Last Wednesday, British Prime Minister James Callaghan's minority Labor government was toppled from power by one vote in the House of Commons. The vote — 311 to 310 on a censure motion brought by the opposition Conservatives under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher — placed Callaghan in the embarrassing position of being the first prime minister to be ousted on a confidence vote since Ramsay MacDonald was ejected from office some 55 years ago.

   Callaghan has set May 3 as the date for the national election, which could bring Britain its first woman prime minister ever (see Isaiah 3:12 for a possible election forecast).

   The no-confidence vote comes as no surprise in light of the events of recent months. Crippling strikes of public-service and other workers led to widespread disorder inside Britain this past winter, reminiscent of those of the winter of 1973-74, which forced the country onto a three-day work week and ultimately led to the fall of Edward Heath's Conservative government. As a result of this winter's turmoil, Labor's principal appeal to the electorate — that it could handle the powerful unions better than the Conservatives could — has been severely damaged. The months of strikes and threats of other walkouts have dramatically cut into the Labor's popularity. Latest polls give the Tory party a 13% lead over Labor.

   Whether, and how, to curb the power of the unions has now become the main issue of British politics. Expected labor-management confrontations, with the possibility of still more paralyzing strikes to come, could yet produce a national upheaval far worse than any seen in Britain to date. Public patience with the unions appears near the breaking point, as evidenced in a recent Gallup poll in which 84 percent of the British public expressed the feeling that the power of the trade unions is inordinate. Nor surprisingly, Tory leader Thatcher has been pushing hard to capitalize on the national mood of disenchantment over union extremism.

   In the few weeks remaining before election day, both parties will be busily maneuvering for votes. The Labor government will be making fresh efforts to patch up some sort of last-minute agreement with the unions to bolster its standings in the polls. The Tories will most probably seek to maintain their current lead by holding out the prospect of a new beginning under their leadership.

   The only nationwide third party is the small Liberal party, led by David Steel (its former leader, Jeremy Thorpe, is under indictment for conspiracy to murder). Though customarily drawing only five to six percent of the popular vote, the Liberals hope for enough seats to hold the balance of power between the two major parties after the election.

   The election results will be known in less than a month. The big question is whether any government will be able to successfully stem the steady tide of national erosion and stave off the almost certain economic ruin which faces Britain today. For even in the non-stop electioneering currently underway, few voices of any party are to be heard addressing the fundamental root causes of Britain's half-century of decline from world-power status. Politicians continue to search for the easy way out, for solutions which will be palatable to the voters. Until Britons come to realize there — is no easy way out, prospects remain bleak indeed.

Gene H. Hogberg and Keith Stump, News Bureau

Back To Top

Pastor General's ReportApril 02, 1979Vol 3 No. 11