SNP campaign in the 1979 Scottish devolution referendum, and a leading figure in the 79 Group.
Willie MacRae, Vice Chair (Administration), solicitor and unsuccessful SNP candidate for Ross and Cromarty in the general election.
Gordon Wilson, Member of Parliament for Dundee East, former leader of the SNP Parliamentary group and spokesperson on oil and energy.Wilson easily won the election, with 530 votes. Maxwell took 117 votes, and MacRae only 52. The 79 Group failed to win any of the elections at the conference.1979 United Kingdom general election in Northern Ireland
The 1979 United Kingdom general election in Northern Ireland was held on 3 May with 12 MPs elected in single-seat constituencies using first-past-the-post as part of the wider general election in the United Kingdom.1979 general election
1979 general election may refer to:
1979 Austrian legislative election
1979 Danish general election
1979 Portuguese legislative election
1979 Spanish general election
1979 Swedish general election
1979 United Kingdom general election
1979 Zimbabwe Rhodesia general electionAustin Currie
Joseph Austin Currie (born 11 October 1939) is an Irish former Fine Gael politician who served as Minister of State for Justice from 1994 to 1997. He served as a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Dublin West constituency from 1989 to 2002 and Member of the Parliament of Northern Ireland (MP) for East Tyrone from 1964 to 1972.
Currie was born in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, to a Catholic family. He was educated in Dungannon and at Queen's University Belfast. Between 1964 and 1972, he was the Nationalist Party Stormont MP for East Tyrone. On 20 June 1968, with others including mediator Father Tom Savage, he began a protest about discrimination in housing allocation by 'squatting' (illegally occupying) in a house in a new council development in Caledon, County Tyrone. The house had been allocated by Dungannon Rural District Council to a 19-year-old unmarried Protestant woman, Emily Beattie, who was the secretary of a local Unionist politician. All 14 houses in the new council development had been allocated to Protestants. The protesters were evicted by officers of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), one of whom was Emily Beattie's brother. The next day the annual conference of the Nationalist Party unanimously approved of the protest action by Austin Currie in Caledon. This was one of the catalysts of the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland.He became an active member in the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association. In 1970, he was a founder of the group that established the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP). From 1973 to 1974, Currie was a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly. In 1974, he became chief whip of the SDLP. That same year he became Minister for Housing, Local Government and Planning in the Northern Ireland Executive.
He contested the 1979 United Kingdom general election and 1986 by-election in the Fermanagh and South Tyrone seat. He also was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly in 1982 for the same seat.
By 1989, Currie had decided to move south, and at the general election of that year he was elected as a Fine Gael Teachta Dála for the Dublin West constituency.In 1990, after much procrastination, Fine Gael nominated him as a candidate at the presidential election. He finished a distant third in the election after Mary Robinson and Brian Lenihan. However, his transfers flowed overwhelmingly to Robinson, helping Robinson overtake Lenihan and make her Ireland's first female President.
In the Rainbow Coalition between 1994 and 1997, he became Minister of State at the Departments of Education, Justice and Health. At the 2002 general election he lost his seat in Dáil Éireann when he failed to be elected in Dublin Mid-West. He immediately announced his retirement from politics.
He currently resides in County Kildare, where he trains greyhounds. He occasionally lectures and gives talks on issues relating to The Troubles.Brian Taylor (journalist)
Brian Taylor (born 9 January 1955 in Dundee) is the political editor for BBC Scotland. Taylor – who joined the BBC in 1985 – originally co-presented Left, Right and Centre and was political correspondent prior to his current role.
Taylor has covered politics on television since the 1979 United Kingdom general election.
In 2009, he presented Holyrood and the Search for Scotland's Soul, a documentary by BBC Scotland Investigates to mark the 10th anniversary of the devolved Scottish Parliament.Bristol South East (UK Parliament constituency)
Bristol South East was a constituency in the city of Bristol that returned one Member of Parliament (MP) to the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.The constituency was created for the 1950 general election, mainly from the Bristol East constituency, and abolished for the 1983 general election which saw the reintroduction of Bristol East. In boundary changes for the February 1974 general election, part of the constituency's territory was transferred to the new seat of Kingswood.
Sir Stafford Cripps won the seat comfortably from holding its main predecessor in 1950 and continued in government with the new seat for just over six months (he was at the time Chancellor of the Exchequer) before resigning from Parliament due to health reasons. The final MP for the constituency was Tony Benn who served as Secretary of State (for Industry from 1974-5 then as Secretary of State For Energy from 1975-1979), in the latter role, the UK saw the Winter of Discontent and power shortages. Benn ran in the near-overlapping successor seat, Bristol East in 1983 and was defeated by Conservative candidate Jonathan Sayeed.Denis Tuohy
Denis Tuohy (born 2 April 1937, Belfast, Northern Ireland) is a television broadcaster, actor, newsreader and journalist.
Tuohy attended Queen's College, Belfast, where he learned to debate and acquired an interest in acting. In 1960, he appeared in Over the Bridge, a play written by Sam Thompson and directed by Jimmy Ellis. Later that year, Tuohy became the first Catholic broadcaster for BBC Northern Ireland.Tuohy moved to London in 1964 to work for the new BBC-2. At the channel's launch that April, he was scheduled to be the first face on air. However, there was a disastrous power failure on the opening night, and newsreader Gerald Priestland was seen briefly before transmission was aborted and the official launch postponed until the day after. Tuohy headed the successful second attempt, sarcastically referencing the power cut by beginning the show under candlelight, then blowing out a candle on his desk.Tuohy participated in several of the BBC's current affairs programmes of the 1970s, including the long-running Panorama, and also presented ITV's This Week (known for a period of the 1980s as TV Eye). He interviewed Margaret Thatcher in the leadup to the 1979 United Kingdom general election. Communication specialist Geoffrey Beattie analysed the interview extensively in a work on patterns of interruption in conversation. During the 1990s, he was mainly known for his work as a reporter for ITN.After retiring from broadcasting, Tuohy took up acting again, playing roles in the television dramas Fair City, The Clinic, and Fallout. He also wrote a memoir, Wide-eyed in Medialand: A broadcaster's journey.Hampstead (UK Parliament constituency)
Hampstead was a borough constituency, centered on the Hampstead area of North London. It returned one Member of Parliament to the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, who was elected using the first-past-the-post voting system.
It was created for the 1885 general election, and abolished for the 1983 general election, when it was partly replaced by the new Hampstead and Highgate constituency.History of the Scottish National Party
In Scotland, the Scottish National Party (SNP) is a centre left, social democratic political party which campaigns for Scottish independence. The SNP has controlled Scotland's devolved legislature since the 2007 election as a minority government, and since the 2011 election as a majority government. Its leader, Nicola Sturgeon, is the First Minister of Scotland.Lichfield and Tamworth (UK Parliament constituency)
Lichfield and Tamworth was a parliamentary constituency centred on the towns of Lichfield and Tamworth in Staffordshire. It returned one Member of Parliament (MP) to the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, elected by the first past the post system.List of MPs elected in the 1979 United Kingdom general election
This is a list of Members of Parliament (MPs) elected to the 48th Parliament of the United Kingdom in the 1979 general election, held on 3 May 1979. This Parliament was dissolved in 1983.
Notable figures among the 77 newcomers to the House of Commons included John Major, Jack Straw, Chris Patten, Matthew Parris, Michael Martin, Clive Soley, Peter Robinson, Frank Dobson, Richard Shepherd, Frank Field, David Mellor, Brian Mawhinney, William Waldegrave, John Patten, Antony Marlow and David Marshall. Of the 77, just two were woman (Sheila Faith) and Sheila Wright. In total, the Parliament had just 19 female members (8 Conservative, 11 Labour), fewer than any post-war parliament before or since, with the sole exception of 1951. Despite this however, it was the election from which Margaret Thatcher, the incumbent Conservative Party leader became Prime Minister, the first ever female head of government in the United Kingdom and Europe.List of elections in 1979
The following elections occurred in the year 1979.Lists of United Kingdom MPs
Following is a (currently incomplete) list of past Members of Parliament of the United Kingdom in alphabetical order.Margaret Joachim
Dr Margaret Jane Joachim (born 25 June 1949) is a British former Liberal Party and current Liberal Democrat politician who was Chair of the Women's Liberal Democrats.Raymond Carter (British politician)
Raymond John Carter (born 17 September 1935) is a Labour Party politician.
Carter was educated at Mortlake Secondary School, Reading Technical College and Stafford College of Technology and became an electrical engineer. From 1953 to 1955, he undertook National Service, and then worked as a technical assistant at the Sperry Gyroscope Company. In 1965, he moved to work for the Central Electricity Generating Board.Carter joined the Labour Party and served as a councillor on Easthampstead Rural District Council from 1963. He unsuccessfully contested Wokingham at the 1966 United Kingdom general election, and was also unsuccessful in the 1968 Warwick and Leamington by-election. He was Member of Parliament for Birmingham Northfield from 1970 to 1979, and from 1974 to 1976 served on the Western European Union and the Council of Europe. He was then a junior minister for the Northern Ireland Office until 1979.Carter unexpectedly lost his seat to the Conservative Jocelyn Cadbury at the 1979 United Kingdom general election, losing by just 204 votes (a margin of 0.3%), on a swing of 10.2%.Scotland Act 1978
The Scotland Act 1978 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom intended to establish a Scottish Assembly as a devolved legislature for Scotland. At a referendum held in the following year, the Act failed to gain the necessary level of approval required by an amendment, and was never put into effect.Southend East (UK Parliament constituency)
Southend East was a parliamentary constituency in Essex. It returned one Member of Parliament to the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.
The constituency was created for the 1950 general election, and abolished for the 1997 general election.Walsall North (UK Parliament constituency)
Walsall North is a constituency created in 1955 represented in the House of Commons of the UK Parliament since 2017 by Eddie Hughes, a member of the Conservative Party. The local electorate returned a Labour MP in the seat's first seventeen general elections; in the following election Eddie Hughes became its second Conservative MP following an earlier by-election win by his party in 1976. The seat consists of green-buffered urban areas with golf courses, parks and sports fields between the half of the former metalworking and manufacturing-centred town and main other settlement, Bloxwich within its boundaries.
|Member of Parliament|