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My Vote in History
Come election day every voter plays their part in shaping history.

Dolores Dilley, 52, thought there was only one way for the child of a miner to vote. The Thatcher years challenged her family's traditional allegiance to the Labour Party.


Katharine Millar

John Dunlop


Dilley family picture
Dolores Dilley (foreground) was born into a staunch Labour family

Petrol Crisis
The 1973 petrol crisis brought more misery to a battered Britain

Mrs Thatcher waiting in the Tory wings
Milk-snatcher to vote-catcher. Mrs Thatcher waiting in the Tory wings in 1970

The Falklands
The Falklands effect helped swell Mrs Thatcher's popularity

Dolores Dilley

Dolores Dilley, miner's daughter

Open quote marks

I was brought up Labour. My father was a Durham miner, so of course he was Labour. Labour was for the working class - there was just one party as far as he was concerned. There's no way he would have voted Conservative.

He never got involved with the party, but my parents certainly wouldn't miss a vote, but then I think everybody voted because they felt it was important. I do remember voting days, because it was something you had to do. I don't think we sat around watching the results come in, but that's probably because it was a foregone conclusion in our area - we knew Labour wouldn't get in.

Mixed reactions to Harold Wilson's narrow victory in 1964

 real  56k
The local Tory candidate sticks in my mind because he had a title. He came from another world, whereas the Labour candidate was just a working class person.

We lived in Waltham Abbey, Essex, on a massive council estate. We were quite a poor family, with four children, and my father was ill quite a lot. He wasn't a miner for very long because he hated it so much. He'd left school at 14, and joined the army at 15. You weren't supposed to join up so young, but he told a lie just to escape the pit, Durham and the Depression.

Thirty years later, all I could look forward to was growing up and getting married - that was the only way I could see of getting out of my poverty.

When I first got the vote in 1970, of course, I voted Labour. It was a wasted vote, since although I lived on an estate, the rest of Epping was very rich and staunchly Tory.

The next election was in 1974. Tory Ted Heath was in power, but we'd had to endure petrol shortages, the three-day week and power cuts under him. I lived high up in a tower block then. You'd go out and when you came home the lifts wouldn't be working - very inconvenient with one young child and another on the way.

Everyone where I lived was all very concerned and hated the government and Heath. So Wilson got in.

The rise of Thatcherism

In 1979, we'd moved to a council house. My husband voted for Margaret Thatcher and I still voted Labour. I remember the Labour candidate came round and said: 'Can we have your vote?' I said yes, and they offered me a sticker to put in the window - I thought I'd better not, because of my husband. It wouldn't have mattered, he would have found it funny. Of all the people we knew, we were the only couple split along party lines. But when you marry someone, you don't own their mind and that's how it should be.

Margaret Thatcher outside No10 in 1979: “Where there is discord, let me bring harmony”

 real  56k
Under Mrs Thatcher we bought our house from the council. Up until I had a family and home of my own, I wasn't much into politics. I was too busy having fun. I liked the Beatles, the Stones, fashion - I was a mod. I made my own 'Ban the Bomb' badge, which I wore mostly because everybody was wearing them at the time.

In 1983, Michael Foot was leading Labour. I was concerned that he would buy back council houses and take us out of the EEC [European Economic Community]. I didn't want to lose my house, and my husband worked in Switzerland and I just thought that if we came out of the EEC it might affect his job. So there were two reasons why I didn't want to vote Labour. Owning my own home was important to me because it meant we could do what we wanted with it to make it more comfortable, and it gave us the freedom to sell up and move if we wanted to.

Anti-nuclear protesters drench defence minister Michael Heseltine with paint

 real  56k
I'd started to warm to Mrs Thatcher, so I voted Tory for the first time.

Before 1979 I'd always thought of Mrs Thatcher as the domineering 'Margaret Thatcher, milk snatcher'. Under Heath, she'd stopped the free milk given to schoolchildren at break time, which seemed quite heartless. On reflection she was probably right - by then, most families could afford to buy their own milk and send children off to school with a good breakfast.

Once in power, I liked the fact she always got her own way. She was the first woman prime minister, which I also loved, and I thought she did a good job in the Falklands.

A father's disappointment

My father and I went out for a walk. He seemed to have something on his mind. 'Dolores, my Dolores, why are you voting Conservative?' He wasn't quite crying, but he was really upset. I explained I'd lose the house I was so glad I'd bought, and that my husband could lose his job. He said: 'That's OK then, if that's what you want.'

He died that year, but my mother continued to vote Labour out of habit. It didn't matter to her what their policies were. I had a go at her, but my son reminded me that it's a free country. So I stopped hassling her.

In 1987, Neil Kinnock was heading Labour, but I was still under the spell of Thatcher. When she wanted to do something, she just went ahead and did it and nobody got in her way - and I just loved her for it.

My father was a union man - they even paid for his convalescence. But I still believe Thatcher was right to take on the unions. They were too powerful - even the miners.

Striking miners clash with police at Orgreave in 1984

 real  56k
I still remember the day the Conservatives kicked her out. I was at work and one of the girls came in and said she'd heard on the radio that they'd sacked her - morale in the office was so low. I know a lot of people don't like her, but she was good in her day.

By 1997, everything had changed and I couldn't make my mind up about which party to vote for. Nothing from any of the parties interested me. What turned me against the Tories? John Major, I just found him so weak.

In the end, I didn't vote, because I was out of the country and hadn't sorted out a proxy vote. If I had, I probably would have voted Green. I do like the Greens, but I think it's a wasted vote. Closed quote marks

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