United Kingdom general election, 1979

From Academic Kids

October 1974 election
1979 election
1983 election

The UK general election, 1979 was held on May 3, 1979 and is regarded as a pivotal point in 20th century British politics. The Conservatives and their leader Margaret Thatcher won and replaced the previous Labour government.

The election was precipitated by a lost vote of confidence for the ruling Labour government under Jim Callaghan. Labour had been in power from February 1974, with Callaghan succeeding Harold Wilson after his surprise resignation in April 1976. The administration had been a minority government for most of its term, and from March 1977 to August 1978 the government had reached an agreement with the Liberal Party, in a so-called Lib-Lab Pact. Callaghan had been tempted to call an election in the autumn of 1978, which it is likely he would have won, albeit with a small majority. Instead he decided that the political situation would be more favourable in 1979, and waited. Unfortunately for him, a series of industrial disputes in the winter of 1978-79, led to widespread strikes which would ultimately lead to the downfall of the Labour Government. This period of industrial strife would later become known as the 'Winter of Discontent'. When the Scottish Nationalist Party withdrew support for the Scottish Devolution bill, a vote of no confidence was held on March 28, 1979 which the Government lost, forcing an election to be called.

Margaret Thatcher had come to head her party in 1975, replacing Edward Heath. The Conservatives campaigned on economic issues - promising to control inflation, check the unions, and hoping to downplay the high personal unpopularity of their leader. They also called on the advertising agency Saatchi and Saatchi to help with their campaign, which was highly influential in the final analysis.

A Conservative victory had seemed almost certain, 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 woman Prime Minister.

Party Votes Seats Loss/Gain Share of Vote (%)
Conservative 13,697,923 339 + 62 43.9
Labour 11,532,218 269 - 50 36.9
Liberal 4,313,804 11 - 2 13.8
SNP 504,259 2 - 9 1.6
Ulster Unionist 254,578 5 - 2 0.8
National Front 191,719 0 0.6
Plaid Cymru 132,544 2 - 1 0.4
SDLP 126,325 1 0.4
Alliance (NI) 82,892 0 0.3
Democratic Unionist 70,975 3 + 2 0.2
Ecology 39,918 0 0.1
UUUP 39,856 1 1 0.1
Independent Ulster Unionist 36,989 1 1 0.1
Independent Labour 27,953 1 0.1
Irish Independence 23,086 0 0.1
Independent Republican 22,398 1 0.1
Communist 16,858 0 0.1
Scottish Labour 13,737 0 0.1
WRP 12,631 0 0.1
Workers 12,098 0 0.1
Independent SDLP 10,785 0 0.0
UPNI 8,021 0 0.0
Independent Conservative 4,841 0 0.0
Labour (NI) 4,411 0 0.0
Mebyon Kernow 4,164 0 0.0
Democratic Labour 3,785 0 0.0
Wessex Regionalist 3,090 0 0.0
Socialist Unity 2,834 0 0.0
United Country Party 1,033 0 0.0

Total number of votes cast: 31,221,362. All parties gaining more than 1,000 votes shown.

N.B. The Vanguard Progressive Unionist Party had folded in 1978. Of its 3 MPs, 2 joined the Ulster Unionist Party (one held his seat, the other lost to the Democratic Unionist Party) and the 3rd 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.

See also MPs elected in the UK general election, 1979. Template:British elections

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