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UK general election, 1979

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October 1974 election
1979 election
1983 election
The general election of May 3, 1979 was a major turning point in 20th century British political history. The victory of the Conservatives and their radical leader Margaret Thatcher led to the destruction of the consensus politics that had previously dominated the scene.

The election was precipitated by a lost vote of confidence for the ruling Labour government under Jim Callaghan. The Labour government had been in power from February 1974, with Callaghan succeeding Harold Wilson in April 1976. The administration had been a minority government for most of its term, from March 1977 to August 1978 the government was forced into a Lib-Lab Pact in order to retain power. The government held out through the end of 1978 hoping to see improvements in the economy, what they got was the Winter of discontent. When the Scottish National Party withdrew support there was a vote of no confidence, which passed on March 28, 1979, forcing an election to be called.

Margaret Thatcher had come to head her party in 1975, replacing Edward Heath (to his eternal annoyance). The Conservatives campaigned on economic issues - promising to control inflation and check the unions, 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.

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 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 3,098 0 0.0
Socialist Unity 2,834 0 0.0

Total number of votes cast: 31,221,362. All parties gaining more than 1,100 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.