United Kingdom general election, 1983
The opposition vote split almost evenly between the SDP/Liberal Alliance and Labour. With its worst performance since 1918, the Labour vote fell by over 3 million from 1979 and this accounted for both a national swing of almost 4% towards the Conservatives and their larger parliamentary majority of 144, even though the Conservatives' total vote fell by almost 700,000. This is the most recent election where a party in government increased its majority.
Thatcher's first four years as prime minister had not been an easy time. Unemployment had rocketed in the first three years of her term as she battled to control inflation that had ravaged Britain for most of the 1970s. By the start of 1982, unemployment had passed the 3,000,000 mark - for the first time since before the Second World War - and the economy had been in recession for nearly two years. However, British victory in the Falklands War later that year sparked a dramatic rise in Tory popularity, and as Mrs Thatcher's newfound popularity continued in 1983 the Tories were most people's firm favourites to win the election.
The SDP-Liberal Alliance polled only a few hundred thousand votes behind the Labour Party but received considerably fewer seats. The Alliance gained over 25% of the popular vote, the largest such percentage for any third party since the 1923 general election. The Liberals argued that a proportional electoral system would have given them a more representative number of MPs. Changing the electoral system had been a long-running Liberal Party campaign plank and would later be adopted by the Liberal Democrats.
Labour leader Michael Foot, who had been at the helm since the resignation of James Callaghan (prime minister from 1976 to 1979) in late 1980, resigned soon after the election and was succeeded by Neil Kinnock. Although the election was one of the party's worst, the new crop of MPs included two future Labour Prime Ministers, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
- 1 Background and campaign
- 2 National election, 1979
- 3 Timeline
- 4 Results
- 5 Incumbents defeated
- 6 Target tables
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 Further reading
- 10 Manifestos
Background and campaign
Michael Foot was elected leader of the Labour party in 1980, replacing James Callaghan. The election of Foot signalled that the core of the party was swinging to the left and the move exacerbated divisions within the party. In 1981 a group of senior figures including Roy Jenkins, David Owen, Bill Rodgers and Shirley Williams left Labour to found the Social Democratic Party (SDP). The SDP agreed to a pact with the Liberals for the 1983 elections and stood as The Alliance.
The campaign displayed the huge divisions between the two major parties. Thatcher had been extremely unpopular during her first two years in office until the swift and decisive victory in the Falklands War, coupled with an improving economy, considerably raised her standings in the polls. The Conservatives' key issues included employment, economic growth, and defence. Labour's campaign manifesto involved leaving the European Economic Community, abolishing the House of Lords, abandoning the United Kingdom's nuclear deterrent by cancelling Trident and removing cruise missiles — a policy programme dubbed by Labour MP Gerald Kaufman as "the longest suicide note in history". "Although, at barely 37 pages, it only seemed interminable", noted Roy Hattersley. Pro-Labour political journalist Michael White, writing in The Guardian, commented, "There was something magnificently brave about Michael Foot's campaign — but it was like the Battle of the Somme."
National election, 1979
Following boundary changes in 1983, the BBC and ITN (Independent Television News) co-produced a calculation of how the 1979 general election would have gone if fought on the new 1983 boundaries. The following table shows the effects of the boundary changes on the House of Commons:
|UK General Election 1979|
|Party||Seats||Gains||Losses||Net gain/loss||Seats %||Votes %||Votes||+/−|
|October 1974 election • MPs|
|1979 election • MPs|
|1983 election • MPs|
|1987 election • MPs|
|1992 election • MPs|
The Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher visited Buckingham Palace on the afternoon of 9 May and asked the Queen to dissolve Parliament on 13 May, announcing that the election would be held on 9 June. The key dates were as follows:
|Friday 13 May||Dissolution of the 48th parliament and campaigning officially begins|
|Monday 23 May||Last day to file nomination papers; 2,579 candidates enter|
|Wednesday 8 June||Campaigning officially ends|
|Thursday 9 June||Polling day|
|Friday 10 June||The Conservative Party wins with a majority of 144 to retain power|
|Wednesday 15 June||49th parliament assembles|
|Wednesday 22 June||State Opening of Parliament|
The election saw a landslide victory for the Conservatives, achieving their best results since 1959. Although there was a slight drop in their share of the vote, they made significant gains at the expense of Labour. The night was a disaster for the Labour party, their share of the vote fell by over 9%, which meant they were only 700,000 votes ahead of the newly formed 3rd party the SDP-Liberal Alliance. The massive increase of support for the Alliance at the expense of Labour meant that, in many seats, the collapse in the Labour vote allowed the Conservatives to win. Despite winning over 25% of the national vote, however, the Alliance got less than 4% of seats - 186 fewer than Labour.
The most notable loss of the night was Tony Benn, who lost his seat in Bristol East. SDP President Shirley Williams, a prominent leader of the Social Democratic party, lost her Crosby seat which she had won in a by-election in 1981. Bill Rodgers, another leader of the Alliance (One of the "Gang of Four") also failed to win his old seat that he held as a Labour MP. The 1983 election was also notable as the first time Trotskyist candidates have been elected to parliament, the Labour MPs Terry Fields and Dave Nellist, both supporters of the Militant tendency.
|United Kingdom General Election 1983|
|Party||Standing||Elected||Gained||Unseated||Net||% of total||%||No.||Net %|
|Conservative||633||397||47||10||+ 37||61.1||42.4||13,012,316||- 1.5|
|Labour||633||209||4||55||- 51||32.2||27.6||8,456,934||- 9.3|
|Liberal||326||17||6||0||+ 6||3.5||13.9||4,259,403||+ 11.6|
|Social Democrat||307||6||6||0||+ 6||1.0||11.5||3,521,624||N/A|
|DUP||14||3||2||1||+ 1||0.5||0.5||152,749||+ 0.3|
|National Front||60||0||0||0||0||0.0||0.1||27,065||- 0.5|
|Ulster Popular Unionist||1||1||1||0||+ 1||0.2||0.1||22,861||N/A|
|Workers' Party||14||0||0||0||0||0.0||0.0||14,650||- 0.1|
|Workers Revolutionary||21||0||0||0||0||0.0||0.0||3,798||- 0.1|
|Monster Raving Loony||11||0||0||0||0||0.0||0.0||3,015||N/A|
|Labour and Trade Union||1||0||0||0||0||0.0||0.0||584||N/A|
All parties with more than 500 votes shown.
|Government's new majority||144|
|Total votes cast||30,661,309|
N.B. The SDP-Liberal Alliance vote is compared with the Liberal Party vote in the 1979 election.
The Independent Republican elected in the 1979 election died in 1981. In the ensuring by-election the seat was won by Bobby Sands, an Anti-H-Block/Armagh Political Prisoner who then died and was succeeded by an Anti-H-Block Proxy Political Prisoner candidate Owen Carron. He defended and lost his seat standing for Sinn Féin who contested seats in Northern Ireland for the first time since 1959.
This election was fought under revised boundaries. The changes reflect those comparing to the notional results on the new boundaries. One significant change was the increase in the number of seats allocated to Northern Ireland from 12 to 17.
- Tony Benn (Bristol South East) - Former Secretary of State for Energy (1975–1979)
- Albert Booth (Barrow and Furness) - Former Secretary of State for Employment (1976–1979)
- Arthur Davidson (Accrington) - Shadow Attorney General for England and Wales
- Neil Carmichael (Glasgow Kelvingrove)
- Joseph Dean (Leeds West) - Former Government Whip (1978–1979)
- David Ennals (Norwich North) - Former Secretary of State for Social Services (1976–1979)
- John Garrett (Norwich South)
- Edward Graham (Edmonton) - Former Lord Commissioner of the Treasury (1976–1979)
- William Homewood (Kettering)
- Frank Hooley (Sheffield Heeley)
- Douglas Jay (Battersea North) - Former President of the Board of Trade
- Russell Kerr (Feltham and Heston)
- Joan Lester (Eton and Slough)
- Alex Lyon (York)
- Jim Marshall (Leicester South)
- Roland Moyle (Lewisham East) - Former Minister of State for Health
- Stan Newens (Harlow)
- Ossie O'Brien (Darlington)
- Christopher Price (Lewisham West)
- Gwilym Roberts (Cannock)
- John Sever (Birmingham Ladywood)
- John Spellar (Birmingham Northfield)
- David Stoddart ( Swindon)
- Ann Taylor (Bolton West) - Former Assistant Government Whip (1977–1979)
- John Tilley (Lambeth Central)
- Frank White (Bury and Radcliffe)
- Phillip Whitehead (Derby North)
- William Whitlock (Nottingham North)
- Kenneth Woolmer (Batley and Morley)
- Tom Bradley (Leicester East)
- Christopher Brocklebank-Fowler (North West Norfolk) - Only Conservative MP to join SDP
- Ronald Brown (Hackney South and Shoreditch)
- Richard Crawshaw (Liverpool Toxteth) - Second Deputy Chairmen of Ways and Means
- George Cunningham (Islington South and Finsbury)
- Tom Ellis (Wrexham)
- David Ginsburg (Dewsbury)
- John Grant (Islington Central)
- Ednyfed Hudson Davies (Caerphilly)
- Edward Lyons (Bradford West)
- Dickson Mabon (Greenock and Port Glasgow) - Former Minister for Energy (1976–1979)
- Tom McNally (Stockport South)
- Bryan Magee (Leyton)
- Bob Mitchell (Southampton Itchen)
- Eric Ogden (Liverpool West Derby)
- William Rodgers (Stockton-on-Tees) - Former Secretary of State for Transport (1976–1979)
- John Roper (Farnworth) - Chief Whip, Social Democrat Party (1981-)
- Neville Sandelson (Hayes and Harlington)
- Jeffrey Thomas (Abertillery)
- Michael Thomas (Newcastle-upon-Tyne East)
- James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)
- Shirley Williams (Crosby) - Former Secretary of State for Education and Science (1976–1979), President of the Social Democratic Party (1982-)
- Ben Ford (Bradford North) - Formerly Labour, stood as independent after being de-selected.
- Arthur Lewis (Newham North West) - Formerly Labour, stood as independent after being de-selected.
- Michael O'Halloran (Islington North) - Formerly Labour and SDP but stood as an independent when not selected for seat.
- David Myles (elected for Banffshire in 1979, standing in Orkney and Shetland)
- Iain Sproat (Aberdeen South)
- Delwyn Williams (Montgomeryshire)
- Hamish Gray (Ross and Cromarty) - Minister of State for Energy
|1||Isle of Wight||SDP-Liberal Alliance|
|7||Mitcham and Morden||Con|
|9||Leicestershire North West||Con|
|12||Stockton South||SDP Liberal Alliance|
|18||Ceredigion and Pembroke North||SDP-Liberal Alliance|
|19||Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber||SDP-Liberal Alliance|
In order to regain an overall majority, Labour needed to make at least 65 gains.
|12||Bolton North East||Con|
|14||Croydon North West||Con|
SDP-Liberal Alliance targets
|1||Roxburgh and Berwickshire||SDP-Liberal Alliance|
|2||Richmond and Barnes||Con|
|8||Colne Valley||SDP-Liberal Alliance|
|13||Gainsborough and Horncastle||Con|
|14||Cornwall South East||Con|
|15||Clwyd South West||Con|
|20||Ross, Cromarty and Skye||SDP-Liberal Alliance|
- 1983: Thatcher triumphs again - BBC News, 5 April 2005
- BBC election 83
- White, Michael (11 April 2005). "Michael White on 35 years of covering elections". The Guardian.
- In addition, rebel Liberal associations fielded candidates against official SDP/Alliance nominees in three constituencies: Liverpool Broadgreen, Hackney South and Shoreditch, and Hammersmith.
- Butler, David E. et al. The British General Election of 1983 (1984), the standard scholarly study
- F. W. S. Craig, British Electoral Facts: 1832–1987
- The Challenge of Our Times - 1983 Conservative manifesto.
- The New Hope for Britain - 1983 Labour Party manifesto.
- Working Together for Britain - SDP-Liberal Alliance manifesto.