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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these sources of coverage, such as interviews, biographies , and political diaries and memoirs is that outside events superseded those in Parliament.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.

Reflecting a nation’s past or merely an administrative convenience?

Introduction In Britain central government decides the shape, population, responsibilities, powers and functions of councils in England. It is central government which can, and does, abolish councils, or entire layers of local government which lacks even the most basic constitutional protection, including the right to continued existence. While

in These Englands
Abstract only
The day the Government fell

9 Dissolving myths: the day the Government fell He [Callaghan] knew the Whips did not want an election now, nor did he, and we would continue to do our best to avoid a defeat, not least through the efforts of the Whips themselves. But he would make no bargains in order to do so. The Government would be able to stand on its record over the last three – indeed five – years, a record which had been made possible because of the Whips.1 This concluding statement from the minute of a meeting between Callaghan and all the Government whips on 21 March 1979 summarised

in The British tradition of minority government

1 Myths, methods and minorities New perspectives [On 7 February 1978, Prime Minister James Callaghan] said that it was quite conceivable the outcome of the election would, as he had indicated to Mr Steel, be a close run thing with the Tories being the largest party without an overall majority […] he would resign in those circumstances […] in his judgement Mrs Thatcher would certainly try to remain as Prime Minister for as long as possible, even if only for a fortnight – he would do the same in her shoes.1 This previously classified Labour Government minute

in The British tradition of minority government
Informal interparty cooperation

6 The myth of exclusivity: informal interparty cooperation The Prime Minister [Jim Callaghan] referred to other minority groups in the House and said that, as was plain, they were all, in their various ways, up for auction.1 This statement from Callaghan in a Strategy Cabinet on 25 May 1978, recorded separately from the official Cabinet meeting, highlights something of the complexity of interparty cooperation during the 1970s. The Wilson Government, while benefiting from the support of smaller parties for particular legislation, had largely eschewed making

in The British tradition of minority government
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Alternatives to government formation

3 The birth of myths: alternatives to government formation [F]or the Labour Party to be dependent on the SDLP at Westminster would put us in the Catholic camp in Northern Ireland […] Our stance in Northern Ireland must be that of a party which is not sectarian but socialist.1 In a strange parallel to some of the publicly articulated arguments against Conservative/DUP cooperation in June 2017, Northern Ireland Secretary Merlyn Rees’ warning, in a letter to Callaghan after the Government became a minority in Parliament in April 1976, was in response to a

in The British tradition of minority government
Legislative management

4 The myth of weakness: legislative management [T]he Government had to consider what strategy to adopt while without a parliamentary majority […] whether to introduce Bills which would be popular with the Government’s own supporters but likely to be defeated in Parliament, or whether to take special steps to obtain the necessary support for Government legislation.1 Callaghan’s summary of a Cabinet discussion on 3 March 1977 is representative of the many deliberations which were engaged in by the 1970s governments, and some of the radical options which were

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

Government and they and other small groups should not be overlooked […] otherwise the election campaign would begin almost immediately.1 The Prime Minister’s country retreat, Chequers, 26 June 1977. At a secret strategy meeting, three months after the beginning of the Lib–Lab Pact, Callaghan’s Cabinet discussed whether or not to renew their cooperation with the Liberals through extension of the Pact, to seek an early election or to create an entirely different agreement with another political party. This interparty cooperation built on the abortive attempt at coalition

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

2 Myths about leaders: personalities and strategy-making ‘Hung Parliaments’ have been more common than might be supposed. Minority governments have often been formed, usually at periods when the Party system has been in transition, e.g. when the Peelites were drifting slowly from Conservative to Liberal allegiance, or when the Liberal Unionists were moving rapidly from the Gladstonian to the Conservative camp, or when Labour was taking over from the Liberal Party. Sir Ivor Jennings, in Cabinet Government: 3rd Edition, 1961, cited no less than eleven cases of

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

8 Myths and secret plans: future minority governments/coalitions Before and during a general election campaign there can be no public admission that the [Conservative] Party expects anything less than victory with an overall majority: to give any hint that we had planned for any other contingency would tend to increase the minority parties’ vote. We have thought it prudent, nevertheless, to set down, in case they are ever needed in the aftermath of an election, some considerations first on the constitutional and historical aspects of a hung parliament, secondly

in The British tradition of minority government