British Politics

, Volume 11, Issue 1, pp 95–118 | Cite as

‘Should I stay or should I go?’: James Callaghan’s decision not to call an autumn 1978 general election

  • Peter Dorey
Original Article


Before the 2011 Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, it was a Prime Minister’s prerogative to choose the date of a general election, provided that it was not more than 5 years after the previous one. This provided Prime Ministers with a considerable degree of flexibility, and enabled them to call the election at a time when they anticipated that circumstances would be most propitious for the governing party. However, this erstwhile Prime Ministerial privilege was sometimes fraught with political risks, thus presenting the Prime Minister with a serious dilemma over which date to choose. This certainly proved to be the case in the summer of 1978, when the Labour Prime Minister, James Callaghan, was deciding whether to call an autumn election or to persevere until the spring of 1979. The final choice of the latter was explicable and rational in terms of the political and calculations of the time, but can be viewed as a disastrous decision in terms of subsequent developments that unwittingly paved the way for Thatcherism and the shift to neo-liberalism in British politics.


Hung Parliament marginal constituencies opinion polls/polls 


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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter Dorey
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Politics and International RelationsSchool of Law and Politics, Cardiff University, Museum AvenueCardiff

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