Westminster election, 3 May 1979

The 1979 election brought Margaret Thatcher to power for eleven years, and the Conservative Party for eighteen. Labour Party folklore has it that the defeat was caused by the Callaghan government losing a vote of no confidence in March 1979, thanks to abstentions by Gerry Fitt of the SDLP and Independent Nationalist Frank Maguire. Of course the truth is that if Callaghan had called the election in late 1978 as he had originally planned he might well have won; by the spring of 1979 the government's poll ratings were irretrievable.

In Northern Ireland this was a much less exciting election. The DUP narrowly gained North and East Belfast; three other seats were won by the same person as in October 1974 but under a different party designation - South Belfast and Mid Ulster, where former Vanguard men Robert Bradford and John Dunlop were now in the UUP and UUUP respectively, and North Down, where James Kilfedder had left the UUP and was standing as an Independent Unionist.

At the fringes, Austin Currie made a decent run at Fermanagh and South Tyrone as an independent SDLP candidate, when his party refused to support him against incumbent Frank Maguire; Republican Clubs declined a bit, the UPNI rather more and the NILP, fighting effectively its last province-wide election, was but the largest among several small left-wing factions. The two candidates with fewest votes overall were both standing in South Down.

Election results, 1979

See spreadsheet archive.
UUP 254,578 votes 36.6% 5 MPs (South Belfast, South Antrim, Armagh, South Down, and Londonderry)
SDLP 126,235 votes 18.2% 1 MP (West Belfast)
Alliance 82,892 votes 11.9%

DUP 70,795 10.2% 3 MPs (East Belfast, North Belfast, and North Antrim)
UUUP 39,856 5.7% 1 MP (Mid Ulster)
IIP 23,086 votes 3.3%

Frank Maguire (Ind Nationalist) 22,398 votes 3.2% 1 MP (Fermanagh-South Tyrone)
Republican Clubs 12,098 votes 1.7%

Austin Currie (Ind SDLP) 10,795 votes 1.6%

Unionist Party of Northern Ireland 8,021 votes 1.2%

NILP 4,411 votes 0.6%

Bob Kidd (United Labour Party) 1,895 votes 0.3%

Jeff Dudgeon (Labour Integrationist) 692 votes 0.1%

Bill Webster (Derry Labour) 639 votes 0.1%

Francis Rice (Independent) 216 votes 0.03%

Peter Courtney (Reform) 31 votes 0.004%

See also:

Results from 1973 to 1982 for each seat: East Belfast | North Belfast | South Belfast | West Belfast | North Antrim | South Antrim | Armagh | North Down | South Down | Fermanagh and South Tyrone | Londonderry | Mid Ulster

Other sites based at ARK: ORB (Online Research Bank) | CAIN (Conflict Archive on the INternet) | Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey

Your comments, please! Send an email to me at nicholas.whyte@gmail.com.

Nicholas Whyte, 25 March 2003, last updated 13 May 2003 by Tineke Vaes.

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