Britain's Labour government was defeated by one vote -311 to 310 -- in the House of Commons on Wednesday night (28 March).
Britain's Labour government was defeated by one vote -311 to 310 -- in the House of Commons on Wednesday night (28 March). The Prime Minister, Mr. James Callaghan, asked Queen Elizabeth on Thursday (29 March) to dissolve Parliament and that will happen on the seventh of April. A General Election will be held on the third of May.
SYNOPSIS: It is the first time for 55 years that a British government has been forced by a Parliamentary vote of "no confidence" to resign, rather than choosing its own time to do so. The Labour Party has been in power for five years; and Mr. Callaghan has been Prime Minister for the last three of them. He succeeded Mr. (now Sir) Harold Wilson, who retired in March, 1976.
Mr. Callaghan has claimed that he and his ministers -- such as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Denis Healy -- have better relations with the trades unions than any Conservative government would have; and pointed out their achievement in reducing the annual rate of inflation in Britain from 26 percent to under 8 Percent, with the aid of three years of wage restraint. But a wave of strikes over the past few months -- by petrol tanker drivers, truck drivers, rubbish collectors and hospital employees, among others -- have cast doubts on these claims. The strikes resulted in higher pay settlements than the government intended, and inflation is starting to rise again. Trades union practices such as secondary picketing of firms not directly concerned in a dispute, have led to Conservative Party demands that the powers of the unions should be cut.
Mrs. Margaret Thatcher has been leader of the Conservatives -- the main Opposition party -- for four years. She was chosen after her predecessor, Mr. Edward heath, had led the party to two electoral defeats within a year in 1974. If the Conservatives win the forthcoming general election, Mrs. Thatcher would become Europe's first woman prime minister. According to the latest opinion polls -- taken before the parliamentary vote of confidence -- she has a strong chance of doing so. They gave the Conservatives a 13 percent lead over Labour.
Mr. David Steel is leader of the Liberal Party, taking over from Mr. Jeremy Thorpe in 1976. His party has only 13 members in the present House of Commons. But with the two major parties fairly equally balanced, it has played a role out of proportion to its size. For 14 months, the Labour Party, which has never had an overall majority in this Parliament, was sustained in office by a pact with the Liberals. Last May, Mr. Steel pulled them out. They voted against the government on the confidence motion on Wednesday (18 March).
On March 1st, Scottish voters decided in favour of a separate Scottish Assembly -- but the majority was not big enough to force the government to act. The Scottish National Party was dissatisfied with the government's attitude, and put down its own "no confidence" motion. The combination of Conservatives, Liberals, Scottish Nationalists and most of the Ulster Unionists was enough to defeat the government and force the coming election.