Thursday, 16 February 2017

607 General Election 1983

First  viewed :  May  1983

This  was  a  landmark  general  election  in  many  ways. Personally,  it  was  the  first  one  in  which  I  was  able  to  vote. One  of  my  fellow  pupils, a  nice  girl  called  Claire  Twigger, turned  18  on  polling  day  and  was  on  the  front  page  of  the  Rochdale  Observer  waving  her  polling  card. At  the  start  of  the  campaign,  I  was  wavering  between  the  Tories  and  the  SDP-Liberal  Alliance  and  told  the  Tory  candidate  in  our  constituency  Geoffrey  Dickens  that   when  I  met  him  early  in  the  campaign. My  father  had  bought  all  three  manifestos  including  Labour's  notorious  "longest  suicide  note  in  history"  and  I  diligently  read  all  three. That  pointed  me  towards  the  Alliance  and  that  firmed  up  as  they  gained  on  Labour  in  the  opinion  polls  in  the  last  week  of  the  campaign  even  though  our  Liberal  candidate  Richard  Knowles  seemed  a  bit  wet.

We  were  in  a  new  seat,  Littleborough  and  Saddleworth,  that  was  very  different  from  the  previous  one, Heywood  and  Royton  represented  by  Labour  right  winger  Joel  Barnett. Barnett  had  been  edged  out  of  the  Labour  selections  for  the  new  constituencies   and  wasn't  standing  anywhere. Dickens  had  moved  over  from  a  Huddersfield  seat  and  had  attracted  some  bad  publicity during  the  previous  parliament  when  he  almost  left  his  wife  but  changed  his  mind  on  the  drive  to  a  mistress  he'd  picked  up  at  a  tea  dance. Other  than  that,  he  was  a  right  wing,  populist  buffoon  with  an  obsession  about  sex  that  he  tried  to  disguise  as  concern  about  paedophilia  and  Satanism. Knowles  was  a  councillor  in  Oldham. The  Labour  candidate  was  an  ex-councillor  who'd  been  turfed  out  of  his  ward  the  year  before following  a  steep  rate  rise.

The  Conservative  campaign  was  smooth  and  efficient, led  by  chairman  Cecil  Parkinson , the  only  sticky  moment  being  a  fierce  grilling on  TV  for  Mrs  Thatcher  over  the  sinking  of  the  Belgrano  by  a  viewer . The  Labour  campaign  was  a  complete  disaster  from  start  to  finish. Saddled  with  a  fantasy land  manifesto  and  a  leader  who  looked  like  a  confused  old  man, his  gift  for  parliamentary  oratory  useless  on  the  stump  or  TV,  they  made  matters  worse  by  openly  disagreeing  over  nuclear  disarmament  -their  greatest  Achilles  heel - and,  in  Dennis  Healey  and  Neil  Kinnock's  cases, disparaging  the  Falklands  victory.

The  Alliance  campaign  was  a  game  of  two  halves. David  Steel  for  the  Liberals  had  bowed  to  Roy  Jenkins'  experience  and  agreed  to serve  under  him  in  an  Alliance  government. However  the  so-called  "Prime  Minister Designate"  who'd  been  unimpressive  in  Parliament  , was  little  better  than  Foot  in  the  campaign. I  remember  him  doing  a  Party  Election  Broadcast  and  not  even  looking  at  the  camera. With  a  week  to  go,  the  leaders  had  a  "summit" at  Steel's  house  where  he  basically  told  Jenkins  he  was  useless  and  that  he  was  taking  over  the  campaign. As  soon  as  he  did  so,  their  standing  in  the   opinion  polls  improved  and  in  some  of  them  they  crept  ahead  of  Labour.

The  election  date  was  right  in  the  middle  of  my  A  Levels  so  I  couldn't  fully engage  with  the  campaign  and  I  couldn't  stay  up  for  the  results.

The  result  was  the  biggest  outrage  the  first  past  the  post  system  has  foisted  on  the  country  although  UKIP  supporters  have  a  fair  case  for  nominating  2015  instead. The  Alliance  surge  was  just  a  little  too  late  for  them  to  overtake  Labour  in  the  popular  vote  but  they  were  less  than  a  million  votes  behind. They  ended  up  with  26  seats  compared  to  Labour's  209. Despite  the  Falklands  factor, the  Tories  actually  polled  less  votes  than  in  1979  but  ended  up  with  an  enormous  majority. What  most  depressed  me  was  the  fate  of  the  brave  defectors  who  left  the  Labour   tribe  with  all  but  four  ( who  included  David  Owen )  going  down, usually  in  third  place ( although  poor  Dick  Crawshaw  whom  local  Liberals  wouldn't  accept  as  their  candidate came  fourth ). Only  John  Horam  ever  returned  to  the  Commons  and  he  did  it  by  becoming  a  Tory  although  Tom  McNally  survived  to  play  a  part  in  the Coalition  government  as  a  peer.
The  only  SDP  gain  ( the  Liberals  managed  half  a  dozen )  came  in  Scotland  where  an  unknown  postgraduate  student  named  Charles  Kennedy  ousted  a  Tory  minister.

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