British academy

The ‘Winter of Discontent’ in British Politics

7pm to 8.30pm, Thursday, 22 January 2009
followed by a drinks reception

The British Academy, 10 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1

A British Academy panel discussion convened by:
Dr Lawrence Black, University of Durham, Dr Hugh Pemberton, University of Bristol and
Professor Pat Thane, FBA, Institute of Historical Research, University of London

Text of opening presentation ('Chronicles of a Death Foretold: The Winter of Discontent and Construction of the Crisis of British Keynesianism') by Colin Hay (pdf)

Audio recording of panel discussion (mp3)

Article in British Academy Review, June 2009 (pdf)

Chair: Peter Riddell, Chief Political Commentator of the Times and  Senior Fellow of the Institute for Government

Speakers: Lord Baker, Former Conservative Home Secretary, Professor Colin Hay, University of Sheffield, Lord Lea, former Assistant General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress  and Lord Lipsey, Special Adviser to the Prime Minister 1977-79 and political journalist.

 The industrial strife that beset the Callaghan government in the winter of 1978/79, ‘the winter of discontent’, was seen at the time as a key factor in Labour’s defeat in the general election of 1979 but continued to resonate in British politics for many years after; indeed its echoes are still plainly with us in press coverage and political rhetoric today.

The discussion will consider the causes and consequences of the ‘winter of discontent’ over both the short- and long-term. Did it represent a genuine crisis for the UK state and the last gasp of the postwar social democratic settlement? How did the Conservatives use the conflict in industrial relations during that winter in their political rhetoric and policy over the ensuing decades? Did the 'winter of discontent' help or hinder the reconstruction of the Labour Party first under Neil Kinnock and then under Tony Blair? Why do the reverberations of the 'winter of discontent' continue to be heard so clearly in British political discourse today?

The evening will begin with a paper by Colin Hay, Professor of Political Analysis, University of Sheffield.

22 January 2009 will be the 30th anniversary of the first public sector 'day of action' during the winter of discontent - often seen as the most important strike since 1926.  For more details visit:

Please note our registration and seating policy:

  1. This event is free of charge. There is no advance registration for this event and no tickets will be issued.
  2. The rooms for this event will be open from 6.30pm onwards - please do not arrive at the Academy before this time.
  3. The first 100 audience members arriving at the Academy will be offered a seat in our Lecture Room where this event will take place. The next 50 people to arrive will be offered a seat in our Overflow Room which has a video and audio link to the Lecture Room.