United Kingdom general election, 1979

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1979 UK Election Map.png

James Callaghan

Margaret Thatcher

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 the leadership of Margaret Thatcher won a majority of 43 seats, and defeated James Callaghan's incumbent Labour government in the first of four consecutive general election victories for the Conservative Party.[1]

The election night was broadcast live on the BBC, and presented by David Dimbleby, Bob McKenzie, David Butler and Robin Day. [2]



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 Callaghan to either resign or 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.

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