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, with a landslide majority of 144 seats.

1983 United Kingdom general election

 1979 9 June 1983 1987 

All 650 seats in the House of Commons
326 seats needed for a majority
Opinion polls
Turnout72.7%, 3.3%
  First party Second party Third party
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%[lower-alpha 1]
Seats before 339 261 11
Seats won 397 209 23
Seat change 58[lower-alpha 2] 60[lower-alpha 2] 12[lower-alpha 2]
Popular vote 13,012,316 8,456,934 7,780,949
Percentage 42.4% 27.6% 25.4%
Swing 1.5% 9.3% 11.6%

Colours denote the winning party—as shown in § Results

Composition of the House of Commons after the election

Prime Minister before election

Margaret Thatcher

Prime Minister after election

Margaret Thatcher

Thatcher's first term 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 opinion polls pointed towards a Conservative victory, with most national newspapers backing the re-election of the Conservative government. 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, and had seen a shift in its policies which 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 until 2015 in which a governing party increased its number of seats.

The Alliance finished in third place but came within 700,000 votes of out-polling Labour; by gaining 25.4% of the vote it won the largest percentage for any third party since sixty years prior. Despite this, it 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 at this election; Blair and Brown went on to hold the office of Prime Minister.

As the likes of Blair, Brown and Corbyn entered parliament, a string of prominent members of parliament stepped aside or lost their seats. Former Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson stood down from parliament after 38 years, while the SDP's Shirley Williams and Bill Rodgers lost their seats only a short time after winning them. Joan Lestor, Tony Benn as well as Speaker of the House of Commons and former Labour cabinet minister George Thomas also departed from parliament at this election, although Benn would return after winning a by-election in Chesterfield the following year, and Lestor returned to parliament after winning a seat at the following general election in 1987. In addition, two future Leaders of the Liberal Democrats (the successors to the Alliance at the end of the decade) were first elected - (Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy). Michael Howard, who later served the Conservatives as Home Secretary in government and as party leader in opposition, was also elected to parliament in 1983.