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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 April 2005, 09:33 GMT 10:33 UK
1987: Thatcher's third victory
Thatcher won three elections in a row
Con: 376 seats (42.2% share)
Lab: 229 seats (30.8% share)
Lib: 22 seats (22.6% share)

Under Margaret Thatcher the Conservatives coasted to their third election victory in a row in 1987.

It was a feat helped, as in 1983, by the struggle between Labour and the Alliance to be the Tories' main challenger.

The loss of just 21 seats ensured that the Tory majority in the Commons remained more than 100 strong.

For Labour progress from the horrific defeat of 1983 was slight - gaining 20 seats - but significant.

Perhaps the real fight it had undertaken at this election was for second place against the Alliance rather than against the government - and this at least was a fight it could say it was winning.


The run-up to this election was not without its troubles for the Conservatives.

Serious strikes, the miners in 1984 and then the print dispute at Wapping, were particularly bitter, and cabinet resignations also left their mark.

Thatcher herself highlighted the importance of the resignation of Michael Heseltine and Leon Brittan over the Westland affair in 1986 when she told staff ahead of a parliamentary debate that: "From six o'clock today I may no longer be prime minister".

Needless to say she weathered the storm.

Labour attempted to re-group after the low of the 1983 campaign and the young - for a politician - at 41 Neil Kinnock was elected leader once Michael Foot stepped down.

Kinnock embarked on a thorough attempt to set Labour's house in order.

Policies were re-considered, presentation improved - the Red Flag was ditched in favour of the Red Rose - and the "wild men" of the Militant Tendency were dealt with.

But the unilateralist defence policy still remained a weakness for Labour, while the Alliance was having its own troubles staying united, with the Liberal part much more in sympathy with Labour on defence and the SDP part much more akin to the Tories.


As she had done four years earlier, Margaret Thatcher waited until good tidings in the shape of a strong showing the May local elections pointed the way to a June election.

With inflation low on 4%, unemployment dipping below three million and the two opposition parties still scrapping for the anti-Tory vote, the Conservatives had every reason to be happy.

Spurred on by the need to do much, much better than the party had in 1983 Labour's campaign organisation - much to the surprise of the Tories - was turned into a tough and well organised fighting machine.

Peter Mandelson and Bryan Gould hammered out the presentation and the substance of Labour's message. They helped the party stick to issues that would work to Labour's strengths - such as health - and did their best to steer clear of trickier areas such as defence.

Kinnock himself was a good campaigner - it was something he enjoyed, and his personality was displayed to good effect in what was to become a seminal election broadcast known as Kinnock the Movie.

Able to outspend the opposition - blowing 3m on a poster campaign in the last few days alone - the Tories could also rely on the tabloid press with The Sun printing such articles as Why I'm Backing Kinnock, by Stalin.

It was perhaps no wonder the Labour leader called it a "pretty mucky campaign".

Where Labour excelled on presentation the Alliance struggled.

It never succeeded in finding a compelling way to sell the joint leadership of David Owen and David Steel - a point their opponents did not fail to highlight.


Margaret Thatcher was leading the Conservatives into an election for the third time. For Neil Kinnock it was his first campaign as it was for the Alliance's unstable joint leadership of Liberal David Steel and the Sap's David Owen.

Thatcher's advantage in terms of experience weighed heavily against Kinnock, who had no experience of holding high office, let alone of being prime minister.

But although she was a vigorous campaigner she was for many a divisive figure, seen as aggressive and uncaring.

And Neil Kinnock did have his advantages for Labour. Under his leadership it was able to press ahead with modernisation, and now had a figurehead - unlike Michael Foot - it was confident it could sell to the electorate.

Kinnock - a Welshman - was also able to inspire his own troops, and his gift for oratory, which showed a passionate and eloquent commitment to social justice, was also a great asset to Labour.

But his attempts to take steps onto the world stage faltered after awkward trips as opposition leader to America, a country were 'Maggie' could always be sure of a warm welcome.

Meanwhile, confusion reigned in the Alliance camp.

David Steel - if he had to choose between the two - would have preferred a Labour government to a third Thatcher term. But David Owen was firm in his conviction that Labour was unelectable.

Key issues

After being in power for eight years already, the Conservatives were not content to rest on what they believed were their achievements.

Eager to appear not to be running out of steam, the Tory manifesto was entitled The Next Moves Forward. It promised to spread home ownership and share ownership more widely than ever before.

More state owned industries would be "returned to the people" via privatisation and Britain's independent nuclear deterrent would be maintained.

Defence was, for Labour, a real problem at this election.

The party was still committed to cancelling the new Trident nuclear weapons system, but coming up with a credible alternative was difficult.

This was something Neil Kinnock found when he seemed to say that Labour's defence policy would amount to making any Soviet occupation of the UK "totally untenable".

The party also promised to reduce employment by one million in two years as well as restoring the earnings link to state pensions.

The Alliance, in its manifesto, Britain United: The Time has Come, set out the idea of the Great Reform Charter

This argued that voting reform in the shape of proportional representation would equip the UK with consensus governments, better able - it thought - to tackle the nation's problems.



Watch what came to be known as 'Kinnock the movie'


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