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Election Battles 1945-1997
Intro 1945 1950 1951 1955 1959 1964 1966 1970 1974
Feb
1974
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1979
1983 1987 1992 1997
1979: The Thatcher era begins
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Overview
Battlefield
Campaign
Personalities
Issues
Results
1979: Winter
Rubbish left uncleared as workers strike

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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What they spent
Conservatives
£2,333,000
Labour
£1,566,000

I am not a consensus politician - I’m a conviction politician
Margaret Thatcher

There are times, perhaps once every thirty years, when there is a sea change in politics. It then does not matter what you say or what you do. There is a shift in what the public wants and what it approves of
Jim Callaghan

The 1979 election got underway under extraordinary conditions.

After the results of two devolution referendums in Scotland and Wales went against the now minority Labour government - the Lib-Lab pact of the previous year was well and truly over - the nationalists withdrew their support from Labour.

They tabled a confidence motion in parliament which the government lost by a single vote.

An election was now the inevitable result - in circumstances far from favourable for Labour.

Strikes over pay by unions such as the National Union of Public Employees as well as by gravediggers in Liverpool caused public outrage and terrible headlines - with The Sun now leading the charge for the Tories.

The government’s pay restraint policy was in shreds as were its claims to be the only party capable of dealing with the unions. With unemployment well over one million, inflation - and the Tories’ poll lead - were both in double figures.

The campaign itself was conducted mostly for television, with Margaret Thatcher proving skilled in managing photo-opportunities - although no agreement was reached on holding a televised debate between the party leaders, despite Callaghan's enthusiasm.

TV was a medium that Thatcher had been tutored in skilfully, complete with an image makeover from Gordon Reece.

As usual the Conservatives way outspent Labour, with much of the money paying for the services of the advertising agency Saatchi and Saatchi.

Despite Jim Callaghan’s higher personal popularity than Thatcher’s, Labour could feel the election was slipping away, with strikes from printers and teachers continuing throughout the campaign.