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Election Battles 1945-1997
Intro 1945 1950 1951 1955 1959 1964 1966 1970 1974
Feb
1974
0ct
1979
1983 1987 1992 1997
1979: The Thatcher era begins
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Overview
Battlefield
Campaign
Personalities
Issues
Results
1979: Wilson resigns
A weary Wilson left office in 1976

Watch and listen 1979
The election results from BBC Radio
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The BBC looks back at Harold Wilson’s career after he resigns
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Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher attacks the unions
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Prime Minister James Callaghan defends his policies
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Margaret Thatcher: “Where there is discord, may we bring harmony”
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Key events
1975 Thatcher succeeds Heath
1976 Callaghan succeeds Wilson
1976 IMF loans bail out government
1977-1978 Lib-Lab pact
1978-1979 Winter of Discontent
1979 March, Devolution referendums
1979 March, government falls

I promise that if you look at it from outside... I don't think other people in the world would share the view that there is mounting chaos
Jim Callaghan on the Winter of Discontent

The 1974-1979 parliament was packed with incident.

All the main parties had changed leader, the UK had voted to remain in the Common Market in a referendum and had undergone a series of economic crises - leading to the nation’s humiliating bailout by the International Monetary Fund in 1976 - as well as the now notorious Winter of Discontent of 1978-1979.

Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s decision to step down in 1976 stunned most of his cabinet, although he had hinted as much to his cabinet colleague Jim Callaghan, enabling him to prepare for the coming leadership battle which he won.

Despite losing two elections in 1974 Edward Heath attempted to soldier on as Tory leader only to find himself out of a job as Margaret Thatcher won the leadership in 1975.

The party had elected its first woman leader, whose only major experience of holding office had been as education secretary.

Labour was hoping to benefit from her relative inexperience, but left-winger Tony Benn identified her as a strong opponent early on.

Not to be outdone the Liberals also changed leader, but under much more difficult circumstances than the other two parties.

David Steel took over from Jeremy Thorpe after a man claiming to be the latter’s homosexual lover alleged Thorpe and others had tried to have him killed.

Not long after Callaghan had ruled out an election in autumn 1978 a series of strikes took hold of the country. They were to reek havoc with Labour's attempts to secure re-election, and were a gift to the Conservatives.