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29 December 2015

The NS liveblog, retro edition: 1979

The results from the 1979 election, as they happened. 

By Stephen Bush

Thanks so much to everyone who has followed the liveblog. 

And that’s it – the Conservatives in with the first majority in Britain for nine years, but with questions around Margaret Thatcher’s ability to pull it off, the SNP reeling from a crushing defeat. Is that the end of Thatcherism – and Scottish nationalism?

04:40: “Well, with that, we shall call it a night,” says Dimbleby. 

04:37: Dimbleby did put money on it, but not on a majority of 20. He lost his money. 

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04:35: Sir Robin claims that he predicted the Tory majority of 20 privately. “Did you put any money on it?” enquires Dimbleby. “I wouldn’t do anything so vulgar,” replies Sir Robin.

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04:31: The Conservatives gain the Wrekin – David Butler says it is certain that the Conservatives will get to the 330 mark – a comfortable majority in a Commons with just 615 seats, but short of the landslide that Worsthorne, Mackenzie and Jenkins believes that Thatcher need.

04:30: Bob Mackenzie argues that without a “thundering majority”, Margaret Thatcher will fail to deliver the big changes she ran on. 

04:29: “We don’t have many results coming…we’re drying up,” complains David Dimbleby. Time for me to get another drink.

04:27: It’s all but over. Current BBC projection:

04:22: Patrick Jenkins and Peregrine Worsthorne discuss how Margaret Thatcher will get on. Jenkins says she will struggle to balance the factions within her Cabinet, while Worsthorne doubts she has the authority to stand against the trade unions. 

04:19: Bob Mackenzie is very happy. His swingometer has defeated David Butler’s computer – predicting the right result from the very beginning. He does a little dance. 

04:17: Good news for Labour – they’ve made up all but two of the by-election losses of the last five years.The bad news – they’ve lost the election.

04:15: Another recount in Kingswood, where the Labour majority is just over 2,000. 

04:09: Labour have held Blackburn with a new candidate, Jack Straw. He’s a former head of the NUS who worked as the special adviser to the previous MP, Barbara Castle, when she was in the Cabinet:

04:05: Here’s the state of the parties so far. Closer than it looks as many of the Conservative’s safest seats have yet to declare. The Conservatives look home and dry. 

04:02: Thatcher has “broken the sound barrier” for women politicians, says Robert Mackenzie, adding that she “has disappointed many feminists – as she appears to have appointed people entirely on merit, there are very few women there”. 

04:01: Jeremy Thorpe sounds a note of defiance. North Devon has been “Liberal for 20 years – and it will be again”.

03:59: The new Conservative MP for North Devon thanks the “very attractive young ladies” who made this a “good, efficient count”. 

03:57: THORPE IS OUT! Anthony Spellar has gained the seat for the Conservatives.

03:56: We’re going over to Devon North, where Jeremy Thorpe is in the fight of his life.  

03:54: The Conservatives have gained Dudley West, Bebington and Ellesmere Port. It’s now “virtually certain” that tomorrow Jim Callaghan will go to the Palace to resign, says Robert Mackenzie. Here’s the BBC’s latest projection:

03:47: Conservatives gain Oxford. Margaret Thatcher has arrived at Conservative Party Headquarters to cheering crowds. Here’s the state of play so far:

03:42: Callaghan invites Pat Arrowsmith to give a speech of her own. She does – and Callaghan, accompanied by most of the staff, promptly walks out.

03:41: Jim Callaghan’s speech being shouted down by Pat Arrowsmith, the peace campaigner, who is shouting “Troops out!” “No free speech in Ireland!” “You can see what I’ve had to put up with these last few weeks going round the country,” quips Callaghan, to loud applause.

He thanks the returning officers and the counting staff – but is shouted down again by Arrowsmith. “This is the first time I have conducted a duet in sounding a note of thanks – but it’s not a particularly tuneful duet!”

03:40: Jim Callaghan is re-elected in Cardiff South East. 

03:38: Normal service resumes as the Tories take Watford and Galloway, and I pop to the kitchen to get myself a drink. 

03:37: Labour hold Ipswich with a slight swing to Labour. 

03:35: Speaking of the Prime Minister, Michael Cockerell is still in Cardiff. Callaghan is waiting on his result.


03:30: “The certain defeat in this election is for the pollsters,” says Denis Healey. Says he hopes that Jim Callaghan will stay on as leader and is not thinking about another bid for the leadership.

03:27: Good news for Labour as they take back Walsall North and Ashfield, both lost on large swings during by-elections. David Winnick the new MP in Walsall North.

03:25: Just joining us? Wondering how it’s going? The BBC has done a very unhelpful chart. 

03:22: Denis Healey re-elected with a reduced majority in Leeds East, but Labour’s Helene Hayman, the first woman to breastfeed a baby in the House of Commons, is out.

03:20: David Owen’s speech has been cut off as the BBC have cut to David Steel. Steel’s asked if the Lib-Lab pact has hurt his party. He believes it’s helped them by giving them a greater benefit in terms of tactical voting.

03:15: David Owen has held on in Plymouth Devonport. He’ll remain in Parliament although his chances of returning to the Foreign Office are all but over. 

03:09: Here’s the swing in England – a good night for the Conservatives in London and the South, but less so in the North. 

03:05: Geoffrey Howe, thought likely to be the Chancellor of the Exchequer under Margaret Thatcher, says it is now time to stop being “cautiously optimistic”.

03:03: Rumours that David Owen may be under threat in Plymouth Devonport have reached the BBC. 

03:00: Britain’s first openly lesbian MP, Maureen Colquhoun, has lost her seat in Northampton North. 

02:56: Conservatives gain Banff from the SNP and Dartford from Labour. The Conservatives are making advances in all three kingdoms. 

02:52: Liberal HOLD Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles, with a 5,000 vote increase for David Steel. He’s smiling now.

02:50: Over to Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles – David Steel is grimacing. Not sure if that’s because of the beating the Liberals have sustained elsewhere of if because of his own result. 

02:47: Conservative gains coming in thick and fast now. Lincoln, Newark, Northampton North. 

02:43: Edward Heath is talking to Sir Robin showing all the enthusiasm for Margaret Thatcher that you’d expect from a hostage statement. People who have been kidnapped by Baader Meinhof have shown more energy.

02:38: Thatcher doubles her majority to the sound of booing. “May I comiserate with my opponents – I know what it’s like to be on the losing side. But, you know, if you go to another seat, that might change!”

02:36: Margaret Thatcher’s count in Finchley looks to be underway at last. She’s greeted by an ovation – barring a miracle she looks certain to be Britain’s first female Prime Minister tomorrow morning.

02:30: The SNP have held Dundee East. “We’ll bounce back,” says MacDonald. 

02:22: Teddy Taylor says it “was always a touch-and-go seat”, says he’s “delighted to spend more time with my wife and family”, and credits Labour for their “supreme effort” in fighting the seat.

02:21: Harold Lever, who fought off attempts by his local party to deselect him, has won in Manchester Central.

02:20: More good news for Labour! (Well, ish.) They’ve held Mitcham & Morden, but only just. “An island of red in a blue part of South London,” says David Butler.

02:16: Labour regain Workington, which they lose at a by-election, and they’ve taken East Dunbartonshire from the SNP. The Liberals have held Liverpool Edge Hill. Here’s the state of play at quarter past two.

02:11: Angus South was a rogue result. “We’ve made a bit of a cock-up,” admits David Dimbleby. The Tories got 20,000 votes not 2,000 – gaining the seat. Scrap the BBC! 

02:09: Robert Mackenzie is playing with his swingometer again. He thinks it’s now very likely that Thatcher will be in with a comfortable majority.

02:07: Oh, hold that thought. The SNP have held Angus South by a huge majority, although Dimbers thinks it’s a rogue result. 

02:05: A strange night for the SNP, this. They look on course to be crushed pretty much everywhere, but with Scotland voting very differently to the rest of the United Kingdom they will feel their argument has only been strengthened. 

02:04: And another Labour gain in Scotland, this time at the expense of the SNP.

02:00: Labour gain! Teddy Taylor, the Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, is gone! Margaret Thatcher may be on her way to Downing Street but Taylor won’t be joining her in the Cabinet. 

01:56: That the election is so different in Scotland than elsewhere means that Thatcher’s opposition to devolution has already been discredited, says Patrick Jenkins. Scottish nationalism is a flash in the pan and so is devolution, says Peregrine Worsthorne. Here’s what’s happening in Scotland so far tonight. A bad night for the SNP. 

01:53: Jim Sillars has lost his seat in Ayrshire South. “He bet on Scottish nationalism and lost,” says Patrick Jenkins. Sillars formed a breakaway Scottish Labour party in favour of devolution and has been defeated. 

01:46: Whoops, sorry, slight IT troubles here. The Conservatives have taken Anglesey on a 12.5 per cent swing – the first result we have from Wales.

01:35: And here’s the state of play so far:

01:33: For those of you just joining us – welcome! Please press refresh for updates. Callaghan’s agent tells Cockerell it’s a “great tragedy”, and that the man who has lost this election is “another Welshman”, Moss Evans, the general secretary of the TGWU, who caused the strike last winter. “The public education of Moss Evans is the most expensive lesson in Labour party history,” sighs a Callaghan ally.

01:31: Michael Cockerell is still waiting for James Callaghan at Cardiff – apparently the PM has nipped in via the back.

01:28: Labour have lost Fulham, which they have held since the seat was created and under various names since 1938. It’s as much due to the “changing character” of the seat as the overall result, says David Dimbleby. 

01:26: Hugh Jenkins, the former arts minister, has lost his Putney seat. But he’s defiant, and says that the local party has a strong Labour candidate already who will take the seat back then time. 

01:22: More woe for the SNP but it appears that Teddy Taylor, the Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, is under threat in Glasgow Cathcart. That leaves Thatcher with a hole around the Cabinet table, just like when Patrick Gordon Walker, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, lost his seat amidst a Labour victory in 1964.  “Other seats can be found,” says David Butler, “And there’s always the House of Lords…” 

01:20: Another gain for the Conservatives, this time in Hornchurch.

01:18: Margaret Thatcher has “protected her rear” by holding onto her own marginals, says Robert Mackenzie. I report this without comment. 

01:16: “It doesn’t look good, certainly,” says Home Secretary Merlyn Rees, who looks unlikely to be Home Secretary this time tomorrow. Sir Robin asks what he thinks gone wrong. “Well, we’ll begin the analysis tomorrow,” replies Rees, but believes that concern over the industrial policy of the Conservatives is why the Labour vote is holding up in the North. 

01:14: Turnout is very high in Jeremy Thorpe’s Devon North – around 82 per cent. “We haven’t seen figures that high since before the war,” says David Butler, “Apart from in Northern Ireland, where lots of very odd things happen.”

01:12: And now, the news. The Conservatives are on course to win the election, while, in the United States, President Carter’s foriegn aid budget faces hostile amendments from the Senate.

01:08: The Conservatives have taken Rossendale and in Putney, a self-effacing man by the name of David Mellor has won the seat from Labour for the Tories. Someone in the crowd at Putney – I am not making this up – sounds a hunting horn in celebration.,

01:05: Conservative gain, the first of the night. They’ve taken Nelson & Colne from Labour.

01:02: Jeremy Thorpe arrives at his Devon North count. If he wins it’ll be a big boost, he’s at court next week for what the BBC coyly describes as “other matters” – accusations of a homosexual relationship before it was legalised, blackmail, and shooting a dog in regular speak. 

01:00: Margaret Thatcher’s not a coalitionist by instinct, having described the Lib-Lab pact as “wholly abhorrent”. Looks like she won’t need a pact.

00:59: To the reader who has joined us after Googling “Who won the 1979 general election?”, welcome! It’s early days yet but it looks likely that the Conservatives will be in, with a big enough majority to withstand any number of by-election shocks. 

00:57: But the BBC’s election forecasters don’t agree. After 22 results they have a new projection:

00:55: Back in the studio, Peregrine Worsthorne is asked what he thinks will happen. “I’m reminded of George Elliot’s phrase: of all forms of human error, prophesy is the most avoidable.”

00:51: “I’ve not sat in this chair before,” says new anchor Dimbleby, “But usually we’d have a clear idea of the result by now, wouldn’t we?” “Oh, yes,” says David Butler, “We’d usually have many more results.”

00:48: The North West is not going for Margaret Thatcher at all. Just a two point swing to the Tories there so far. But big swings away from Labour in the South. 

00:45: Back in the studio, Lord Hailsham, tipped to return to office as Lord Chancellor should Margaret Thatcher get back into office, says that psephology is a “junk science”. In the other corner of the studio, David Butler starts making a voodoo doll of Lord Hailsham. 

00:41: Robin Day has Denis Healey down the line. The Labour vote is holding up, he says, but the Liberal vote is falling in the South, benefiting the Tories, while the SNP vote is also collapsing – but there is a swing to Labour there. He blames the “industrial troubles” for Labour’s poor showing. 

00:40: Never mind. Mackenzie says it looks certain that the Tories will be in. 

00:37: Good news for Labour! The swing across 10 results so far is a swing of just two per cent to the Conservatives – not enough for a majority or even to enter Downing Street most likely. Looks like we’ll be back in a few months for another one of these, just like we were in 1974.

00:32: Margo McDonald, who won Govan in a by-election, but wasn’t the SNP candidate this time, is asked if it’s all her fault for not standing by Dimbers, which she takes in better humour than I would. But not much better:


“There’s a swing against us,” she concedes, adding that SNP activists are “a bit sick” after voting Yes for devolution but being denied it because the turnout wasn’t high enough. 

00:28: Uh-oh, another result from Scotland. “What’s interesting there is that the SNP are virtually wiped out,” says Dimbleby. “We need to discount this result,” says another presenter.

00:22: Results coming in thick and fast, but there are “two that matter” says Robert Mackenzie – they suggest that the Conservatives are on course to win their first majority for nine years. 

00:17: Lord Avebury, who as Eric Lubbock was responsible for the by-election shock of the century when he won the safe Conservative seat of Orpington for the Liberals, says that what would fix the discontent around politics is if instead of having Labour or Tory in alone, they had a Liberal third force in coalition too.

00:12am: Our presenters are happy to have a result in England to talk about.  Here’s the vote change:

And the Liberals are feeling the benefit from some tactical voting by Labour voters, it appears, although there is also a big direct swing from Labour to the Tories. 

12:08pm: Our first result from England is in! The Conservatives have held Cheltenham.

12:02pm: Back to Dimbleby. Pollsters believe that as the majority of surveyers are women, it may be artificially increasing Thatcher’s popularity rating, as women are reluctant to criticise women to other women.

12:01pm: But this guy favours Margaret Thatcher and has great facial hair. 

12:00pm: On that note, the BBC has been out surveying people about how people feel about the parties. This woman thinks that the Conservatives have the best policies, but that Jim Callaghan is a better leader than Margaret Thatcher. She’s voted Conservative. 

11:57pm: It’s too early to talk about a Conservative victory, says Robert Mackenzie, crossly. “I wouldn’t predict the result until I’d heard at least one result from somewhere more representative than Glasgow Central!”

Poor Glasgow Central. No-one seems to care about it. 

11:55pm: “We put too much emphasis on Mrs Thatcher forming a government,” says Worsthorne, “It will really be Conservative ideas and Conservative policies that have formed a government. I don’t think that she’s articulated it very well.”

11:53pm: But Jenkins is cut off as Thatcher arrives at Finchley. First shot of our first woman Prime Minister? It could be:


11:52pm: Sir Robin has invited Peter Jenkins of the Guardian and Peregrine Worsthorne of the Sunday Telegraph in for a chat.

11:48pm: Cut to Salford Art Gallery, where counting is underway. “Being next to Manchester, the weather has been horrible,” says the BBC’s RP-accented correspondent. 

11:46pm: We cut to Guildford, where the BBC’s correspondent is asked to explain why they’ve fallen behind, forcing poor Dimbleby to talk about Glasgow Central. (I am not joking.) 

11:41pm: Conservative sources tell the BBC they feel increasingly confident, while Callaghan’s election agent quips that if Labour win, he’ll take his boss down to the swimming pools – as “he’ll be able to walk on water”

11:36pm: The BBC’s anchors are unhappy that the first result is from Scotland. This won’t tell us anything about the overall result, except that the SNP are likely to do badly. “I hoped for Guildford,” kvetches Dimbleby. 

11:33pm: We’ve got our first result! Labour hold Glasgow Central:

11:30pm: Scotland will tell us very little about the election elsewhere, says resident boffin David Butler, although there are three seats the Tories hope to win from the SNP. The SNP may benefit from tactical voting by Labour, however. 

11:15pm: Hope for Labour. Thatcher needs a swing of 4.5 per cent to get into Downing Street with a majority – which the polls all say she’ll get, “but these polls have been wrong more than they’ve been right”, says Mackenzie.

But according to the BBC’s poll of Derby North, Labour will be back in office:

11:13pm: Robert Mackenzie, the BBC’s resident psephologist, has his swingometer out.

11:11pm: Is that the Prime Minister? No, it’s just an ambulance going past. Stand down Cockerell. 

11:09pm: Michael Cockerell is in Cardiff, waiting for the Prime Minister, who quipped earlier today that he had “at least two votes, if Audrey voted for me” after he and his wife voted in his Cardiff South East constituency. 

11:06pm: If those numbers are right, Margaret Thatcher looks to be heading to Downing Street. The BBC correspondent outside her home in Flood Street describes her as having a “gimlet look” in her eye. Gin all round at Flood Street, though no sign of Thatcher herself – she’ll leave her Chelsea home at around midnight to head to her count in Finchley. 

11:05pm: EXIT POLL!

10:03pm: The roll of Andrew Neill is played by Sir Robin Day. Sir Robin is already in a party mood, chowing down on his cigar. I should get a cigar. 

11:02pm: “We’ve had a lot of talk about polls in this election,” grumbles David Dimbleby, 

11:00pm, May 3 1979: And that’s it! The election campaign is over. The votes have been cast. Is it the beginning of the era of Margaret Thatcher or will be five more years of Jim Callaghan?

The final polls are all unanimous in putting the Conservatives ahead. But the polls have been wrong in the last three elections – they predicted that Harold Wilson would triumph in 1970, and he lost. They predicted that Ted Heath would be re-elected in February 1974 – he lost. They predicted that Wilson would get a comfortable majority in October 1974 – in the end, he got just four.

So there’s reason to hope for Callaghan and Co.

09:30am: Good morning, and welcome to the New Statesman’s 1979 general election liveblog.

Wait, what?! 

Just roll with it, okay?

Inspired by Matthew Bailey and Philip Cowley’s live history projects, we’re doing a little bit of our own here. The 1979 election – live, as it happened on the BBC. You can watch along here if you’re so inclined. Unfortunately our liveblog software is the same as it was in 1979 – just press “refresh” for updates. The fun begins at 10:00am – or at 11:00pm, 3 May 1979 if you prefer. All times will be given 1979-style. 

You can’t be serious with this.

Come on, it’ll be an adventure!