1983 United Kingdom general election

The 1983 United Kingdom general election was held on Thursday, 9 June 1983. It gave the Conservative Party under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher the most decisive election victory since that of the Labour Party in 1945.

Thatcher's first four years as Prime Minister had not been an easy time.[1] Unemployment increased during the first three years of her premiership and the economy went through a recession. However, the British victory in the Falklands War led to a recovery of her personal popularity; the economy had also returned to growth. By the time Thatcher called the election in May 1983, the Conservatives were most people's firm favourites to win the general election. The resulting win earned the Conservatives their biggest parliamentary majority of the post-war era, and their second-biggest majority as a single-party government, behind only the 1924 election (they earned even more seats in the 1931 election, but were part of the National Government)[2]

The Labour Party had been led by Michael Foot since the resignation of former Prime Minister James Callaghan in 1980. They had fared well in opinion polls and local elections during this time, but issues developed which would lead directly to their defeat. Labour adopted a platform that was considered more left-wing than usual.[2][3] Several moderate Labour MPs had defected from the party to form the Social Democratic Party (SDP); they then formed the SDP–Liberal Alliance with the existing Liberal Party.

The opposition vote split almost evenly between the Alliance and Labour. With its worst electoral performance since 1918, the Labour vote fell by over 3 million votes from 1979 and this accounted for both a national swing of almost 4% towards the Conservatives and their larger parliamentary majority of 144 seats, even though the Conservatives' total vote fell by almost 700,000. This was the last general election where a governing party increased its number of seats until 2015.

The Alliance finished in third place but came within 700,000 votes of out-polling Labour. By gaining 25% of the popular vote, the Alliance won the largest such percentage for any third party since the 1923 general election. Despite this, they won only 23 seats, whereas Labour won 209. 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.

The election night was broadcast live on the BBC, and was presented by David Dimbleby, Sir Robin Day and Peter Snow.[4] It was also broadcast on ITV, and presented by Alastair Burnet, Peter Sissons and Martyn Lewis.

Three future Leaders of the Labour Party (Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Jeremy Corbyn) were first elected as Members of Parliament at this election—two of them would later hold the office of Prime Minister, whilst Corbyn became Labour leader in 2015. Former Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson, Shirley Williams, Bill Rodgers, Joan Lestor and Tony Benn left Parliament as a result of this election, although Benn would return in a by-election the following year, and Lestor at the following general election. In addition, two future Leaders of the Liberal Democrats were first elected as Members of Parliament (Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy), and one future Leader of the Conservative Party (Michael Howard).

1983 United Kingdom general election

9 June 1983

All 650 seats in the House of Commons
326 seats needed for a majority
Opinion polls
Turnout72.7%, Decrease3.3%
  Margaret Thatcher (1983) Michael Foot (1981)
DavidSteel1987 cropped
Roy Jenkins 1977b
Leader Margaret Thatcher Michael Foot
Party Conservative Labour Alliance
Leader since 11 February 1975 10 November 1980
Leader's seat Finchley Blaenau Gwent
Last election 339 seats, 43.9% 269 seats, 36.9% 11 seats, 13.8%
Seats before 359 261 11
Seats won 397 209 23
Seat change Increase38[a] Decrease52[a] Increase12[a]
Popular vote 13,012,316 8,456,934 7,780,949
Percentage 42.4% 27.6% 25.4%
Swing Decrease1.5% Decrease9.3% Increase11.6%

UK General Election, 1983
Colours denote the winning party—as shown in § Results

Prime Minister before election

Margaret Thatcher

Appointed Prime Minister

Margaret Thatcher

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 election and stood as "The Alliance".

The campaign displayed the huge divisions between the two major parties. Thatcher had been highly 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 programme dubbed by Labour MP Gerald Kaufman "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."[5]

Notional 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 +/−
  Conservative 359 +20 55 44.9 13,703,429
  Labour 261 −8 40 37.7 11,512,877
  Liberal 9 −2 1 14.2 4,324,936
  SNP 2 0 0 1.6 497,128
  Plaid Cymru 2 0 0 0.4 135,241
  Other parties 17 +5 3 3.4 1,063,263


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 1935. 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 third 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 gain. Despite winning over 25% of the national vote, the Alliance got fewer than 4% of seats, 186 fewer than Labour. The most significant Labour loss of the night was Tony Benn, who was defeated in the revived Bristol East seat. SDP President Shirley Williams, then a prominent leader in the Social Democratic Party, lost her Crosby seat which she had won in a by-election in 1981. Bill Rodgers, another leading figure in the Alliance (like Williams, one of the "Gang of Four") also failed to win his old seat that he previously held as a Labour MP.

In Scotland, both Labour and the Tories sustained modest losses to the Alliance. Labour remained by far the largest party, with 41 seats to 21 for the Scottish Conservatives. The Scottish Conservatives have been unable to match their 1983 Westminster seat total since, although they did record a slightly larger share of the Scottish vote in 2017.

397 209 23 21
Conservative Labour Alliance O
1983 UK general election
Candidates Votes
Party Leader Stood Elected Gained Unseated Net % of total % No. Net %
  Conservative Margaret Thatcher 633 397 47 10 +37 61.1 42.4 13,012,316 −1.5
  Labour Michael Foot 633 209 4 55 −51 32.2 27.6 8,456,934 −9.3
  Alliance David Steel & Roy Jenkins 636[b] 23 12 0 +12 4.5 25.4 7,794,770 +11.6
  SNP Gordon Wilson 72 2 0 0 0 0.3 1.1 331,975 −0.5
  UUP James Molyneaux 16 11 3 1 +2 1.7 0.8 259,952 0.0
  DUP Ian Paisley 14 3 2 1 +1 0.5 0.5 152,749 +0.3
  SDLP John Hume 17 1 0 1 −1 0.2 0.4 137,012 0.0
  Plaid Cymru Dafydd Wigley 38 2 0 0 0 0.3 0.4 125,309 0.0
  Sinn Féin Ruairí Ó Brádaigh 14 1 1 1 0 0.2 0.3 102,701 N/A
  Alliance Oliver Napier 12 0 0 0 0 0.0 0.2 61,275 −0.1
  Ecology Jonathon Porritt 109 0 0 0 0 0.0 0.2 54,299 +0.1
  Independent N/A 73 0 0 0 0 0.0 0.1 30,422 N/A
  National Front Andrew Brons 60 0 0 0 0 0.0 0.1 27,065 −0.5
  UPUP James Kilfedder 1 1 1 0 +1 0.2 0.1 22,861 N/A
  Independent Labour N/A 8 0 0 0 0 0.0 0.1 16,447 0.0
  Workers' Party Tomás Mac Giolla 14 0 0 0 0 0.0 0.0 14,650 −0.1
  BNP John Tyndall 54 0 0 0 0 0.0 0.0 14,621 N/A
  Communist Gordon McLennan 35 0 0 0 0 0.0 0.0 11,606 −0.1
  Independent Socialist N/A 1 0 0 0 0 0.0 0.0 10,326 N/A
  Ind. Conservative N/A 10 0 0 0 0 0.0 0.0 9,442 0.0
  Independent Communist N/A 2 0 0 0 0 0.0 0.0 4,760 N/A
  Workers Revolutionary Michael Banda 21 0 0 0 0 0.0 0.0 3,798 −0.1
  Monster Raving Loony Screaming Lord Sutch 11 0 0 0 0 0.0 0.0 3,015 N/A
  Wessex Regionalist N/A 10 0 0 0 0 0.0 0.0 1,750 0.0
  Mebyon Kernow Richard Jenkin 2 0 0 0 0 0.0 0.0 1,151 N/A
  Independent DUP N/A 1 0 0 0 0 0.0 0.0 1,134 N/A
  Licensees N/A 4 0 0 0 0 0.0 0.0 934 N/A
  Nationalist Party N/A 5 0 0 0 0 0.0 0.0 874 N/A
  Labour and Trade Union Peter Hadden 1 0 0 0 0 0.0 0.0 584 N/A
  Revolutionary Communist Frank Furedi 4 0 0 0 0 0.0 0.0 581 N/A
  Freedom Party N/A 1 0 0 0 0 0.0 0.0 508 N/A
All parties with more than 500 votes shown.[c][d][e][f]
Government's new majority 144
Total votes cast 30,671,137
Turnout 72.7%

Votes summary

Seats won in the election (outer ring) against number of votes (inner ring)
Seats won in the election (outer ring) against number of votes (inner ring)
Popular vote
Scottish National
Ulster Unionist

Seats summary

Parliamentary seats
Ulster Unionist
Data from Guardian daily polls published in The Guardian between May and June 1983. Colour key:.mw-parser-output div.columns-2 div.column{float:left;width:50%;min-width:300px}.mw-parser-output div.columns-3 div.column{float:left;width:33.3%;min-width:200px}.mw-parser-output div.columns-4 div.column{float:left;width:25%;min-width:150px}.mw-parser-output div.columns-5 div.column{float:left;width:20%;min-width:120px}   Conservative   Labour   Alliance   Others
Data from Guardian daily polls published in The Guardian between May and June 1983. Colour key:
The disproportionality of the House of Commons in the 1983 election was "20.62" according to the Gallagher Index, mainly between the Conservatives and the Alliance.
The disproportionality of the House of Commons in the 1983 election was "20.62" according to the Gallagher Index, mainly between the Conservatives and the Alliance.

Incumbents defeated


Social Democratic Party

Independent Labour

Sinn Féin

Social Democratic and Labour Party

Liberal Party


Target tables

Conservative targets

Rank Constituency 1983 winner
1 Isle of Wight Alliance
2 Oxford East Conservative
3 Cunninghame North Conservative
4 Corby Conservative
5 Nottingham East Conservative
6 Hertfordshire West Conservative
7 Mitcham and Morden Conservative
8 Derbyshire South Conservative
9 Leicestershire North West Conservative
10 Southampton Itchen Conservative
11 Halifax Conservative
12 Stockton South Alliance
13 Lewisham West Conservative
14 Edmonton Conservative
15 Stevenage Conservative
16 York Conservative
17 Darlington Conservative
18 Ceredigion and Pembroke North Alliance
19 Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber Alliance
20 Bridgend Conservative

Labour targets

To regain an overall majority, Labour needed to make at least 65 gains.

Rank Constituency 1983 winner
1 Birmingham Northfield Conservative
2 Bury South Conservative
3 Dulwich Conservative
4 Liverpool Broadgreen Labour
5 Nottingham South Conservative
6 Aberdeen South Conservative
7 Stirling Conservative
8 Hornchurch Conservative
9 Luton South Conservative
10 Calder Valley Conservative
11 Pendle Conservative
12 Bolton North East Conservative
13 Cardiff Central Conservative
14 Croydon North West Conservative
15 Fulham Conservative
16 Cambridge Conservative
17 Birmingham Erdington Labour
18 Dudley West Conservative
19 Welwyn Hatfield Conservative
20 Glasgow Cathcart Labour

SDP–Liberal Alliance targets

Rank Constituency 1983 winner
1 Roxburgh and Berwickshire Alliance
2 Richmond and Barnes Conservative
3 Montgomeryshire Alliance
4 Chelmsford Conservative
5 Wiltshire North Conservative
6 Cornwall North Conservative
7 Hereford Conservative
8 Colne Valley Alliance
9 Gordon Alliance
10 Southport Conservative
11 Salisbury Conservative
12 Devon North Conservative
13 Gainsborough and Horncastle Conservative
14 Cornwall South East Conservative
15 Clwyd South West Conservative
16 Liverpool Broadgreen Labour
17 Newbury Conservative
18 Yeovil Alliance
19 Pudsey Conservative
20 Ross, Cromarty and Skye Alliance

See also


  1. ^ a b c Indicates boundary change—so this is a nominal figure.
  2. ^ Includes official Liberal candidates who were not given national Alliance endorsement in three constituencies: Liverpool Broadgreen, Hackney South and Shoreditch, and Hammersmith.
  3. ^ The SDP–Liberal Alliance vote is compared with the Liberal Party vote in the 1979 election.
  4. ^ The Independent Unionist elected in the 1979 election defended and held his seat for the Ulster Popular Unionist Party. The United Ulster Unionist Party dissolved and its sole MP did not re-stand.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ 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.


  1. ^ "Baroness Margaret Thatcher", gov.uk, retrieved 2 July 2018
  2. ^ a b 1983: Thatcher triumphs again, BBC News, 5 April 2005, retrieved 22 March 2015
  3. ^ Vaidyanathan, Rajini (4 March 2010), "Michael Foot: What did the 'longest suicide note' say?", BBC News Magazine, BBC News, retrieved 22 March 2015
  4. ^ Election 1983 – Part 1 on YouTube
  5. ^ White, Michael (11 April 2005), "Michael White on 35 years of covering elections", The Guardian, retrieved 23 June 2018

Further reading

  • Butler, David E.; et al. (1984), The British General Election of 1983, the standard scholarly study
  • Craig, F. W. S. (1989), British Electoral Facts: 1832–1987, Dartmouth: Gower, ISBN 0900178302
  • Clarke, Harold D.; Mishler, William; Whiteley, Paul (1990), "Recapturing the Falklands: models of Conservative popularity, 1979–83", British Journal of Political Science, 20 (1): 63–81


1983 United Kingdom general election in England

The 1983 United Kingdom general election in England was held on 9 June 1983 for 523 English seats to the House of Commons. The Conservative Party won a landslide majority of English seats, gaining 37 seats for a total of 362. The Labour Party came second, winning 148 MPs, a decline of 45. Labour's share of the vote in England was its lowest since 1918, and its number of English MPs was its smallest since 1931. The SDP–Liberal Alliance won 26.4% of the popular vote, just 0.4% behind Labour, but won only 13 seats compared to 148 for Labour, due to the first-past-the-post electoral system.

1983 United Kingdom general election in Northern Ireland

The 1983 United Kingdom general election in Northern Ireland was held on 9 June with 17 MPs elected in single-seat constituencies using first-past-the-post as part of the wider general election in the United Kingdom. This was an increase of five seats, after the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1979 had come into effect to account for the reduced representation after direct rule had been imposed since 1972.

1983 United Kingdom general election in Wales

The 1983 United Kingdom general election in Wales took place on 9 June 1983 for all 38 Welsh seats to the House of Commons. The Labour Party again won a majority of Welsh MPs, but the party's vote share declined by 9.4% and they lost three seats. The governing Conservatives made a net gain of two seats, with the SDP–Liberal Alliance gaining one.

Across the UK the Conservatives won a landslide majority and continued in office for a second term.

1984 Enfield Southgate by-election

The Enfield Southgate by-election, 1984 was a parliamentary by-election held on 13 December 1984 for the British House of Commons constituency of Enfield Southgate.

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Colin Moynihan, 4th Baron Moynihan

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Labour and Trade Union Group

The Labour and Trade Union Group was an organisation for supporters of the Militant tendency in Northern Ireland.

The group originated in the Northern Ireland Labour Party (NILP), but developed a separate existence as that organisation declined in support, and was expelled from the NILP in 1977. It was initially named the "Labour and Trade Union Coordinating Committee", and aimed to include other left-wingers. It campaigned for a Conference of Labour, at which trade unions, socialist groups and community campaigns could agree a co-ordinated approach to labour movement politics, but no such conference was ever held.The group failed to win any support and was largely considered a fringe party. It stood Muriel Tang in the 1983 United Kingdom general election in Belfast East, where she took 1.5% of the vote. It then stood three candidates for Belfast City Council at the 1985 Northern Ireland local elections, none of whom were elected. At the 1992 general election, it stood two candidates, including leader Peter Hadden, who took 1,264 votes between them. By 1993, it was part of Militant Labour. It joined the short lived Labour coalition in 1996.

List of MPs elected in the 1983 United Kingdom general election

This is a list of Members of Parliament (MPs) elected to the 49th Parliament of the United Kingdom in the 1983 general election, held on 9 June 1983. This Parliament was dissolved in 1987.

Notable newcomers to the House of Commons included Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Michael Howard, Paddy Ashdown, Edwina Currie, Clare Short, Charles Kennedy, Peter Lilley, Jeremy Corbyn, Tony Lloyd, Neil Hamilton, Colin Moynihan and Michael Fallon. Gerry Adams was also elected, but did not take his seat.

List of elections in 1983

The following elections occurred in the year 1983.

Lists of United Kingdom MPs

Following is a (currently incomplete) list of past Members of Parliament of the United Kingdom in alphabetical order.

Liverpool Toxteth (UK Parliament constituency)

Liverpool Toxteth was a borough constituency represented in the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It elected one Member of Parliament (MP) by the first past the post system of election.

Opinion polling for the 1983 United Kingdom general election

In the run-up to the 1983 United Kingdom general election, various organisations carry out opinion polling to gauge voting intention. Results of such polls are displayed in this article.

The date range for these opinion polls are from the 1979 general election until 6 June 1983.

Parliament of the United Kingdom

The Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known internationally as the UK Parliament, British Parliament, or Westminster Parliament, and domestically simply as Parliament, is the supreme legislative body of the United Kingdom, the Crown dependencies and the British Overseas Territories. It alone possesses legislative supremacy and thereby ultimate power over all other political bodies in the UK and the overseas territories. Parliament is bicameral but has three parts, consisting of the Sovereign (the Queen-in-Parliament), the House of Lords, and the House of Commons (the primary chamber). The two houses meet in the Palace of Westminster in the City of Westminster, one of the inner boroughs of the capital city, London.

The House of Lords includes two different types of members: the Lords Spiritual, consisting of the most senior bishops of the Church of England, and the Lords Temporal, consisting mainly of life peers, appointed by the Sovereign on the advice of the Prime Minister, and of 92 hereditary peers, sitting either by virtue of holding a royal office, or by being elected by their fellow hereditary peers. Prior to the opening of the Supreme Court in October 2009, the House of Lords also performed a judicial role through the Law Lords.

The House of Commons is an elected chamber with elections to 650 single member constituencies held at least every five years under the first-past-the-post system. The two Houses meet in separate chambers in the Palace of Westminster (commonly known as the Houses of Parliament) in London. By constitutional convention, all government ministers, including the Prime Minister, are members of the House of Commons or, less commonly, the House of Lords and are thereby accountable to the respective branches of the legislature. Most cabinet ministers are from the Commons, whilst junior ministers can be from either House. However, the Leader of the House of Lords must be a peer.

The Parliament of Great Britain was formed in 1707 following the ratification of the Treaty of Union by Acts of Union passed by the Parliament of England and the Parliament of Scotland, both Acts of Union stating, "That the United Kingdom of Great Britain be represented by one and the same Parliament to be styled The Parliament of Great Britain". At the start of the 19th century, Parliament was further enlarged by Acts of Union ratified by the Parliament of Great Britain and the Parliament of Ireland that abolished the latter and added 100 Irish MPs and 32 Lords to the former to create the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The Royal and Parliamentary Titles Act 1927 formally amended the name to the "Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland", five years after the secession of the Irish Free State in 1922.

With the global expansion of the British Empire, the UK Parliament has shaped the political systems of many countries as ex-colonies and so it has been called the "Mother of Parliaments". However, John Bright – who coined the epithet – used it in reference to the political culture of "England" rather than just the parliamentary system.In theory, the UK's supreme legislative power is officially vested in the Crown-in-Parliament. However, the Crown normally acts on the advice of the Prime Minister and the powers of the House of Lords are limited to only delaying legislation; thus power is de facto vested in the House of Commons.

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"The longest suicide note in history" is an epithet originally used by United Kingdom Labour MP Gerald Kaufman to describe his party's 1983 general election manifesto, which emphasised socialist policies in a more profound manner than previous such documents—and which Kaufman felt would ensure that the Labour Party (then in opposition) would fail to win the election.

Tim Yeo

Timothy Stephen Kenneth Yeo (born 20 March 1945) is a British politician. A member of the Conservative Party, he was the Member of Parliament (MP) for the constituency of South Suffolk between the 1983 United Kingdom general election and that of 2015, when he was deselected by his constituency party.

Yeo served as the Minister for the Environment and Countryside from 1993 to 1994 in the government of Prime Minister John Major. He also served in the Shadow Cabinet from 1998 to 2005 under Conservative Party leaders William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard.

West Gloucestershire (UK Parliament constituency)

West Gloucestershire was a parliamentary constituency in Gloucestershire, represented in the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

It was created by the Great Reform Act for the 1832 general election as a 2-seat constituency (i.e. electing two Members of Parliament). It was abolished for the 1885 general election.

A new single-member West Gloucestershire constituency, covering a smaller area, was created for the 1950 general election. It was abolished for the 1997 general election.

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