Minority governance has been dismissed as an aberration, an interlude between 'normal' and 'victorious' administrations, which have commanded the interest of politicians, political analysts and the general public. This book is a study that challenges these myths and established perceptions of minority government in the 1970s through a reading of declassified internal government and party files. It demonstrates that there is a distinctive 'British tradition of minority government' that provides a new perspective on the existing corpus of international theory regarding the subject. One of the single greatest myths arising from these sources of coverage, such as interviews, biographies , and political diaries and memoirs is that outside events superseded those in Parliament. The book questions this myth and shows that the strategy-making processes in the Labour and the Conservative Parties were geared towards minority government. It has often been assumed that the formation of the Wilson and Callaghan Minority Governments were inevitable, histories mainly concentrating on changes in personnel and policy. This long-standing myth is challenged by examining the prospect of alternative not adopted, including early elections or interparty coalitions. The book then questions the myths of 1970s minority governments' inability to pass significant legislation without the cooperation of opposition parties. It also explores the myths surrounding the inevitability and form of this 1977-78 Lib-Lab Pact. Myths about 1970s elections and Labour and Conservative post-electoral plans are discussed next. Finally, the book considers how the June 2017 minority government at Westminster may affect planning for future indecisive election.

This chapter describes the four aspects of British tradition of minority government. They are preference for minority government when there is no majority, continued desire for majoritarian rule, pragmatic adaptation, and self-referencing. The chapter also presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book questions the myths of 1970s minority governments' inability to pass significant legislation without the cooperation of opposition parties. It demonstrates the British exceptionalism in minority government against an international backcloth, and provides a methodological foundation for examining contemporary challenges of new forms of government in democracies around the world. The book considers how the June 2017 minority government at Westminster may affect planning for future indecisive election results at a UK and devolved level, taking into account as far as possible the significant ongoing political changes.

in The British tradition of minority government
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Personalities and strategy-making

This chapter examines the historical context, charts the evolution of the strategy-making process within the main parties during the 1970s, and identifies the protagonists and their methods of operating. The main alternative strategy-making body in Labour outside the party leadership was that of the National Executive Committee (NEC), elected by the party membership. While the new Government was limited in its ability to take action, Harold Wilson's experience and that of those advising him assisted in the devising of strategies for coping with the minority status. Significant differences in the creation and parliamentary experiences of the Wilson and James Callaghan Governments further limited the possibility for strategic crossover. In one sense, political coalitions of different forms have played significant roles in shaping both the historic experience of minority government and modern British politics.

in The British tradition of minority government
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Alternatives to government formation

Edward Heath's resignation and the establishment of Harold Wilson's Minority Government after the election in February 1974 have often been accepted as inevitable and unrelated to the actions taken by the leadership of the main parties. In spite of Heath's efforts to construct a deal with the Liberals, decision-makers in the main parties also did not regard themselves as having any established British tradition of coalition formation outside of wartime. The government-formation processes in March 1974 and April 1976 raised questions and potential governmental alternatives for contemporaries which would influence their thinking from 1976 onwards when facing further challenges imposed by the state of minority government. Labour's continuance as a minority government in April 1976 was the most likely course of action, but was not inevitable. A number of alternatives existed, some of which were given greater consideration by the Government while others were rejected.

in The British tradition of minority government
Legislative management

This chapter demonstrates that both Labour and the Conservatives were far more strategically proactive than has been recognised in considering the legislative aspects of minority government and evolving strategies for passing or opposing bills. It focuses on the management of parliamentary defeats by governments and oppositions, and their use of methods that did not involve direct cooperation or negotiation with the members of Parliament (MPs) of other political parties. The chapter also focuses on three principal ways, beyond interparty cooperation or daring defeat, in which a minority government can seek to manage legislative defeats. They are avoiding defeat, accepting defeat, and seeking its own defeat. The Harold Wilson and James Callaghan Governments have often been characterised as weak and lacking strategic vision, on account of their suffering a large number of parliamentary defeats.

in The British tradition of minority government
The Lib–Lab Pact

This chapter explains the strategic dynamics involved in the James Callaghan Government's approach to the Lib-Lab Pact. It examines the distinctive nature of the agreement and the formation process in light of aspects of the negotiations which shaped and were shaped by the state of minority government. The chapter considers the confrontation over raising petrol tax which shaped the renegotiation, the strategic discourse during the renewal of the Pact, the Government's changing strategic approach during the course of the Pact and the development of an exit strategy. The Callaghan Government was only able to survive until nearly the end of its parliamentary term because of the formal cooperation with the Liberals in the Pact. Studies and reflections by participants on interparty cooperation during the Callaghan Administration have been dominated by the subject of the Pact between the Liberals and Labour during the period of March 1977 to September 1978.

in The British tradition of minority government
Informal interparty cooperation

Half of the James Callaghan Government's time in office as a minority administration occurred outside the Lib-Lab Pact, ad hoc cooperation or proposed cooperation with other parties continuing throughout the life of the Government. This chapter considers how these ad hoc deals were implemented by the Government concurrently with the operation of the Pact, as well as after its dissolution up to March 1979. It then examines the Opposition's reaction to the Pact, their relations with the Liberals during the Parliament as a whole and Conservative initiatives regarding cooperation with other parties. The different forms of informal interparty cooperation were considered, adopted or attempted with varying degrees of success over the course of Callaghan's Administration. In spite of the Callaghan Government's general reluctance with regard to interparty deals, the exigencies of minority government increasingly compelled them to confront questions of interparty cooperation.

in The British tradition of minority government
Electoral timing

Frequent media and scholarly reference to the ruling out of an election in 1978 has given rise to the persistent myth on electoral timing that James Callaghan faced a simplistic binary choice between an election in autumn 1978 or May 1979. The absence of commentary on the minority government in 1974 has given rise to a similar, albeit unstated, myth of electoral timing, that Harold Wilson's decision to hold an autumn poll was likewise inevitable. One of May's significant justifications for the June 2017 election was that of opposition parties obstructing the Government over Brexit, although even from the outset the decision was criticised by opposing political leaders and some commentators as being opportunistic. Efforts by the Government and Opposition to anticipate possible election dates from 1976 onwards may in one sense be regarded merely as an academic exercise until the actual dissolution of Parliament.

in The British tradition of minority government
Future minority governments/coalitions

Minority governments have had to accommodate pre-existing constitutional conventions, such as, in the British case, of a prime minister remaining the incumbent until resignation irrespective of the majority in Parliament. This chapter examines the instances of secret planning by the Government and Opposition party, looking at some of the more formal preparations for a future minority government or even a coalition that were explored through internal dialogues between policymakers. It presents a study of the approaches used by parties elsewhere to adapt to future minority and/or coalition government, which were either partially implemented or not considered or pursued in 1970s Britain. The form of planning conducted during this period further demonstrates the British tradition of minority government, indicating the extent to which Labour and the Conservatives were prepared to innovate in strategies for dealing with indecisive elections.

in The British tradition of minority government
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The day the Government fell

This chapter reconsiders the no confidence vote in an effort to examine main parties' strategy development in light of the British tradition of minority government. It also considers the Government's efforts to avoid the vote, the response of both the Government and Opposition, and the weighing up of formal approaches to other parties or individual initiatives to secure extra support. The chapter will examine how far the loss of the no confidence vote impacted on the subsequent election. The James Callaghan Government's defeat in a no confidence motion by 311 votes to 310 on 28 March 1979 represents perhaps one of the most dramatic moments of British parliamentary history in the late twentieth century. The events surrounding the confidence vote itself were retold in a full-length BBC thirtieth anniversary documentary, The Night the Government Fell, which included interviews with participants from different parties.

in The British tradition of minority government