Lib Lab Pact

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The 1970s are still remembered as a tremendously difficult time for Britain - rocketing inflation, crippling industrial unrest, record unemployment, IRA bombings and fuel shortages.

In 1976, Harold Wilson's shock resignation put Jim Callaghan at the helm of a Labour Government doggedly holding on to power with a tiny majority. Deaths, defections and disappearances quickly turned that thin majority into a minority.

The Government was on the brink of being uprooted by a Vote of No Confidence, tabled by an eager leader of the opposition, Margaret Thatcher. The equally eager and ambitious new leader of the Liberals was David Steel. When he offered the Government the support of his tiny band, Callaghan was forced to accept.

The result was the Lib Lab Pact which, its architects and supporters claimed, helped stabilise the Government and the country. But critics say the deal split both parties. Close aids of Steel were shocked at how he had capitulated to Callaghan's lack of commitment on key issues like electoral reform. And Tony Benn was instructed to resign after whipping up dissent among disgruntled Labour colleagues.

Sue MacGregor reunites some of the key people involved in the deal: David Steel then the new leader of a Liberal Party still reeling from the Jeremy Thorpe scandal; Tom McNally, one of Callaghan's closest aids; Michael White, now deputy editor of The Guardian, then a political sketch writer; Roy Hattersley, then a Labour Cabinet minister; and Alan Beith, then a Liberal Party whip.

Producer: Karen Pirie
Series Producer: David Prest

A Whistledown production for BBC Radio 4.

Available now

45 minutes

Last on

Fri 30 Aug 2013 09:00
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