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1979: The Thatcher era begins

1979: Callaghan
Callaghan - campaigning against the tide

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
Margaret Thatcher: “Where there is discord, may we bring harmony”
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The trade union movement has given me its pledge I believe it will honour it
Jim Callaghan

I don't believe you should get more by muscle. I believe you should only get more by merit and effort and hard work
Margaret Thatcher

While the country faces these problems the two sides are bashing away at each other like it is a public entertainment
David Steel

The election of 1979 saw two leaders with very different styles pitted against each other and - if the polls are to be believed - the least popular won.

Margaret Thatcher was, like so many of Britain’s political leaders, Oxford educated and a barrister.

Her advocacy of economic monetarism was a radical break from the post-war consensus and was largely influenced by Keith Joseph. Her businessman father - a local Conservative politician in Grantham - also helped mould her philosophy, which stressed the merits of thrift and hard work.

A conviction politician, Thatcher was the first woman leader of her party and was able to woo the voters with a common sense approach, borrowing the role of a housewife when it suited.

"“Sunny Jim" Callaghan presented a much more avuncular figure to the voters.

Like Thatcher this was his first campaign as leader, but the Cardiff MP had long been one of Wilson’s key ministers - serving in the role of home secretary, foreign secretary and chancellor of the exchequer.

He had close links with the trade union movement and was one of the key opponents of Wilson’s attempts at trade union reform when he rejected the white paper, In Place of Strife - a move that did not bode well for his ability to deal with such situations as the Winter of Discontent.

The young leader of the Liberals, David Steel, was also leading his party for the first time in an election - he had not expected the leadership forced on him in the aftermath of the Thorpe affair. A supporter of coalition politics, he led his party into the Lib-Lab pact of 1977-1978.