1983 election

09/06/1983View on timeline


Michael Foot(Labour) and Margaret Thatcher (Conservatives), the two main names in the 1983 general e...


Image source — Michael Foot


Image source — Margaret Thatcher

1983 v 2017: how Labour's manifestos compare

It is an irony of history that one of the little-remembered but key elements of Labour’s 1983 manifesto, infamously dubbed the longest suicide note in history, was a pledge that Britain would leave the European Economic Community within five years.

Fast-forward to 2017 and Labour’s leaked draft manifesto, with its vows to renationalise the railways and Royal Mail, has already been attacked as “dragging Britain back to the 1970s” and predictably dubbed by the Tories as “the new suicide note”.

The 1983 manifesto, The New Hope for Britain, was the product of the party’s labyrinthine internal processes. It included promises to cancel the Trident programme and to refuse to deploy US nuclear cruise missiles, to abolish the House of Lords, and to bring about “a fundamental and irreversible shift in the balance of power and wealth in favour of working people and their families”.

Some of its policies, controversial at the time, look commonplace today, such as action to improve women’s rights, to tackle racial discrimination, to improve open government and tackle pollution.

But at the centre of the manifesto, at a time when Britain was dominated by the spectre of mass unemployment, lay an £11bn “emergency action programme” that included a massive increase in public investment in housing and transport and “mass programme of construction to build our way out of the slump”.

A five-year national plan would be drawn up by a Labour government, employers and the unions, with a national investment bank at its heart. The privatisations of Margaret Thatcher’s first term, covering the steel, shipbuilding and aerospace industries, would be taken back into public ownership.

That manifesto, unlike its predecessors, sailed through the clause V shadow cabinet/national executive meeting under Michael Foot’s leadership without the usual trade-off between the left and right wings of the party.

Despite the grave reservations of senior Labour figures, including the then deputy leader, Denis Healey, it went on to become a key part of the mythology around Thatcher’s Falklands factor-fuelled 1983 landslide victory.

— The Guardian

Read more:

1983 v 2017: how Labour's manifestos compare. The Guardian.

Read the full 1983 Labour manifesto, The New Hope for Britain:

The New Hope for Britain — Labour's 1983 Manifesto.

More links

Why the Labour party lost in 1983. The Guardian.

1983: the biggest myth in Labour Party history. Red Pepper.

See the election results:General Election Results, 9 June 1983. House of Commons Report (PDF)



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Published in 30/01/2020

Updated in 19/02/2021

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