Labour Party (UK) deputy leadership election, 1981

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Labour Party (UK) deputy leadership election

1980 ←
27 September 1981 (1981-09-27) → 1983

  Denis Healey.jpg Tony Benn2.jpg
Candidate Denis Healey Tony Benn
First round total 45.4% 36.6%
Second round total 50.4% 49.6%

  No image.svg
Candidate John Silkin
First round total 18.0%

Deputy Leader before election

Denis Healey

Elected Deputy Leader

Denis Healey

The 1981 Labour Party deputy leadership election took place on 27 September 1981 when Tony Benn unsuccessfully challenged the incumbent deputy leader Denis Healey at the party conference. Healey had been elected unopposed as deputy leader in the previous year.


As well as Healey and Benn, John Silkin also stood in the election. It was the first election to take place using the party's electoral college. At this time 40% of the votes were given to affiliated unions and societies, and 30% each to the Parliamentary Labour Party and the individual members and activists of the party. When this plurality in favour of the unions was first introduced, it received considerable criticism from the more social democratic wing of the party. Ironically it transpired that if the unions had had an equal share to the PLP and the membership then Healey's narrow majority would have been wiped out and the more left-wing Benn would have won the contest.[citation needed] The challenge for the deputy leadership of the party came a year after the election of Michael Foot as leader, which had seen the party shift to the left and resulted in a split which had created the SDP, who in turn had formed an alliance with the Liberal Party to appeal to centrist voters.


First round[edit]

First round[1]
Candidate Affiliated Constituencies Parliamentary Total
Votes  % Votes  % Votes  %  %
Denis Healey 3,968 24.696% 112 5.367% 125 15.306% 45.369%
Tony Benn 1,030 6.410% 490 23.482% 55 6.735% 36.627%
John Silkin 1,429 8.894% 24 1.150% 65 7.959% 18.003%

Second round[edit]

Second round[1]
Candidate Affiliated Constituencies Parliamentary Total
Votes  % Votes  % Votes  %  %
Denis Healey 3,969 24.994% 118 5.673% 137 19.760% 50.427%
Tony Benn 2,383 15.006% 506 24.327% 71 10.240% 49.573%


  1. ^ a b Pointer, Graham (11 May 2015). "Should Tony Benn Have Been The Winner Of The 1981 Labour Deputy Leadership Election?". Graham Pointer's Blog. Retrieved 17 January 2016.