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Why did Mrs Thatcher win the 1979 election?
By the time Callaghan belatedly called the election in March 1979, his government had been gravely
damaged by the continual economic and financial crises, rising unemployment, belligerent trade
unionism and many unfortunate political misjudgements. All of these in essence can be headed as
Labour weaknesses, and in many ways these factors are more important and influential in regards to
the electorate, as party demise often come because of their failings, and rarely due to the
opposition's strengths. The ultimate humiliation for the government came after the strikes of the
`Winter of Discontent', as the government lost a vote of no confidence the only government in post
war Britain to ever do so and so was forced to call an early election. However, Thatcher's
revolution in the Conservative side of the House even before her office her slow shift of consensus
to the right and her strong leadership and ideology cannot be ruled out as factors for why the Tories
were swept to power in early 1979 with a comfortable overall majority of 70.
Firstly, the social situation in the UK throughout Labour's term was greatly to play in Labour's doom.
The Winter of Discontent caused a massive upheaval, Callaghan's proposition of a 5% rise to
industrial workers not convincing the workers, their response (naturally) to strike. The winter that
followed saw the dead unburied, bins uncollected, hospitals unstaffed and social gloom. The situation
gave the impression the government was not capable of controlling the workers and even the core
public sector, the results political gloom. The complete collapse of social services caused much anger
amongst the electorate, as many saw hospital and school strikes as completely unacceptable. The
breakdown of the Social Contract between the government and the Trade Unions along with the rise
of trade union militancy were to ultimately sweep the Tories to power. The Winter of Discontent is
the most important factor to why Mrs Thatcher won the election in 1979, as it caused anger amongst
the voters (fuelled by the scathing press), and can be linked closely with the loss of the vote of no
confidence in 1979, which made the Labour government look disillusioned and weak in the face of
any union trouble. The strikes highlighted Labour was not able to deal with the Unions, who readily
caused dismay in the country, and the party could no longer take Britain forward.
Economic factors were also to play in the downfall of the Labour party and the rise of the
Conservatives led by the ruthless Mrs Thatcher. Dotted through the term of the Labour government
were massive economic failings which all would have counted to the electorate's vote in March of
1979. Upon Wilson's election in 1976, Wilson agreed to a rash wage rise of 19% in 1974 to industrial
workers and 23% in 1975, this causing a noticeable decline in social standards later on In his term.
Decline in living standards share a close link with anger towards the government and the increased
chance of voting for change in the coming election, a crucial factor in her victory. The Oil Price rise
pushed levels of inflation and debt, and by 1976, Britain was bankrupt, the pound for the first time in
history dropping below 2$ in value. The IMF loan of three billion dollars negotiated by Denis Healy
that followed caused a wave of spending cuts, which as well as angering the electorate, greatly
divided the Labour Party and the cabinet, notably between Anthony Crosland and Tony Benn.
Eventually the cabinet agreed to the £2.5 billion cuts in public spending, the left of the party looking
on in despair. The combined impact of tax rises that followed (income tax rising to 35p in the pound,
and VAT rising to 25% on luxury items), the levels of unemployment reaching 1.6 million in 1978 and
declining living standards paved the way for Mrs Thatcher's government in the 1980s.
Political factors were also to play in the demise of the Labour Party in March 1979. For one, the party
only ever had the slimmest of majorities in the commons during their term adding greatly to the
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Their majority never rose above three in the commons, which was a
massive hindrance to the party. Of the government's political misjudgements, the most serious was
its treatment of the minority parties on whom its continuation in office came to depend due to the
slim majority. In the autumn of 1978, the party allowed the Lib-Lab pact to collapse, and this is a
crucial factor to the rise of the conservatives.…read more
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Saatchi and Saatchi). Although the
Labour government managed to repay much of the loan on the IMF, and move the balance of
payments into surplus along with lowering inflation, the government ultimately failed due to the lack
of control of the unions as seen in the Winter of Discontent, and the contrasting views in regards to
the IMF loan causing the largest divisions ever seen in the Labour party, which took twenty years to