1981 Warrington by-election

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The Warrington by-election, 1981 was held on 16 July 1981.

The by-election was caused by the appointment of Thomas Williams, Labour Party Member of Parliament (MP) for Warrington, as a High Court Judge.

Warrington had been held by the Labour Party since the 1945 general election, and by Williams since the 1961 Warrington by-election. It had long been regarded as a safe seat for the party, and even in 1979, generally a year of poor results for Labour, Williams won with a majority of 32.8%.[1] Labour expected to hold the seat comfortably, and selected Doug Hoyle, the former MP for Nelson and Colne, who had lost his seat in 1979.

The Social Democratic Party (SDP) was formed by prominent figures on the right of the Labour Party in early 1981, known as the "Gang of Four" – Shirley Williams, Roy Jenkins, David Owen and Bill Rodgers. Of the four, Williams and Jenkins lacked Parliamentary seats, and were keen to stand in by-elections as candidates under their new party label. Following the agreement of an electoral pact with the Liberal Party exactly a month earlier,[2] who had come a distant third in Warrington in 1979, with less than 10% of the vote, the two parties agreed to support Jenkins as the SDP's first Parliamentary candidate.

The Conservative Party had taken second place in Warrington in 1979, with 28.8% of the votes cast.[1] In mid-term government and behind in the polls, they did not expect to advance and stood Stanley Sorrell, a London-based bus driver, and unusually for a Conservative, an active trade unionist.[3]

Curiously, a member of an unconnected Social Democratic Party, founded in Manchester by Donald Kean, had contested the seat in 1979. Lacking any profile, he won only 0.5% of the vote. However, the party determined to stand again, against the better known SDP, which they were hoping to force to change their name.[4]

Several other candidates stood. The then little-known Ecology Party stood Neil Chantrell. Perennial by-election candidate Bill Boaks stood as a Democratic Monarchist. Iain Leslie, an administrator for the Inner London Education Authority, stood on a platform of legalised CB Radio. Tom Keen stood for the Campaign for a More Prosperous Britain. John Fleming stood on a platform opposing immigration and the Trident nuclear weapon system, while also calling for British troops to withdraw from Northern Ireland. Daniel Hussey stood as the "United Democratic Labour Party" candidate and Harry Wise stood as the "English Democratic Party" candidate. With eleven candidates, this equalled the most for any British by-election, set at the 1978 Lambeth Central by-election.[5]


Hoyle only narrowly held the seat for the Labour Party. Jenkins came from nowhere to win 42.4% of the vote, taking a close second place. Sorrell dropped to a distant third, losing three-quarters of the Conservative vote. None of the minor candidates were able to make an impact, all winning less than 1% of the vote,[6] and Keen equalled the record low of only ten votes.

Jenkins returned to Parliament at the 1982 Glasgow Hillhead by-election, subsequently becoming the SDP party leader.

The Warrington seat was split at the 1983 general election. Hoyle won Warrington North, holding the seat until his retirement in 1997, while a Conservative won Warrington South.

Warrington by-election, 1981[7]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Labour Doug Hoyle 14,280 48.4 – 13.3
Social Democratic Roy Jenkins 12,521 42.4 N/A
Conservative Stanley Sorrell 2,102 7.1 – 21.7
Ecology Neil Chantrell 219 0.8 N/A
United Democratic Labour Party Daniel Hussey 149 0.5 N/A
Citizen's Band Radio Party Iain Leslie 111 0.4 N/A
Independent Labour John Fleming 53 0.2 N/A
Social Democrat (1979) Donald Kean 38 0.1 – 0.4
Democratic Monarchist Bill Boaks 14 0.1 N/A
English Democratic Party Harry Wise 11 0.0 N/A
More Prosperous Britain Tom Keen 10 0.0 N/A
Majority 1,759 6.0 – 26.8
Turnout 29,508 67.0 – 4.3
Labour hold Swing


  1. ^ a b UK General Election Results: May 1979
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 27 July 2011. Retrieved 13 August 2010.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ Warrington: Conservative
  4. ^ Warrington: Social Democratic Party
  5. ^ Warrington 1981
  6. ^ "Byelections in the 1979-83 Parliament". www.election.demon.co.uk.
  7. ^ Boothroyd, David. "Results of Byelections in the 1979-83 Parliament". United Kingdom Election Results. Retrieved 19 September 2015.

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