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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 April 2005, 09:33 GMT 10:33 UK
1983: Thatcher triumphs again
Margaret Thatcher and Geoffrey Howe
Con: 397 seats (42.4% share)
Lab: 209 seats (27.6% share)
Lib: 23 seats (25.4% share)

Margaret Thatcher's re-election and landslide victory was a personal triumph.

She had performed the unusual feat of winning re-election, despite the mass unemployment her battle against inflation had seen.

But Thatcher took fewer votes than in 1979. Her landslide was caused by the almost equal split in support between Labour and the SDP-Liberal Alliance.

For Labour the 1983 election had been an unmitigated disaster. The only consolation for leader Michael Foot was that Labour had not lost second place to the strong challenge posed by the Alliance.

But although the Alliance could talk up the seven million votes it received it had actually won very few seats - leaving its dream of a breakthrough just that, a dream.


Margaret Thatcher's first administration got off to a fairly shaky start. Her attempt to take the economy by the scruff of the neck and wage a crusade against inflation saw massive unemployment.

Dole protest march
The unemployment rate topped three million in the early '80s
With more than three million on the dole the government's popularity plummeted.

If such voter anger was to continue the Conservatives looked like they would be continuing the by now familiar merry go round of Tory governments followed by Labour.

But luckily for the Conservatives Labour had troubles of its own - in spades. The adoption of the principled and high-minded Michael Foot as leader saw the party shift dramatically to the left in opposition.

Leading members of Labour's pro-European wing felt the party no longer had any place for them and in 1981 more than 20 MPs left Labour as Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams, David Owen and Bill Rodgers set up the Social Democratic Party.

The SDP quickly got into bed with the Liberals, forming the Alliance. The extent to which the new party captured the public imagination was shown when some polls placed them ahead of not just the Tories but Labour as well.

But their support was to wane with the onset of the Falklands War in 1982.

Thatcher's success in re-taking the Falkland Islands after an invasion by Argentina was a very risky venture, but for the loss of 255 servicemen the islands were re-taken.

This bold, decisive move seemed to have been in step with the times, and the Tories now had a grip on power that would remain unshakeable for years.


When the election date was set for 9 June 1983, the pollsters at least were certain that a Thatcher victory was inevitable.

Perhaps a more interesting fight would be the battle between Labour and the Alliance for second place.

Since going down to Thatcher's first election victory in 1979 Labour had changed leaders and marched firmly to the left.

Leading the party into his first and last election battle Michael Foot fought a poor campaign, lacking in organisation as well as the necessary money, not to mention a series of policies that the voters could not support.

The Alliance, although more measured in its pitch to the voters, also suffered from a lack of funds, and Roy Jenkins, its "prime minister designate" fared badly in his role as figurehead.

By contrast the Conservatives under Cecil Parkinson ran a highly professional operation.

Money was not a problem, new computer systems were invested in and new techniques such as direct mail were employed to good effect.

And stiff measures were taken against complacent Tory voters when around 1,000 copies of the Labour manifesto were bought and distributed to supporters to help remind them what a Labour government might entail.


The commanding figure of Margaret Thatcher, fresh from victory in the Falklands War, cast a dominant presence over the 1983 election.

The conflict, from April to June 1982, had succeeded in turning Thatcher's strong personality and resolve into a formidable electoral asset for the Tories.

Although in possession of a sharp mind, Labour leader Michael Foot was seen by few as the best possible choice for prime minister in what was presented as an electoral contest between Foot and Thatcher as much as it was between Tory and Labour.

Foot, a former journalist, was the choice of the party's left and his policies drew little support, even from the former Prime Minister Jim Callaghan.

His leadership saw the Labour split that lead to the Alliance's birth.

Roy Jenkins, the former Labour chancellor and home secretary, was initially the key figure of their campaign but as he failed to create an impression with the voters his presence was scaled down, and the Alliance's ratings grew in response.

Key issues

The Conservative manifesto, Forward - the Challenge of Our Times, showed a party hoping to become more radical during a second term.

Reform of the trade unions' political levy was floated, as was a programme of privatisation that was to include British Telecom, British Airways and British Steel.

And the metropolitan councils, all Labour strongholds, as well as the Greater London Council were to be scrapped.

Labour's left wing programme, rambling and radical in equal measure, was referred to by a member of the shadow cabinet as the "longest suicide note in history".

It contained pledges towards unilateral nuclear disarmament, withdrawal from the European Community as well as the abolition of the House of Lords.

While the Alliance in its offering - Working Together for Britain - promised to reduce unemployment by up to a million.

It also pledged proportional representation and devolution for Scotland and Wales, and called for compulsory balloting before unions could undertake strike action.



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