How Harold Wilson lost a majority…Walsall 1976.

31 May

Harold Wilson’s fourth Government was elected in October 1974 with a majority of 3. Early exit polls predicted a majority of 150..but you can’t trust the polls hey!.
The Government survived 4 and a half years, a change of Prime Minister, A referendum ( or 3), and a confidence and supply agreement, but ultimately fell when it lost the confidence of the house in 1979.
Losing a vote of no confidence seems such an indictment, worse than resigning, A slap in the face. Indeed it hadn’t happened in over 50 years prior to that and hasn’t happened since. It’s amazing it lasted that long.

Even with the Lib Lab pact, a confidence and supply agreement which gave the Labour party the Liberals votes in exchange for some luncheon vouchers, a look at the budget 15 minutes before everyone else and a few signed pictures of Michael Foot.

The agreement ended in 1978 when everyone expected Callaghan to call an election not do a song. Incidentally Bernard Donoghue told him, on Joe Haines advice, that the singer was Vesta Victoria…but he ignored them and said it was a Marie Lloyd song. Such were british politics in the late 70s.

The Government faced an eye watering 30 by-elections and lost seats in 7 of them. ( In 64-70 they lost 15 seats so some improvement). In addition they lost 3 seats to defections ( 2 to Scottish Labour and 1 to the Conservatives !) and Stonehouse defected prior to the seat becoming vacant and lost. He spent his time on remand as a MP for the English National Party, which was more of an English Parliament Party rather than a BNP type affair. His defection and subsequent seat loss, well a by-election becomes necessary once remand becomes the real thing, finally sent the Government into a minority.

 

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Wilson leaves his famous ” sorry there’s no majority left note to his successor…”

The Walsall North By Election in November 1976 was a strange affair. The English National Party did not contest the seat, one of the few times a party hasn’t defended a By Election. The Conservatives gained 17% of the vote from 1974 and won handsomely. Apparently the electorate hadn’t been too happy with Stonehouses behaviour over the last few years, what with faking his death and all that. There were a plethora of candidates for them to choose. The former local Mayor Stanley Wright came third with 11% of the vote and the National Front came fourth with over 7%, both ahead of the Liberals. The Ecology Party stood a candidate, claimed to be its first by-election candidate. Bill Boaks also stood for the ” Air,Road.Public Safety White Resident ” party. Boaks was bonkers and probably a racist. He sat in a deckchair on the A40 , tried to have Mrs Atlee arrested and pushed a trolley of bricks across zebra crossings…all in the name of road safety. His later years saw him work closer with Lord Sutch and in Walsall he secured 30 votes. In Hillhead in 1982 he got 5. He died from head injuries sustained in an injury when he was getting off a bus…clearly he was right to campaign for road traffic safety after all.

Walsall 1976 to May 1979 was a long time. Callaghan inherited the minority and ran with it, I suspect Cameron will hand something similar over in time…

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