Labour Government 1974–79

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The Labour Party, led by Harold Wilson and then James Callaghan as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, governed the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from 1974 until 1979. The end of Callaghan’s ministry was marked by the Winter of Discontent, a period of serious industrial discontent. This was followed by the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979.

Formation[edit]

After the February 1974 general election, no party had a majority of seats. The incumbent Conservative party won the popular vote, but Labour took the most seats. Edward Heath, the Conservative prime minister, attempted to negotiate a coalition with the Liberal party, but resigned as prime minister after failing in this regard. The Labour Party, led by Harold Wilson, then established a minority government.

It was generally recognised that this had no long-term stability, and the October 1974 general election was held, the Wilson government gaining a majority of three seats.

The economy was in recession by the time of the first election, but economic growth was re-established by the end of 1975, although inflation which had run into double digits before Labour came to power was now above 20%. It would remain high for the rest of this government.

In March 1976, after his sixtieth birthday, Wilson resigned as prime minister. He was replaced by James Callaghan.

Within a year of Callaghan taking office, the narrow Labour majority was eliminated due to by-election defeats and in order to remain in power, Labour formed the Lib-Lab pact in March 1977 and this remained in force for 16 months. This minority government also managed to stay in power with unofficial deals with the Ulster Unionist Party and Scottish National Party.

By September 1978, economic growth had picked up and inflation was below 10%, and with most of the opinion polls showing a clear Labour lead it was widely expected that prime minister James Callaghan would call a general election that autumn, despite having another year to do so. However, he resisted these calls and Britain began 1979 with Labour still in power and Callaghan still in charge.

Fate[edit]

With strikes affecting Britain during the Winter of Discontent (late 1978/early 1979) and inflation back in double digits, the loss of a motion of no confidence in 1979 precipitated a General Election, which the Conservatives won - with their leader Margaret Thatcher becoming Britain's first female prime minister.

James Callaghan would continue to lead Labour in opposition for 18 months before stepping down to make way for Michael Foot.

Cabinets[edit]

Wilson's Cabinet, March 1974 – April 1976[edit]

OFFICE NAME TERM
Prime Minister
First Lord of the Treasury
Minister for the Civil Service
Harold Wilson 1974–1976
Chancellor of the Exchequer Denis Healey 1974–1976
Lord Chancellor The Lord Elwyn-Jones 1974–1976
Lord President of the Council Edward Short 1974–1976
Lord Privy Seal The Lord Shepherd 1974–1976
Foreign Secretary James Callaghan 1974–1976
Home Secretary Roy Jenkins 1974–1976
Secretary of State for Defence Roy Mason 1974–1976
Secretary of State for Education and Science Reg Prentice 1974–1975
  Fred Mulley 1975–1976
Secretary of State for Employment Michael Foot 1974–1976
Secretary of State for Energy Eric Varley 1974–1975
  Tony Benn 1975–1976
Secretary of State for the Environment Anthony Crosland 1974–1976
Secretary of State for Social Services Barbara Castle 1974–1976
Secretary of State for Industry Tony Benn 1974–1975
  Eric Varley 1975–1976
Minister for Overseas Development Reg Prentice 1975–1976
Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection Shirley Williams 1974–1976
Secretary of State for Trade Peter Shore 1974–1976
Secretary of State for Transport William Rodgers 1974–1976
Secretary of State for Scotland William Ross 1974–1976
Secretary of State for Wales John Morris 1974–1976
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Merlyn Rees 1974–1976
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Harold Lever 1974–1976
Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury Robert Mellish 1974–1976
Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Fred Peart 1974–1976
Minister for Planning and Local Government John Silkin 1974–1976


Callaghan’s Cabinet, April 1976 – May 1979[edit]

OFFICE NAME TERM
Prime Minister
First Lord of the Treasury
Minister for the Civil Service
James Callaghan 1976–1979
Chancellor of the Exchequer Denis Healey 1976–1979
Lord Chancellor The Lord Elwyn-Jones 1976–1979
Lord President of the Council Michael Foot 1976–1979
Lord Privy Seal The Lord Shepherd 1976
  The Lord Peart 1976–1979
Foreign Secretary Anthony Crosland 1976–1977
  David Owen 1977–1979
Home Secretary Roy Jenkins 1976
  Merlyn Rees 1976–1979
Secretary of State for Defence Roy Mason 1976
  Fred Mulley 1976–1979
Secretary of State for Education and Science Fred Mulley 1976
  Shirley Williams 1976–1979
Secretary of State for Employment Albert Booth 1976–1979
Secretary of State for Energy Tony Benn 1976–1979
Secretary of State for the Environment Peter Shore 1976–1979
Secretary of State for Social Services David Ennals 1976–1979
Secretary of State for Industry Eric Varley 1976–1979
Minister for Overseas Development Reginald Prentice 1976
Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection Shirley Williams 1976
  Roy Hattersley 1976–1979
Secretary of State for Trade Edmund Dell 1976–1978
  John Smith 1978–1979
Secretary of State for Transport Bill Rodgers 1976–1979
Secretary of State for Scotland Bruce Millan 1976–1979
Secretary of State for Wales John Morris 1976–1979
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Merlyn Rees 1976
  Roy Mason 1976–1979
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Harold Lever 1976–1979
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Joel Barnett 1977–1979
Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Fred Peart 1976
  John Silkin 1976–1979
Minister for Social Security Stanley Orme 1976–1979
Minister for Local Government and Planning John Silkin 1976


Full List of Ministers[edit]

Members of the Cabinet are in bold face.

Office Name Dates Notes
Prime Minister,
First Lord of the Treasury
and Minister for the Civil Service
Harold Wilson 4 March 1974 – 5 April 1976  
James Callaghan 5 April 1976 – 4 May 1979  
Minister of State, Civil Service Department Robert Sheldon 7 March 1974  
Charles Morris 18 October 1974  
Parliamentary Secretary, Civil Service Department John Grant 7 March 1974 – 18 October 1974  
Lord Chancellor The Lord Elwyn-Jones 5 March 1974  
Lord President of the Council
and Leader of the House of Commons
Edward Short 5 March 1974  
Michael Foot 8 April 1976  
Minister of State for the Privy Council Office Gerald Fowler 18 October 1974  
The Lord Crowther-Hunt 23 January 1976  
John Smith 8 April 1976  
The Baroness Birk 3 January 1979  
Parliamentary Secretary to the Privy Council Office William Price 18 October 1974  
Lord Privy Seal
and Leader of the House of Lords
The Lord Shepherd 7 March 1974  
The Lord Peart 10 September 1976  
Chancellor of the Exchequer Denis Healey 5 March 1974  
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Joel Barnett 7 March 1974 In Cabinet from Feb 1977
Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury Robert Mellish 5 March 1974  
Michael Cocks 8 April 1976  
Financial Secretary to the Treasury John Gilbert 7 March 1974  
Robert Sheldon 17 June 1975  
Minister of State, Treasury Robert Sheldon 18 October 1974  
Denzil Davies 17 June 1975  
Lords of the Treasury Donald Coleman 8 March 1974 – 6 July 1978  
James Dunn 8 March 1974 – 14 April 1976  
John Golding 8 March 1974 – 18 October 1974  
Tom Pendry 8 March 1974 – 18 January 1977  
James Hamilton 8 March 1974 – 28 June 1974  
Michael Cocks 28 June 1974 – 8 April 1976  
Jack Dormand 18 October 1974 – 4 May 1979  
David Stoddart 4 April 1976 – 18 November 1977  
Edward Graham 14 April 1976 – 4 May 1979  
Tom Cox 19 January 1977 – 4 May 1979  
Peter Snape 23 November 1977 – 4 May 1979  
Albert Stallard 5 July 1978 – 17 January 1979  
Alfred Bates 17 January 1979 – 4 May 1979  
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs James Callaghan 5 March 1974  
Anthony Crosland 8 April 1976  
David Owen 21 February 1977  
Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs David Ennals 7 March 1974 – 8 April 1976  
Roy Hattersley 7 March 1974 – 10 September 1976  
The Lord Goronwy-Roberts 4 December 1975 – 4 May 1979  
Ted Rowlands 14 April 1976 – 4 May 1979  
David Owen 10 September 1976 – 21 February 1977  
Frank Judd 21 February 1977 – 4 May 1979  
Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Joan Lestor 8 March 1974 – 12 June 1975  
The Lord Goronwy-Roberts 8 March 1974 – 4 December 1975  
Ted Rowlands 12 June 1975 – 14 April 1976  
John Tomlinson 17 March 1976 – 4 May 1979 Also Overseas Development
Evan Luard 14 April 1976 – 4 May 1979  
Minister for Overseas Development Judith Hart 7 April 1974 Subordinated to Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs 10 June 1975
Minister of Overseas Development Reginald Prentice 10 June 1975  
Frank Judd 21 December 1976  
Judith Hart 21 February 1977  
Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Overseas Development William Price 11 March 1974  
John Grant 18 October 1974  
Frank Judd 14 April 1976  
John Tomlinson 3 January 1977  
Secretary of State for the Home Department Roy Jenkins 5 March 1974  
Merlyn Rees 10 September 1976  
Minister of State for Home Affairs The Lord Harris 8 March 1974 – 3 January 1979  
Alex Lyon 8 March 1974 – 14 April 1976  
Brynmor John 14 April 1976 – 4 May 1979  
The Lord Boston 3 January 1979 – 4 May 1979  
Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs Shirley Summerskill 8 March 1974  
Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Fred Peart 5 March 1974  
John Silkin 10 September 1976  
Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Norman Buchan 8 March 1974  
Edward Stanley Bishop 18 October 1974  
Parliamentary Secretary to Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Roland Moyle 11 March 1974  
Edward Stanley Bishop 28 June 1974  
Gavin Strang 18 October 1974  
Secretary of State for Defence Roy Mason 4 March 1974  
Frederick Mulley 10 September 1976  
Minister of State for Defence William Rodgers 4 March 1974  
John Gilbert 10 September 1976  
Under-Secretary of State for the Navy Frank Judd 8 March 1974  
Patrick Duffy 14 April 1976  
Under-Secretary of State for the Air Force Brynmor John 8 March 1974  
James Wellbeloved 14 April 1976  
Under-Secretary of State for the Army Desmond Brayley 4 March 1974  
Robert Brown 18 October 1974  
Secretary of State for Education and Science Reginald Prentice 5 March 1974  
Frederick Mulley 10 June 1975  
Shirley Williams 10 September 1976  
Minister of State, Education and Science Gerald Fowler 8 March 1974  
Norman Crowther Hunt 18 October 1974  
Gerald Fowler 23 January 1976  
Gordon Oakes 10 September 1976  
Janet Young 7 May 1979  
Under-Secretary of State, Education and Science Ernest Armstrong 7 March 1974  
Joan Lestor 12 June 1975  
Margaret Jackson 12 March 1976  
Secretary of State for Employment Michael Foot 5 March 1974  
Albert Booth 8 April 1976
Minister of State, Employment Albert Booth 8 March 1976  
Harold Walker 14 April 1976  
Under-Secretary of State, Employment John Fraser 8 March 1974 – 14 April 1976  
Harold Walker 8 March 1974 – 14 April 1976  
John Golding 14 April 1976 – 4 May 1979  
John Grant 14 April 1976 – 4 May 1979  
Secretary of State for Energy Eric Varley 5 March 1974  
Tony Benn 10 May 1975  
Minister of State, Energy Thomas Balogh 7 March 1974  
John Smith 4 December 1975  
Dickson Mabon 14 April 1976  
Under-Secretary of State, Energy Gavin Strang 7 March 1974 – 18 October 1974  
Alex Eadie 7 March 1974 – 4 May 1979  
John Smith 18 October 1974 – 4 December 1975  
The Lord Lovell-Davis 4 December 1975 – 14 April 1976  
Gordon Oakes 14 April 1976 – 10 September 1976  
Jack Cunningham 10 September 1976 – 4 May 1979  
Secretary of State for the Environment Anthony Crosland 5 March 1974  
Peter Shore 8 April 1976  
Minister of State, Urban Affairs Charles Morris 7 March 1974 – 18 October 1974  
Minister of State (Sport, Recreation and Water Resources) Denis Howell 7 March 1974 – 4 May 1979  
Under-Secretary of State, Environment Gerald Kaufman 8 March 1974 – 12 June 1975  
Neil Carmichael 8 March 1974 – 4 December 1975  
Gordon Oakes 8 March 1974 – 14 April 1976  
Alma Birk 18 October 1974 – 3 January 1979  
Ernest Armstrong 12 June 1975 – 4 May 1979  
Guy Barnett 5 December 1975 – 4 May 1979  
Kenneth Marks 14 April 1976 – 4 May 1979  
Phyllis Stedman 3 January 1979 – 4 May 1979  
Minister for Planning and Local Government John Silkin 7 March 1974 In Cabinet from 18 October 1974. Office abolished 10 September 1976
Minister for Transport Fred Mulley 7 March 1974  
John Gilbert 12 June 1975 Separate department and Cabinet Minister from 10 September 1976
Minister for Housing and Construction Reg Freeson 7 March 1974  
Secretary of State for Social Services Barbara Castle 5 March 1974  
David Ennals 8 April 1976  
Minister of State, Health and Social Security Brian O'Malley 8 March 1974 – 6 April 1976  
David Owen 26 July 1974 – 10 September 1976  
Stan Orme 8 April 1976 – 4 May 1979 In Cabinet as Minister for Social Security from 10 September 1976
Roland Moyle 10 September 1976 – 4 May 1979  
Under-Secretary of State, Health and Social Security David Owen 8 March 1974 – 26 July 1974  
Robert Brown 8 March 1974 – 18 October 1974  
Alec Jones 18 October 1974 – 12 June 1975  
Michael Meacher 12 June 1975 – 14 April 1976  
Eric Deakins 14 April 1976 – 4 May 1979  
The Lord Wells-Pestell 3 January 1979 – 4 May 1979  
Under-Secretary of State, Disabled Industry Alf Morris 11 March 1974 – 4 May 1979  
Secretary of State for Industry Tony Benn 5 March 1974 Also Minister for Posts and Telecommunications 7–29 March 1974
Eric Varley 10 June 1975  
Minister of State, Industry Eric Heffer 7 March 1974 – 9 April 1975  
The Lord Beswick 11 March 1974 – 4 December 1975  
Gerald Kaufman 4 December 1975 – 14 April 1976  
Alan Williams 14 April 1976 – 4 May 1979  
Under-Secretary of State, Industry Gregor Mackenzie 7 March 1974 – 10 June 1975  
Michael Meacher 7 March 1974 – 12 June 1975  
Gerald Kaufman 12 June 1975 – 4 December 1975  
The Lord Melchett 4 December 1975 – 10 September 1976  
Neil Carmichael 4 December 1975 – 14 April 1976  
Les Huckfield 4 April 1976 – 4 May 1979  
Bob Cryer 10 September 1976 – 20 November 1978  
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Harold Lever 5 March 1974
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Merlyn Rees 5 March 1974  
Roy Mason 10 September 1976  
Minister of State, Northern Ireland Stan Orme 7 March 1974 – 8 April 1976  
Roland Moyle 27 June 1974 – 10 September 1976  
Don Concannon 14 April 1976 – 4 May 1979  
The Lord Melchett 10 September 1976 – 4 May 1979  
Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland The Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge 4 March 1974 – 5 April 1976  
Don Concannon 27 June 1974 – 5 April 1976  
James Dunn 5 April 1976 – 4 May 1979  
Raymond Carter 5 April 1976 – 4 May 1979  
Tom Pendry 11 November 1978 – 4 May 1979  
Paymaster General Edmund Dell 7 March 1974
Shirley Williams 5 April 1976  
Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection Shirley Williams 4 March 1974  
Roy Hattersley 10 September 1976  
Minister of State, Prices and Consumer Protection Alan Williams 4 March 1974  
John Fraser 5 April 1976  
Under-Secretary of State, Prices and Consumer Protection Robert Maclennan 4 March 1974  
Secretary of State for Scotland William Ross 4 March 1974  
Bruce Millan 5 April 1976  
Minister of State for Scotland Bruce Millan 4 March 1974 – 5 April 1976  
The Lord Hughes 4 March 1974 – 8 August 1975  
The Lord Kirkhill 8 August 1975 – 15 December 1978
Gregor Mackenzie 5 April 1976 – 4 May 1979  
Under-Secretary of State for Scotland Robert Hughes 4 March 1974 – 22 July 1975  
Hugh Brown 27 June 1974 – 4 May 1979  
Harry Ewing 18 October 1974 – 4 May 1979  
Frank McElhone 22 July 1975 – 4 May 1979  
Secretary of State for Trade Peter Shore 4 March 1974  
Edmund Dell 5 April 1976  
John Smith 11 November 1978  
Under-Secretary of State for Trade Eric Deakins 4 March 1974 – 5 April 1976  
Clinton Davis 4 March 1974 – 4 May 1979  
Michael Meacher 5 April 1976 – 4 May 1979  
Secretary of State for Transport William Rodgers 10 September 1976  
Under-Secretary of State for Transport John Horam 10 September 1976  
Secretary of State for Wales John Morris 4 March 1974
Under-Secretary of State for Wales Ted Rowlands 4 March 1974 – 12 June 1975  
Barry Jones 4 March 1974 – 4 May 1979  
Alec Jones 12 June 1975 – 4 May 1979  
Attorney General Samuel Silkin 4 March 1974  
Solicitor General Peter Archer 4 March 1974  
Parliamentary Secretary to the Law Officers Arthur Davidson 4 March 1974  
Lord Advocate Ronald King Murray 4 March 1974  
Solicitor General for Scotland John McCluskey 4 March 1974  
Treasurer of the Household Walter Harrison 4 March 1974  
Comptroller of the Household Joseph Harper 4 March 1974  
James Hamilton 6 July 1978  
Vice-Chamberlain of the Household Don Concannon 4 March 1974  
James Hamilton 27 June 1974  
Donald Coleman 6 July 1978  
Captain of the Gentlemen at Arms The Baroness Llewellyn-Davies 4 March 1974  
Captain of the Yeomen of the Guard The Lord Strabolgi 4 March 1974  
Lords-in-Waiting The Lord Jacques 4 March 1974 – 19 January 1977, 11 January 1979 – 4 May 1979  
The Lord Garnsworthy 4 March 1974 – 4 September 1974  
The Baroness Birk 4 March 1974 – 18 October 1974  
The Lord Wells-Pestell 4 March 1974 – 11 January 1979  
The Lord Winterbottom 18 October 1974 – 27 October 1978  
The Lord Lovell-Davis 18 October 1974 – 4 December 1975  
The Lord Melchett 18 October 1974 – 4 December 1975  
The Baroness Stedman 4 December 1975 – 11 January 1979  
The Lord Oram 23 January 1976 – 23 March 1978  
The Lord Wallace of Coslany 19 January 1977 – 4 May 1979  
The Lord Leonard 27 October 1978 – 4 May 1979  
The Baroness David of Romsey 27 October 1978 – 4 May 1979  

References[edit]

  • D. Butler and G. Butler, Twentieth Century British Political Facts 1900-2000
Preceded by
Heath ministry
Government of the United Kingdom
1974–1979
Succeeded by
First Thatcher ministry