The 1980 Labour Party leadership election was held following the resignation of James Callaghan. Callaghan had been Prime Minister from 1976 to 1979 and had stayed on as leader of the Labour Party for eighteen months in order to oversee an orderly transition to his favoured successor, Denis Healey over his own deputy Michael Foot. However, during this period the party had become bogged down in internal arguments about its procedures and future direction.
Initially, the candidates were thought likely to be Denis Healey, Peter Shore and John Silkin, but Michael Foot was persuaded to stand by left-wingers who believed that only he could defeat Healey. In the event, Foot won by a margin of 10 votes in the final ballot of MPs. In 1998 Ivor Crewe and Anthony King revealed that at least five (unnamed) Labour MPs who defected to the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1981 deliberately voted for Foot in order to give the Labour Party an unelectable left-wing leader (although none of the SDP's founding "Gang of Four" did so).