In 1979, 28 March was one of the most dramatic nights in Westminster history. James Callaghan's Labour Government lost a confidence motion by one vote and was forced to call an early General Election that would sweep Margaret Thatcher to power. BBC Parliament is marking the 30th anniversary of that night with a special evening of programmes, The Night The Government Fell.
At 6pm, A Parliamentary Coup tells the story of what happened that night, with testimony from former Downing Street insiders, ministers and party managers about the increasingly frantic attempts to secure the vote for Labour. In five years as a minority Government, Labour had struck deals with various smaller parties in order to survive but, by March 1979, after a winter of industrial strife, their luck was running out. Even on the day of the vote, it looked too close to call. It was only as the night wore on that it became clear that two key abstentions – and the absence of a gravely ill MP – would cost them the vote.
Immediately following the Commons debate, Tonight (the predecessor of Newsnight) was broadcast live from Westminster on BBC One. This episode can be seen at 6.45pm. Presenters Robin Day and Donald MacCormick interviewed Michael Foot, Lord Carrington, John Pardoe, Francis Pym and Lord Diamond on the dramatic events in the Commons and the fall of the Government. Newspaper journalists Peregrine Worsthorne and John Cole were also interviewed.
At 7.50pm, Turning Points – The 1979 Election explains how failure to secure devolution for Scotland lost Labour the support of the Scottish National Party in the run-up to the vote of no confidence. George Cunningham, a Labour MP at the time, discusses the context of the historic vote in this televised lecture.
At 8.15pm, BBC Parliament presents highlights of the 1979 No Confidence Debate in the House of Commons. Among the notable speakers featured were Prime Minister James Callaghan, Leader Of The Opposition Margaret Thatcher, Liberal leader David Steel and Labour's Michael Foot.
At 11.25pm, viewers can see Prime Minister's Broadcast 1979. The evening after the Commons defeat, James Callaghan broadcast to the country. In a seven-minute address, he defended the Government's record and announced a General Election.
The Night The Government Fell also features highlights of news coverage and other archive programmes from the time.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
TONIGHT: BBC Parliament Replays the 1979 Vote of No Confidence
A Press Release from BBC Parliament which I thought you all might be interested in relating to programmes on BBC Parliament tonight...