Saturday, 12 September 2015

An Overlooked Reason Why Labour Lost In 1983

Ask almost anyone about the June 1983 general election and you will get standard replies as to why the Conservatives won a landslide and Labour did so badly:

The Falklands war

Michael Foot's leadership of Labour

The Bennite left

The Gang of Four splitting away

The Liberal/Social Democrat Alliance splitting the anti-Conservative vote

There is another factor which always gets overlooked - and a little clause in the Electoral Registration & Administration Act 2013 makes this reason relevant to today's political climate.

And I suggest that even if in October 1980 the then Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer Denis Healey had been elected Labour leader, and was leading a united Labour party with Tony Benn and former Foreign & Commonwealth Secretary David Owen harmoniously working together in his Shadow Cabinet, former Education & Science Secretary Shirley Williams selected for a safe seat ready to resume her front-bench career post-election, and Labour's former deputy leader Roy Jenkins retired from the political world totally with his call for "some sort of centre party" forgotten - even in these circumstances, Labour would have faced an uphill battle to win in 1983.

The May 1979 election produced the following result:

  • Conservative - 339 (included 2 Deputy Speakers - Croydon North East's Bernard Weatherill and Rye's Godman Irvine)
  • Labour - 268 (included 1 Deputy Speaker - Liverpool Toxteth's Richard Crawshaw)
  • Liberal - 11
  • Ulster Unionist Party - 5
  • Democratic Unionist Party - 3
  • Scottish National Party - 2
  • Plaid Cymru - 2
  • Social Democratic & Labour Party - 1
  • United Ulster Unionist Party - 1
  • Independent Unionist - 1
  • Independent Republican - 1
  • The Speaker - 1

With 337 of the 631 voting MPs, there was a Conservative majority of 43, which - at first sight - sounds easy to overturn. Just 22 seats need to change hands....

However, in early 1983 there was an event which hit Labour badly - the redrawing of constituency boundaries. The constituencies in use had been rejected by the House of Commons in November 1969, so could not come into effect at the June 1970 general election. However, they were used for the February 1974 and October 1974 general elections, and again in 1979. By 1983 they were based on electoral data from 14 years ago.

In addition, there were a few bits of legislation from the early 1970s that had ramifications. The Local Government Act 1972 reformed local government in England and Wales, which included redrawing some county boundaries (e.g. that between Hampshire and Dorset) and creating "metropolitan counties". The Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 did similar in Scotland.

This left constituencies crossing county boundaries - such as Christchurch & Lymington (Dorset/Hampshire) or Huddersfield West (Greater Manchester/West Yorkshire).

In March 1972, the then-Prime Minister, Edward Heath, decided to suspend the Northern Ireland Parliament and appoint William Whitelaw as the first Northern Ireland Secretary, followed by the Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act 1972 which transferred executive power to the British Government.

At the time, with regards to the House of Commons, Northern Ireland had a larger electoral quota (i.e. the intended average number of electors per constituency) than Great Britain, due to the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1949 setting the number of Northern Ireland constituencies at 12. In early 1979, in order to get Unionist support ensure a fair representation for Northern Ireland, the Labour Government was responsible for the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1979, which raised this to 17.

So, due to a combination of factors - redrawn local government boundaries, the increase in Northern Ireland seats, the length of time since the previous review of constituencies - early 1983 saw a new set of 650 constituencies drawn up for that year's election.

The June 1983 election gave the following result:

  • Conservative - 397
  • Labour - 209
  • Liberal - 17
  • Ulster Unionist Party - 11
  • Social Democrat - 6
  • Democratic Unionist Party - 3
  • Scottish National Party - 2
  • Plaid Cymru - 2
  • Social Democratic & Labour Party - 1
  • Sinn Féin - 1
  • Ulster Popular Unionist Party - 1

We can then use the list of the 72 seats changing hands to calculate a notional result for the 1979 election (i.e. the 1979 election on the 1983 boundaries):

Party Gained from Lost to Change
Party Seats Party Seats
Conservative Labour 47* Liberal 5 Up 37
Labour 4
Social Democrat 1
Labour Conservative 4 Conservative 47 Down 51
Social Democrat 5
Liberal 3
Liberal Conservative 5 Up 8
Labour 3
Ulster Unionist Party Democratic Unionist Party 1 Democratic Unionist Party 1 Up 2
Independent Unionist 1
Independent Republican 1
Social Democrat Labour 5 Up 6
Conservative 1
Democratic Unionist Party Ulster Unionist Party 1 Ulster Unionist Party 1 Up 1
United Ulster Unionist Party 1
Social Democratic & Labour Party Sinn Féin 1 Down 1
Ulster Popular Unionist Party Independent Unionist 1 Up 1
Sinn Féin Social Democratic & Labour Party 1 Up 1
Independent Unionist Ulster Unionst 1 Down 2
Ulster Popular Unionist Party 1
United Ulster Unionist Party Democratic Unionist Party 1 Down 1
Independent Republican Ulster Unionist Party 1 Down 1

[* One of these was Cardiff West, held in 1979 by George Thomas, the Speaker of the House of Commons, who retired at the 1983 election. However, there were significant boundary changes in Cardiff].

Using these, we can calculate the notional result for 1979:

  • Conservative - 360
  • Labour - 260
  • Liberal - 9
  • Ulster Unionist Party - 9
  • Democratic Unionist Party - 2
  • Scottish National Party - 2
  • Plaid Cymru - 2
  • Social Democratic & Labour Party - 2
  • Independent Unionist - 2
  • United Ulster Unionist Party - 1
  • Independent Republican - 1

This looks different - the Conservative majority is up to 70, and Labour need to gain 66 seats (rather than 50) to gain an overall majority.

The British Broadcasting Corporation and Independent Television News drew up a set of notional results for their election night coverage.

The most marginal seat was Roxburgh & Berwickshire, where the Conservatives had a notional majority of 18 over the Liberals. This was drawn from Berwick & East Lothian (which in 1979 had been won by Labour's John Home-Robertson) and Roxburgh, Selkirk & Peebles (which in 1979 had been won by David Steel, who at the time was the Liberal leader). Since the 1970 election, Aberdeen South had been held by the Conservatives' Iain Sproat (who had initially won it by unseating Labour's Donald Dewar, who would go on to become the first Scottish First Minister), but it was always marginal, and boundary changes reduced its notional majority to 541. For reasons best known to himself, Sproat decided to contest Roxburgh & Berwickshire, which he lost to the Liberals' Archy Kirkwood. Meanwhile, Gerald Malone (who had stood against Steel in 1979), increased the Conservative majority in Aberdeen South.

A note on the Northern Ireland results, as the province had some interesting changes. Both Down North and Strangford are listed as Independent Unionist. This is James Kilfedder, who won Down North in 1979 - and the bulk of the Strangford created for 1983 was from his seat. In January 1980 he formed the United Popular Unionist Party. It never achieved much popularity. Strangford was won by the UUP's John Taylor, at the time one of Northern Ireland's Members of the European Parliament.

The United Ulster Unionist Party was a breakaway from the Vanguard Unionist Progressive Party, itself a breakaway from the Ulster Unionist Party. Its sole MP was John Dunlop in Ulster Mid which he won (under the Vanguard banner) at the February 1974 general election - he left Vanguard and formed the UUUP in October 1975. The other Vanguard MPs eventually left - Robert Bradford (Belfast South) joined the UUP in November 1975 and the Vanguard leader, William Craig (Belfast East) wound the party up and joined the UUP in November 1977. Bradford and Craig both stood for re-election in 1979 as UUP candidates, with Bradford holding his seat and Craig narrowly losing to the Democratic Unionist Party's Peter Robinson - now Northern Ireland's First Minister - with the seat becoming a close 3-way marginal (Oliver Napier, then the leader of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, was in third place). Although boundary changes for 1983 flipped the seat back to being notionally UUP, Craig had left that party by that time, so didn't try to win back his old seat.

Dunlop stood down at the 1983 election.

In 1979, the sole Social Democratic & Labour Party MP was its leader, Gerry Fitt, in Belfast West, a seat he had held since the March 1966 election, when he had unseated Kilfedder, who at the time was the sitting UUP MP. In November 1979 he had resigned from the SDLP and was replaced as leader by SDLP MEP John Hume - who would win Foyle in 1983 (this seat was drawn largely from Londonderry with parts of Ulster Mid), and in 1983 stood for re-election as an Independent Socialist, but ended up in third place.

The Independent Republican was Frank Maguire in Fermanagh & South Tyrone. He had won the seat in the October 1974 election by unseating the then-UUP leader, Harry West, and was re-elected in 1979 (the candidacy of the UUUP's Ernest Baird ensured that the Unionist vote was not united). In March 1981 Maguire died, and the following month's by-election was won by hunger striker Bobby Sands. Sands died 26 days after the by-election and in August 1981 the next by-election was won by Owen Carron on the banner "Anti-H Block/Proxy Political Prisoner". In 1983 Carron stood as the Sinn Féin candidate.

One consequence of boundary changes is that MPs can find themselves standing for re-election in seats which have a negative majority - note that this ignores by-election victors as well as MPs who defected to the Social Democrats unless they had defected from Labour and were contesting a successor seat which was notionally Conservative (on the grounds that if they had never defected, they would be Labour MPs contesting a notionally Conservative seat).

MP Party 1979 constituency 1983 constituency 1979 notional winner 1979 notional majority Won in 1983?
David Alton Liberal Liverpool Edge Hill Liverpool Mossley Hill Conservative 9,086 (over Labour) Yes (from third place)
John Corrie Conservative Ayrshire North & Bute Cunninghame North Labour 286 Yes
Richard Crawshaw Labour (Social Democrat) Liverpool Toxteth Liverpool Broadgreen Conservative 565 No
Bob Cryer Labour Keighley Keighley Conservative 3,110 No
Gwyneth Dunwoody Labour Crewe Crewe & Nantwich Conservative 3,634 Yes
Tom Ellis Labour (Social Democrat) Wrexham Clwyd South West Conservative 3,006 No
David Ennals Labour Norwich North Norwich North Conservative 3,371 No
Harry Greenway Conservative Ealing North Ealing North Labour 1,421 Yes
Warren Hawksley Conservative The Wrekin The Wrekin Labour 1,382 Yes
John Horam Labour (Social Democrat) Newcastle-upon-Tyne Central Newcastle-upon-Tyne Central Conservative 5,790 No
Tom McNally Labour (Social Democrat) Stockport South Stockport Conservative 4,382 No
John Maxton Labour Glasgow Cathcart Glasgow Cathcart Conservative 1,737 Yes
Peter Robinson Democratic Unionist Party Belfast East Belfast East Ulster Unionist Party 550 Yes
Ann Taylor Labour Bolton West Bolton North East Conservative 1,368 No
Richard Wainwright Liberal Colne Valley Colne Valley Labour 2,239 Yes
Frank White Labour Bury & Radcliffe Bury North Conservative 3,017 No

Crawshaw had resigned as Deputy Speaker in February 1981 and joined the Social Democrats when that party was set up the following month. Liverpool Broadgreen was one of just 4 seats that Labour gained in 1983, with Terry Fields winning. The local Liberal Association refused to support Crawshaw, and Richard Pine contested the seat as an Independent Liberal, leading to Crawshaw taking fourth place. In December 1991 Fields was expelled from the Labour party and contested the seat as an Independent at the April 1992 election, coming third.

Dunwoody was the Shadow Health Secretary at the time, and the only member of the Shadow Cabinet to be defending a negative majority.

Ennals had been Health & Social Security Secretary throughout the Callaghan Government.

The Labour candidate hoping to hold Ealing North was Hilary Benn, now the Shadow Foreign & Commonwealth Secretary.

The Labour candidate hoping to hold The Wrekin was Bruce Grocott, who had been MP for Lichfield & Tamworth from the October 1974 election until losing to the Conservatives' John Heddle in 1979. Grocott was elected for The Wrekin on his second attempt, at the June 1987 election.

McNally's Stockport South was split between Stockport and Denton & Reddish - the latter was notionally a safe Labour seat, and was won by Andrew Bennett, who had been MP for Stockport North since the February 1974 election.

Taylor had - as the table shows - been MP for Bolton West, which was affected by boundary changes. The revised seat had a notional Conservative majority of 5,602, so she followed part of her seat into Bolton North East, where she was defeated by Peter Thurnham (who would resign the Conservative whip in February 1996 and join the Liberal Democrats in October that year). Taylor returned to Parliament by winning Dewsbury from the Conservatives in 1987, and when Labour returned to power after the May 1997 election she sat in the Cabinet as Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons.

The new county boundaries had - as I noted earlier - led to the Conservative/Labour marginal Huddersfield West being divided across the Greater Manchester/West Yorkshire border. The Greater Manchester part was combined with part of the Liberal Rochdale to form a Conservative seat, Littleborough & Saddleworth, with Geoffrey Dickens, the outgoing MP for Huddersfield West being elected there, while the West Yorkshire part was added on to the Liberal/Labour marginal of Colne Valley.

With that out the way, we can now look at the effect of swings from the Conservatives to Labour based on the notional 1979 results. For each 0.5% increase in swing, the Conservative share of the vote decreases by 0.5% from the 1979 level (43.87%), the Labour share of the vote increases by 0.5% from the 1979 level (36.91%), and the Conservative lead over Labour decreases by 1%.

Firstly, we begin with a 0.5% swing:

Constituency Winning Party
Notional 1979 On 0.5% swing Actual 1983
Birmingham Northfield Conservative Labour Conservative
Bury South Conservative Labour Conservative
Roxburgh & Berwickshire Conservative Liberal Liberal

Conservative 357, Labour 262, Liberal 10, Scottish National Party 2, Plaid Cymru 2, Northern Ireland parties 17. Conservative majority 64

The defeated Labour candidate in Birmingham Northfield was sitting MP John Spellar, who had won the seat at a by-election in October 1982 - this was the only seat that Labour gained at a by-election in the 1979-1983 Parliament, their first gain at a by-election since winning Merthyr Tydfil from an Independent (who had been deselected by Labour prior to the 1970 election) in April 1972, and their first gain of a Conservative seat at a by-election since winning Bromsgrove in May 1971.

Spellar would return to Parliament and served as Minister for the Armed Forces and then Minister for Transport when Labour returned to power in 1997. He is now MP for Warley and a Shadow Minister for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs.

Then a 1% swing:

Constituency Winning Party
Notional 1979 On 1% swing Actual 1983
Aberdeen South Conservative Labour Conservative
Dulwich Conservative Labour Conservative
Hornchurch Conservative Labour Conservative
Liverpool Broadgreen Conservative Labour Labour
Luton South Conservative Labour Conservative
Moray Conservative Scottish National Party Conservative
Nottingham South Conservative Labour Conservative
Stirling Conservative Labour Conservative

Conservative 349, Labour 269, Liberal 10, Scottish National Party 3, Plaid Cymru 2, Northern Ireland parties 17. Conservative majority 48

The Labour candidate in Dulwich was Kate Hoey, now MP for Vauxhall.

The SNP candidate in Moray was Hamish Watt, who had won Banffshire at the February 1974 election and lost it to the Conservatives in 1979. Moray was drawn from parts of the 1979 Banffshire and Moray & Nairn. The successful Conservative victor in Moray was Alexander Pollock, who had won Moray & Nairn from the SNP's Winnie Ewing in 1979.

The Labour candidate in Nottingham South was Ken Coates, who was MEP for Nottingham from the June 1989 European election until the June 1994 one, and then MEP for Nottinghamshire North & Chesterfield until the June 1999 one. He was expelled from Labour in January 1998 after joining the Green group in the European Parliament.

The Labour candidate for Stirling was Michael Connarty, who became MP for Falkirk East at the 1992 election and lost his seat to the SNP in May 2015. The Conservative victor was newcomer Michael Forsyth, who would go on to become Scottish Secretary.

Then a 1.5% swing:

Constituency Winning Party
Notional 1979 On 1.5% swing Actual 1983
Calder Valley Conservative Labour Conservative
Pendle Conservative Labour Conservative

Conservative 347, Labour 271, Liberal 10, Scottish National Party 3, Plaid Cymru 2, Northern Ireland parties 17. Conservative majority 44

Note that a 1.5% swing would have taken Labour to the same number of seats as in 1992. In 1992, the Conservative lead over Labour was 7.53% - so actually greater than it was in 1979, indicating that in those 15 years there had still been a swing away from Labour to the Conservatives. In 1979, Labour would have only needed to have been 3.97% behind the Conservatives to be in the same position (in terms of numbers of seats) that it was in at the 1992 election.

What this suggests is that although the boundary changes that came into effect in 1983 hit Labour hard, by 1992 this impact had lessened.

There is something else to note - at the 1983 election, the Conservative share of the vote fell by 1.45%. If this had been uniform, and had been simply due to Conservative voters switching to Labour, then Calder Valley would have fallen, but the Conservatives would have held on to Pendle (with a majority of 12 if turn-out had remained the same). The headline figure in the newspapers would have been Thatcher having increased the Conservative majority from 43 to 46.

There is often the "separated brethren" argument made - namely that if only the Liberal/Social Democrat Alliance had not "split" the anti-Conservative vote, then Labour would have won handsomely in 1983. What this shows, however, is that if the Conservative vote had fallen - uniformly - to its 1983 level, and the Liberal vote remained steady, then Labour would have only made a small increase from 268 MPs after the 1979 election to 270.

Now look at a 2% swing:

Constituency Winning Party
Notional 1979 On 2% swing Actual 1983
Birmingham Erdington Conservative Labour Labour
Bolton North East Conservative Labour Conservative
Cambridge Conservative Labour Conservative
Cardiff Central Conservative Labour Conservative
Croydon North West Conservative Labour Conservative
Dudley West Conservative Labour Conservative
Fulham Conservative Labour Conservative
Welwyn Hatfield Conservative Labour Conservative

Conservative 339, Labour 279, Liberal 10, Scottish National Party 3, Plaid Cymru 2, Northern Ireland parties 17. Conservative majority 28

As noted above, Labour winning Bolton North East would have kept Taylor in the Commons.

Croydon North West had been won by the Liberals' Bill Pitt in a by-election in October 1981.

Then a 2.5% swing:

Constituency Winning Party
Notional 1979 On 2.5% swing Actual 1983
Banff & Buchan Conservative Scottish National Party Conservative
Edinburgh Central Conservative Labour Conservative
Erewash Conservative Labour Conservative
Glasgow Cathcart Conservative Labour Labour
Southampton Test Conservative Labour Conservative
Vale of Glamorgan Conservative Labour Conservative
Westminster North Conservative Labour Conservative

Conservative 332, Labour 285, Liberal 10, Scottish National Party 4, Plaid Cymru 2, Northern Ireland parties 17. Conservative majority 14

It is interesting to note that this result would have prevented a couple of high-profile Scottish politicians being elected in 1987. At that election, the SNP's Alex Salmond (who went on to become Scottish First Minister and is now MP for Gordon and Member of the Scottish Parliament for Aberdeenshire East) won Banff & Buchan, while future Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, won Edinburgh Central for Labour.

The SNP candidate for Banff & Buchan was Douglas Henderson, who had been MP for its one of its predecessor seats, Aberdeenshire East, between the February 1974 and 1979 elections.

At the 1979 election, the only seat the Conservatives lost was Glasgow Cathcart, when Teddy Taylor, who - at the time - was Shadow Scottish Secretary, was unseated by Labour's Maxton. Boundary changes made this seat notionally Conservative, so Maxton is one of those rare politicians who has gained an identically-named seat from the Conservatives at two successive elections. The most recent example is the Liberal Democrats' Lorely Burt, who won Solihull from the Conservatives at the May 2005 general election and then at the May 2010 general election.

The Labour candidate in Westminster North was Arthur Latham, who had been MP for Paddington from the February 1974 election until the 1979 one, when he was defeated by the Conservatives' John Wheeler. 1983 saw another Wheeler/Latham battle.

Note that Labour would be on 39.41% of the vote - higher than the share of the vote which saw Harold Wilson "win" for Labour in the February 1974 and October 1974 election - but would be 47 seats behind the Conservatives, another indication that these boundary changes were not in Labour's interests.

Then a 3% swing:

Constituency Winning Party
Notional 1979 On 3% swing Actual 1983
Bury North Conservative Labour Conservative
Crawley Conservative Labour Conservative
Ilford South Conservative Labour Conservative
Peterborough Conservative Labour Conservative
Putney Conservative Labour Conservative

Conservative 327, Labour 290, Liberal 10, Scottish National Party 4, Plaid Cymru 2, Northern Ireland parties 17. Conservative majority 4

Bury North was another one of the notionally Conservative seats in which a sitting Labour MP was standing for re-election.

The successful Conservative candidate in Crawley was Nicholas Soames, who went on to become Shadow Defence Secretary, but was better known for being a grandson of former Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Peterborough saw Brian Mawhinney - who would go on to be Transport Secretary and then Conservative Party Chairman - re-elected, while in Putney, David Mellor, who would become the first National Heritage Secretary, held his seat against the Labour challenger Peter Hain (who would go on to hold several Cabinet posts, including Welsh Secretary, Northern Ireland Secretary, Leader of the House of Commons and Work & Pensions Secretary).

Next a 3.5% swing:

Constituency Winning Party
Notional 1979 On 3.5% swing Actual 1983
Brecon & Radnor Conservative Labour Conservative
Bristol North West Conservative Labour Conservative
Crewe & Nanwich Conservative Labour Labour
Eltham Conservative Labour Conservative
Great Yarmouth Conservative Labour Conservative
Keighley Conservative Labour Conservative

Conservative 321, Labour 296, Liberal 10, Scottish National Party 4, Plaid Cymru 2, Northern Ireland parties 17. Conservative minority 8

It might seem very odd to see Brecon & Radnor in this list as a potential Labour seat, especially as even with a Liberal Democrat meltdown, Labour could only manage a poor third place this year. However, it was continually Labour from the July 1945 election until the Conservatives' Tom Hooson won it in 1979. Hooson died in May 1985, and the subsequent by-election began the era of Liberal dominance there.

Bristol North West had been won by the Conservatives' Michael Colvin in 1979, but he had decided to contest Romsey & Waterside (where I lived) in 1983, and was elected there. The Labour candidate was Sarah Palmer, whose father was Arthur Palmer, who had been Labour MP for Bristol North East (which was divided into 3 parts for the 1983 election) since the February 1974 election.

Crewe & Nanwich and Keighley were examples of sitting Labour MPs defending negative majorities. Dunwoody won the former on a swing of 3.20%, which - if repeated uniformly - would have reduced the Conservatives to 325 MPs and a notional majority of 0 (Cryer would have won Keighley on this swing) - although, with Sinn Féin's abstentionist policy, this would have been an effective Conservative majority of 1.

Although Dunwoody was - on paper - the most vulnerable member of the Shadow Cabinet, she was re-elected while Shadow Transport Secretary Albert Booth and Shadow Attorney-General Arthur Davidson lost Barrow & Furness and Hyndburn respectively to the Conservatives.

The loss of Brecon & Radnor on a 3.33% swing (which would see the Conservatives just 0.28% ahead of Labour in the popular vote) would have created a hung Parliament.

Next a 4% swing:

Constituency Winning Party
Notional 1979 On 4% swing Actual 1983
Birmingham Yardley Conservative Labour Conservative
Clwyd South West Conservative Labour Conservative
Edinburgh South Conservative Labour Conservative
Elmet Conservative Labour Conservative
Enfield North Conservative Labour Conservative
Gloucestershire West Conservative Labour Conservative
Hampstead & Highgate Conservative Labour Conservative
Hornsey & Wood Green Conservative Labour Conservative
Lancashire West Conservative Labour Conservative
Lincoln Conservative Labour Conservative
Medway Conservative Labour Conservative
Norwich North Conservative Labour Conservative
Ynys Môn Conservative Labour Conservative

Labour 309, Conservative 308, Liberal 10, Scottish National Party 4, Plaid Cymru 2, Northern Ireland parties 17. Labour minority 32

The Labour candidate for Birmingham Yardley was Roger Godsiff, who had to wait until the 1992 election to become an MP (for Birmingham Small Heath) and is now MP for Birmingham Hall Green.

Clywd South West was a new constituency, built from Denbigh (whose Conservative MP, Geraint Morgan, who had held the seat since the October 1959 general election, was retiring), and from Wrexham, which had been held since the 1970 election by Ellis. He had originally been elected as Labour, but had been a founder MP of the Social Democrats in March 1981, and was contesting Clywd South West (while the safe Labour Wrexham was narrowly held for Labour by John Marek, who, by the May 2011 elections to the Welsh Assembly, was a Conservative. It is reasonable to assume that if the Social Democrats had never been formed, then Ellis, rather than Marek, would be the Labour candidate for Wrexham.

The re-elected Conservative MP for Edinburgh South was Michael Kerr, who would go on to become Conservative deputy leader and Shadow Foreign & Commonwealth Secretary. He lost his seat in 1987.

The Labour candidate in Hampstead & Highgate was John McDonnell, now MP for Hayes & Harlington.

Norwich North is another seat where a Labour MP is defending a negative majority.

It is the gain of Lancashire West on a 3.97% swing which makes Labour the largest party, but it would need the support of 16 more MPs to reach 325. The Liberals, Plaid Cymru and the Social Democratic & Labour Party would only be able to provide 13 of these. At this point Labour would be on 40.91% (so still behind its share of the vote in every election from 1945 to 1970 inclusive), while the Conservatives on 39.90% - above their share of the vote in the 1974 elections, and only a little above their share of the vote in their crushing defeat of 1945.

Before that, however, there is a little milestone passed when the swing is 3.84% - which sees 9 of these (Birmingham Yardley, Clwyd South West, Elmet, Gloucestershire West, Hornsey & Wood Green, Lincoln, Medway, Norwich North and Ynys Môn) change hands. The significance of this is that it gives Labour the same lead over the Conservatives (0.73%) as at the narrow Labour victory of October 1964. This, however, based on a uniform swing from 1979, puts the Conservatives on 312 seats to Labour's 305.

Next a 4.5% swing:

Constituency Winning Party
Notional 1979 On 4.5% swing Actual 1983
Ayr Conservative Labour Conservative
Brentford & Isleworth Conservative Labour Conservative
Dartford Conservative Labour Conservative
Langbaurgh Conservative Labour Conservative
Rossendale & Darwen Conservative Labour Conservative

Labour 314, Conservative 303, Liberal 10, Scottish National Party 4, Plaid Cymru 2, Northern Ireland parties 17. Labour minority 22

Next a 5% swing:

Constituency Winning Party
Notional 1979 On 5% swing Actual 1983
Chorley Conservative Labour Conservative
Dover Conservative Labour Conservative
Dundee East Scottish National Party Labour Scottish National Party
Manchester Withington Conservative Labour Conservative
Stockport Conservative Labour Conservative
Tayside North Conservative Scottish National Party Conservative
Waveney Conservative Labour Conservative

Labour 320, Conservative 297, Liberal 10, Scottish National Party 4, Plaid Cymru 2, Northern Ireland parties 17. Labour minority 10

Dundee East's sitting MP was the then SNP leader, Gordon Wilson, while the SNP candidate for Tayside North was Alasdair Morgan, who went on to serve as MP and MSP for Galloway & Upper Nithsdale.

One milestone that is passed is the swing of 4.81% from the Conservatives to Labour, which brings Labour to a lead of 2.69%, which was its lead in its narrow victory of February 1950. On this swing 4 of these seats (Chorley, Dundee East, Stockport and Waveney) would change hands, giving Labour 318 seats to the Conservatives' 300 - this lead of 18 seats (in a smaller House of Commons) is just 1 more than the lead Labour had over the combined Conservative, Scottish Unionist, National Liberal and Ulster Unionist tally at the 1950 election.

Next a 5.5% swing:

Constituency Winning Party
Notional 1979 On 5% swing Actual 1983
Coventry South West Conservative Labour Conservative
Delyn Conservative Labour Conservative
Montgomery Conservative Liberal Liberal
Newark Conservative Labour Conservative
Northampton North Conservative Labour Conservative
Richmond & Barnes Conservative Liberal Conservative
Staffordshire South East Conservative Labour Conservative
Streatham Conservative Labour Conservative
Wallasey Conservative Labour Conservative

Labour 327, Conservative 288, Liberal 12, Scottish National Party 4, Plaid Cymru 2, Northern Ireland parties 17. Labour majority 4

The Liberal candidate in Richmond & Barnes was Alan Watson, with the successful Conservative being Jeremy Hanley, who went on to become Conservative Party Chairman.

The Labour candidate in Staffordshire South East was Cynthia Crawley, who would be elected Member of the European Parliament for Birmingham East in June 1984 and hold that seat until retiring in June 1999. The successful Conservative candidate was David Lightbown, whose death in December 1995, led to a by-election which was won by Labour.

It is Streatham, on a 5.39% swing, which would see Labour on 326 seats, and hence forming an overall majority (Delyn is the seat that would increase the Labour majority to 4). This would require Labour to be 3.85% ahead of the Conservatives - which up till then it had only managed twice before.

And if we look at post-war elections up to that point where there was a swing from the Conservatives to Labour, we have:

Election Swing
October 1964 3.12%
March 1966 2.71%
October 1974 2.07%
February 1974 1.29%

So, from its starting point at the 1979 general election, Labour would have needed a swing of:

  • 3.33% for there to be a hung Parliament
  • 3.97% to be the largest party in a hung Parliament
  • 5.39% to have an overall majority
Even to deprive the Conservatives of an overall majority, Labour would have needed a larger swing than anything it had achieved in a post-war general election up to that point.

Due to the boundary changes, the 1983 election was effectively unwinnable for Labour.

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