Labour PM delays election, saying “Neither the press nor the Tory party will fix it.”

Sound familiar?

Under the 30-year rule, the National Archives released papers today showing James Callaghan’s determination to hang on to power in 1978. The Labour Prime Minister’s decision to delay a General Election (despite a shrinking Tory lead in the polls) was followed by a “winter of discontent” and defeat the following year.

From the Guardian:

As the Downing Street files graphically illustrate it all began to unravel once Callaghan decided to try to remain in power for a fifth and final year even though he lacked an overall Commons majority.

“The papers show that within a few weeks of his decision some of his closest political advisers were already warning that a “winter of discontent” was about to engulf them.

“The note was written by Callaghan on the day he called off the October 1978 election in preparation for a “forward look” discussion by the Cabinet to draw up a programme for the remaining 12 months of the parliament based on the theme “socialism means quality as well as equality”. It gives a clear indication of what he felt about his decision to delay the election:

“I’ve been written off more times than I care to remember:
1 In March 76 – they said an election in the autumn.
2 At Oct ’76 conference [they said] I had delivered my first and last speech as PM.
3. In March ’77 – prior to the arrangement with the Libs [they said] we should be forced to go to the country then.
4. After the Liberal arrangement they forecast an election in Oct ’77.
5. They decided they would fix the election date for Oct ’78.
Neither the press nor the Tory party will fix it.”

Read the full story here.

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2 Comments

  • The records now published, and the recollections of Lord McNally and other show how isolated a figure Callaghan was in autumn 1978.

    The Trade Unions had clearly warned him that they could not hold the line on more pay restraint, particularly in the public sector, yet Callaghan soldiered on. The economy was coming out of recession by the summer of 1978, and the Tory peak of the previous year had clearly passed.

    As a Liberal activist at the time I thought we would hold onto a Parliamentary party in double figures if the election had been in October, as it was we did do that the following year.

  • I seem to remember the opinion polls were pretty grim for the Liberals in 1978.

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