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The 1983 General Election was a big moment in British history and memorable as a low point for the Labour Party.
On June 9th, 1983 the Conservative Party, under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher, won the General Election with a majority of 144 seats. This marked the most decisive election victory since Labour's win in 1945.
It was at the request of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Although the start of Thatcher's premiership had been rocky, Britain's success in the Falklands War and economic improvements throughout the country had improved Margaret Thatcher's popularity amongst the people. This, alongside favourable opinion polls in May 1983, prompted her to call for a general election.
Calling general elections
Usually, elections take place every five years in the UK. However, leaders can call an election earlier than the end of their five-year term by calling the dissolution of parliament. Termed a 'snap election', the incumbent Prime Minister (PM in power) might decide to call an election early if it is an advantageous time for their party and they are confident this will help them win another term. They may feel confident enough to do this because one of their policies is particularly popular or they are doing well in the polls.
One of the main reasons this general election is memorable is that it was an electoral low point for Michael Foot and the Labour Party.
Labour leader Michael Foot led his party through what was said to be Labour's worst election performance since 1918. Foot’s campaign was described as uninspiring, with the party’s manifesto being dubbed as the "longest suicide note in history".
They made unrealistic and over-the-top pledges such as leaving the common market and destroying the House of Lords. This was far less popular than the Conservative manifesto, which discussed employment for the people, economic prosperity, and defence tactics for the country. The Labour Party also suffered from internal divisions and a bad public image after the Falklands War, in which they were seen as unpatriotic.
Margaret Thatcher was not popular during her first term as Prime Minister.
So how did the Conservatives win so convincingly in 1983? Despite the new era of Thatcherism since 1979 creating discontent in Britain, the Conservative handling of the Falklands War in 1982 saw a significant rise in Thatcher's popularity.
Although Thatcher's domestic policies had made her very unpopular, her handling of the Falklands War saw her popularity increase dramatically. She said in a 1982 interview:
We must recover the Falkland Islands for Britain and for the people who live there who are of British stock.1
Following this victory, Thatcher called the snap election in 1983 and rode the wave to win by a landslide victory.
The 1983 General Election was a proud day for the Conservative Party. Margaret Thatcher and her party benefitted from a 'three-horse race'. The opposition to the Conservative Party was split between Labour and the Liberal/Social Democratic (SDP) alliance meaning neither could secure a majority.
As a result, the Conservative Party left the election with a 144-seat majority, having received 397 seats out of the available 650. All other parties received a combined total of 253 seats. The overall voter turnout was 72.7%.
During this general election, there was quite a variation in turnout and votes across constituencies, but it was clear that in most constituencies the Conservative Party was favoured. Out of the ten regions that voted during the 1983 general election, only four of them favoured a party other than Conservative. The North of England, Wales and Scotland had a majority vote for the Labour Party, whilst Northern Ireland only voted for parties that were neither Conservative nor Labour.
|Country||Conservative Seats||Labour Seats|
The distribution of Conservative and Labour seats in England, Wales and Scotland - House of Commons, Public Information Office Factsheet 22: General Election Results, 9 June 1983 (1984) <https://www.parliament.uk/globalassets/documents/commons-information-office/m09.pdf>
Lots of the things that affect voting behaviour are demographics.
Characteristics of the population, such as income or race
During elections, three factors are said to affect one’s voting decision:
Although these are said to be the main three, many other things can affect someone’s voting choices:
In the 1983 election, the occupation of the voter was said to be a particularly strong influence as members of the working class were less likely to vote Conservative than any other class. On the other hand, people who came from a background favouring Conservatives were more likely to vote Conservative out of loyalty.
|Party||General Election Results (seats)|
|Labour||301 (Hung Parliament)||319||269||209|
Seats won at the 1974, 1979 and 1983 elections - UK Political Info, General Election results summaries, <https://www.ukpolitical.info/1983.htm>
In 1974 there were 635 seats in Parliament. To achieve a majority government, a party is required to gain more than half of these seats, which is 318. As Labour only had 301 seats, this was known as a hung parliament.
This meant that Edward Heath, leader of the Conservatives could have formed a coalition with other parties to achieve a coalition majority government. As neither Labour nor Conservatives were able to gain a majority of the hung parliament, the October 1974 general election was held, giving Labour the crucial 319 seats to form its majority government.
There are many factors that influenced the 1983 General Election voting behaviour of the British voters. We will analyse them by demographics. First, you need to know what voting behaviour is.
Voting behaviour A form of electoral behaviour which influences one’s decision to vote
The below tables allow us to draw some conclusions about the changing voting behaviours of five demographics in Britain: men, women, middle class, skilled working class, and semi/unskilled working class.
|Party||1974 (October), 1979, 1983 (% of voting demographic)|
|Men||Women||Middle Class||Skilled Working Class||Semi/Unskilled Working Class|
|Social Democratic Party||18||13||25||20||15||27||21||15||28||20||15||26||16||13||24|
How different demographics voted in the 1974, 1979 and 1983 elections - IPSOS, How Britain Voted since October 1974, <https://www.ipsos.com/en-uk/how-britain-voted-october-1974>
|Party||Difference between 1974 and 1983 (% difference of voting demographic)|
|Men||Women||Middle Class||Skilled Working Class||Semi/Unskilled Working Class|
|Conservative||+ 10||+ 7||- 1||+ 14||+ 11|
|Labour||- 13||- 12||- 3||- 17||- 16|
|Social Democratic Party||+ 17||+ 7||+ 7||+ 6||+ 8|
Harold Wilson's Labour Government won the election in 1974, but over the course of his leadership, he began to lose support from the working class. In the 1974 election, on average over half of the working class voted Labour, with roughly a quarter each voting Conservative and SDP. In 1983, however, the Conservatives saw a historic increase of over 10% of the working class now voting for them.
The voting behaviour of women also underwent significant changes between 1974 and 1983. In 1974, the proportion of women that voted Labour and Conservative was fairly evenly split (38% and 39% respectively), but during Labour's term in government, the Conservatives managed to snatch some of these votes, winning an extra 7% of female voters whilst Labour lost a damning 12%.
One of Thatcher's legacies as Prime Minister after her second successful election in 1983 was the privatisation of many of Britain's industries - moving them from public to private ownership. Let's look at the impact of the 1983 election on Britain's coal mining industry.
Thatcher's policy of privatisation did help to recover Britain's economy but resulted in civil unrest and mass unemployment. For many communities, the mining industry had been the primary or only source of employment, especially in rural areas in Wales and North England. By closing the mines, Thatcher destroyed these communities.
Nine general elections have been held since 1983, the last of which was in 2019.
The dissolution of parliament occurred on May 13th and the election was held on June 9th. The Conservatives were announced as the winners the next day.
Margaret Thatcher and her Conservative Party won the general election.
During the 1983 general election, Michael Foot was the leader of the Labour Party.
The Conservative Party had a 144-seat majority
By what majority did the Conservative Party win the 1983 general election?
Who led the Labour party's campaign for the 1983 general election?
Roughly how many were unemployed in Britain following Thatcher's rise to power in 1979?
By 1983, how much had inflation risen since the 1970s?
When was the Falklands War?
How did the Working class voting behaviour change for the 1983 election?
More working class voted Conservative
When were the two significant miners strikes in the 1970s?
Who became the head of the National Coal Board following Thatcher's reelection in 1983?
When was the Trade Union Act passed, introducing requirements for a secret ballot before undertaking strike action?
Britain had 174 mines in 1984, after Thatcher's changes to the industry, how many mines were in Britain in 1994?
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