Saturday 28 March 2009

The fall of Callaghan

Today is the 30th anniversary of the vote of no confidence which brought down the minority Callaghan government, leading to Margaret Thatcher's victory in the May general election, is being marked by an evening of programming on the Parliament channel from 6pm tonight. (There will be no television footage of the debate itself, of course, as cameras had not been admitted).

There was a very interesting Roy Hattersley insider account, in last Sunday's Observer magazine. It was perhaps somewhat buried, and I thought it was worth flagging up here.

Hattersley still believes the government was wrong not to bring a dying MP 200 miles to the Palace of Westminster, where his vote could have counted had the ambulance been parked outside. (A tie would have saved the government, which lost by one, were the MP still alive). Without the rigours of the trip, he died a week later.

Hattersley was also keen to buy Enoch Powell with a vague promise of a gas pipeline, which Callagan refused to countenance.

Whether an Autumn 1979 election would have seen the government do better than in May is difficult to judge. Probably, the seeds of destruction were sown much earlier. Might it all have been different if Callaghan had not led the Cabinet opposition to the Wilson-Castle trade union white paper 'In Place of Strife'?

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