1983 United Kingdom general election

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1983 United Kingdom general election
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg
  1979 9 June 1983 1987  

All 650 seats in the House of Commons
326 seats needed for a majority
Opinion polls
Turnout72.7%, Decrease2.svg3.3%
 First partySecond partyThird party
Margaret Thatcher (1983).jpg
Michael Foot (1981).jpg
DavidSteel1987 cropped.jpg
Roy Jenkins 1977 (cropped).jpg
Leader Margaret Thatcher Michael Foot
Party Conservative Labour Alliance
Leader since 11 February 1975 10 November 1980
Leader's seat Finchley Blaenau Gwent
Last election339 seats, 43.9%269 seats, 36.9%11 seats, 13.8% [lower-alpha 1]
Seats before3392619
Seats won39720923
Seat changeIncrease2.svg58 [lower-alpha 2] Decrease2.svg60 [lower-alpha 2] Increase2.svg12 [lower-alpha 2]
Popular vote13,012,3168,456,9347,780,949

UK General Election, 1983.svg
Colours denote the winning party—as shown in § Results

House of Commons elected members, 1983.svg
Composition of the House of Commons after the election

Prime Minister before election

Margaret Thatcher

Prime Minister after election

Margaret Thatcher

The 1983 United Kingdom general election was held on Thursday 9 June 1983. It gave the Conservative Party under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher the most decisive election victory since that of the Labour Party in 1945, with a majority of 144 seats and the first of two consecutive landslide victories. [1]


Thatcher's first term as Prime Minister had not been an easy time. [2] Unemployment increased during the first three years of her premiership and the economy went through a recession. However, the British victory in the Falklands War led to a recovery of her personal popularity, and economic growth had begun to resume.

By the time Thatcher called the election in May 1983, opinion polls pointed to a Conservative victory, with most national newspapers backing the re-election of the Conservative government. The resulting win earned the Conservatives their biggest parliamentary majority of the post-war era, and their second-biggest majority as a majority government, behind only the 1924 general election (they earned even more seats in the 1931 general election, but were part of the National Government). [3]

The Labour Party had been led by Michael Foot since the resignation of former Prime Minister James Callaghan as Leader of the Labour Party in 1980, and its new policies were considered more left-wing than before. [3] [4] Several moderate Labour MPs had defected from the party to form the Social Democratic Party (SDP), which then formed the SDP–Liberal Alliance with the existing Liberal Party. Labour was further harmed by its promise to withdraw from the European Economic Community, which alienated Pro-European groups.

The opposition vote split almost evenly between the Alliance and Labour. With its worst electoral performance since 1931, the Labour vote fell by over 3,000,000 votes from 1979, accounting for both a national swing of almost 4% towards the Conservatives and their larger parliamentary majority of 144 seats, even though the Conservatives' total vote fell by almost 700,000. This was the last general election until 2015 in which a governing party increased its number of seats.

The Alliance finished in third place but came within 700,000 votes of out-polling Labour; by gaining 25.4% of the vote it won the largest percentage for any third party since 1923. Despite this, it won only 23 seats, whereas Labour won 209. The Liberals argued that a proportional electoral system would have given them a more representative number of MPs. Changing the electoral system from First-Past-The-Post had been a long-running campaign plank of the Liberal Party and would later be adopted by its successor, the Liberal Democrats.

The election night was broadcast live on the BBC and was presented by David Dimbleby, Sir Robin Day and Peter Snow. [5] It was also broadcast on ITV and presented by Alastair Burnet, Peter Sissons and Martyn Lewis.

Three future leaders of the Labour Party (Tony Blair (1994–2007), Gordon Brown (2007–2010) and Jeremy Corbyn (2015–2020)) were first elected at this election. At the same time, a number of prominent Members of Parliament stepped aside or lost their seats. Former Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson stood down from Parliament after 38 years, while the Alliance's Shirley Williams and Bill Pitt lost their seats only a short time after winning them. Joan Lestor and Tony Benn as well as former Liberal leader Jo Grimond and Speaker of the House of Commons and former Labour Cabinet Minister George Thomas also departed from Parliament at this election, although Benn would return after winning a by-election in Chesterfield the following year, and Lestor returned to Parliament after winning a seat at the next general election in 1987. In addition, two future Leaders of the Liberal Democrats were first elected —Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy. Michael Howard, who later served the Conservatives as Home Secretary in government and as party leader from 2003 to 2005, was also elected to Parliament in 1983.

Background and campaign

Michael Foot was elected leader of the Labour Party at the end of 1980, replacing James Callaghan. The election of Foot signalled that the core of the party was swinging to the left and the move exacerbated divisions within the party. During 1981, a group of senior figures including Roy Jenkins, David Owen, Bill Rodgers and Shirley Williams left Labour to found the Social Democratic Party (SDP). The SDP agreed to a pact with the Liberals for the 1983 election and stood as "The Alliance". For a while the Alliance topped the opinion polls and looked capable of achieving their goal of forming a coalition government at the next general election, but the success of the Falklands campaign in 1982 saw the political tide turn in favour of the Conservative government.

The election did not have to be held until 1984. Although political circumstances were clearly favourable for the government and opposition parties anticipated that Mrs Thatcher would go to the country in June, earlier in 1983 the Conservatives were split on the timing of the election. One faction favoured a June election, but another group wanted to wait until October before going to the country, while some within the Party even advocated delaying the contest until 1984. Supporters of waiting to a later time to hold an election included Thatcher's deputy and Home Secretary Willie Whitelaw and John Biffen who was then serving as Leader of the House of Commons. [6] On 27 April it was reported that all the Conservative party's regional agents had unanimously expressed a preference to Thatcher for a June election, although some members of her cabinet were advising her to wait until October. [7] On 8 May senior Conservatives met at Chequers and agreed to go to the country on 9 June. The election was formally called the next day and Parliament was dissolved on 13 May for a four-week official election campaign. [6]

The campaign displayed the huge divisions between the two major parties. Thatcher had been highly unpopular during her first two years in office until the swift and decisive victory in the Falklands War, coupled with an improving economy, considerably raised her standings in the polls. The Conservatives' key issues included reducing unemployment (which had increased from 1.5 million in 1979 to more than 3 million by 1982), continuing economic growth following the recent recession, and defence. Labour's campaign manifesto involved leaving the European Economic Community, abolishing the House of Lords, abandoning the United Kingdom's nuclear deterrent by cancelling Trident and removing cruise missiles — a programme dubbed by Labour MP Gerald Kaufman "the longest suicide note in history"; "Although, at barely 37 pages, it only seemed interminable", noted Roy Hattersley. Pro-Labour political journalist Michael White, writing in The Guardian , commented: "There was something magnificently brave about Michael Foot's campaign but it was like the Battle of the Somme." [8]

The Alliance had had a setback ahead of the campaign at the Darlington by-election in March. The contest was one that had looked promising ground for the SDP, but despite heavily campaigning in the Labour-held seat, the SDP candidate, who struggled when interviewed for television by Vincent Hanna finished a poor third, which stalled the momentum of the Alliance. [9] During the campaign, on Sunday 29 May, David Steel held a meeting with Jenkins and other Alliance leaders at his Ettrickbridge home. Steel, who polls showed was more popular proposed that Jenkins take a lower profile and that Steel take over as leader of the campaign. Jenkins rejected Steel's view and remained "Prime Minister designate", but Steel did have a heightened role on television for the last 10 days of the election campaign. According to Steve Richards the meeting meant Jenkins' "confidence was undermined and he staggered to the finishing line with less verve than he had displayed in the early days of the SDP" and showed little sign of his earlier "exuberance". [10] [11]

Notional election, 1979

Following boundary changes in 1983, the BBC and ITN (Independent Television News) co-produced a calculation of how the 1979 general election would have gone if fought on the new 1983 boundaries. The following table shows the effects of the boundary changes on the House of Commons: [12]

UK General Election 1979
PartySeatsGainsLossesNet gain/lossSeats %Votes %Votes+/−
  Conservative 359+205544.913,703,429
  Labour 261−84037.711,512,877
  Liberal 9−2114.24,324,936
  SNP 2001.6497,128
  Plaid Cymru 2000.4135,241
  Other parties 17+533.41,063,263


The Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher visited Buckingham Palace on the afternoon of 9 May and asked the Queen to dissolve Parliament on 13 May, announcing that the election would be held on 9 June. [13] The key dates were as follows:

Friday 13 MayDissolution of the 48th Parliament and campaigning officially begins
Monday 23 MayLast day to file nomination papers; 2,579 candidates enter
Wednesday 8 JuneCampaigning officially ends
Thursday 9 JunePolling day
Friday 10 JuneThe Conservative Party wins with a majority of 144 to retain power
Wednesday 15 June 49th Parliament assembles
Wednesday 22 June State Opening of Parliament


The election saw the Conservatives win a landslide victory, [1] improving on their 1979 result and achieving their best results since 1935. Although there was a slight drop in their share of the vote, they made significant gains at the expense of Labour. The Tories have yet to match their 1983-seat total in any subsequent general election, although they recorded a higher share of the popular vote in 2019.

The night was a disaster for the Labour Party; their share of the vote fell by over 9%, which meant they were only 700,000 votes ahead of the newly formed third party, the SDP–Liberal Alliance. The massive increase of support for the Alliance at the expense of Labour meant that, in many seats,[ which? ] the collapse in the Labour vote allowed the Conservatives to gain. Despite winning over 25% of the national vote, the Alliance got fewer than 4% of seats, 186 fewer than Labour. The most significant Labour loss of the night was Tony Benn, who was defeated in the revived Bristol East seat. SDP President Shirley Williams, then a prominent leader in the Social Democratic Party, lost her Crosby seat which she had won in a by-election in 1981. Bill Rodgers, another leading figure in the Alliance (like Williams, one of the "Gang of Four") also failed to win his old seat that he previously held as a Labour MP.

In Scotland, both Labour and the Conservatives sustained modest losses to the Alliance. Labour remained by far the largest party, with 41 seats to 21 for the Scottish Conservatives. The Scottish Conservatives have been unable to match their 1983 Westminster seat total since, although they did record a slightly larger share of the Scottish vote in 2017, by which time the Scottish National Party had become the dominant party in Scotland with the Conservatives being the largest unionist party, with 13 seats won in 2017; their strongest performance in Scotland in 34 years.

On a nationwide basis, the 1983 UK general election was the worst result in Labour's modern history until the 2019 general election, in terms of seats won. The result in 1983 remains the worst-ever modern performance for Labour in England.

1983 UK parliament.svg

1983 UK general election
PartyLeaderStoodElectedGainedUnseatedNet % of total %No.Net %
  Conservative Margaret Thatcher 6333974710+3761.142.413,012,316−1.5
  Labour Michael Foot 633209455−5132.227.68,456,934−9.3
  Alliance David Steel & Roy Jenkins 636 [lower-alpha 3] 23120+124.525.47,794,770+11.6
  SNP Gordon Wilson 7220000.31.1331,975−0.5
  Ulster Unionist James Molyneaux 161131+21.70.8259,9520.0
  DUP Ian Paisley 1432 1 +10.50.5152,749+0.3
  SDLP John Hume 17 1 0 1 −10.20.4137,0120.0
  Plaid Cymru Dafydd Wigley 3820000.30.4125,3090.0
  Sinn Féin Ruairí Ó Brádaigh 14 1 1 1 00.20.3102,701N/A
  Alliance Oliver Napier 1200000.00.261,275−0.1
  Ecology Jonathon Porritt 10900000.00.254,299+0.1
  Independent N/A7300000.00.130,422N/A
  National Front Andrew Brons 6000000.00.127,065−0.5
  UPUP James Kilfedder 1 1 1 0+10.20.122,861N/A
  Independent Labour N/A800000.00.116,4470.0
  Workers' Party Tomás Mac Giolla 1400000.00.014,650−0.1
  BNP John Tyndall 5400000.00.014,621N/A
  Communist Gordon McLennan 3500000.00.011,606−0.1
  Independent Socialist N/A 1 00000.00.010,326N/A
  Ind. Conservative N/A1000000.00.09,4420.0
 Independent CommunistN/A200000.00.04,760N/A
  Workers Revolutionary Michael Banda 2100000.00.03,798−0.1
  Monster Raving Loony Screaming Lord Sutch 1100000.00.03,015N/A
  Wessex Regionalist N/A1000000.00.01,7500.0
  Mebyon Kernow Richard Jenkin 200000.00.01,151N/A
  Independent DUP N/A 1 00000.00.01,134N/A
  Licensees N/A400000.00.0934N/A
  Nationalist Party N/A500000.00.0874N/A
  Labour and Trade Union Peter Hadden 1 00000.00.0584N/A
  Revolutionary Communist Frank Furedi 400000.00.0581N/A
  Freedom Party N/A100000.00.0508N/A
All parties with more than 500 votes shown. [lower-alpha 4] [lower-alpha 5] [lower-alpha 6] [lower-alpha 7]
Government's new majority144
Total votes cast30,671,137

Votes summary

Seats won in the election (outer ring) against number of votes (inner ring)
Results of the UK General Election, 1983.svg
Popular vote

Seats summary

Parliamentary seats
Election 1983 Polls.jpg
Data from Guardian daily polls published in The Guardian between May and June 1983. Colour key:
  •   Conservative
  •   Labour
  •   Alliance
  •   Others
1983 UK General Election-Gallagher Index.svg
The disproportionality of the House of Commons in the 1983 election was "20.62" according to the Gallagher Index, mainly between the Conservatives and the Alliance.

Incumbents defeated

PartyNameConstituencyOffice held whilst in ParliamentYear electedDefeated byParty
Labour Tony Benn Bristol South East (contested Bristol East) Secretary of State for Energy (1975–1979) 1950 [lower-alpha 8] Jonathan Sayeed Conservative
Albert Booth Barrow and Furness Secretary of State for Employment (1976–1979) 1966 Cecil Franks Conservative
Arthur Davidson Accrington (contested Hyndburn) Shadow Attorney General (1982–1983) 1966 Ken Hargreaves Conservative
Neil Carmichael Glasgow Kelvingrove (contested Glasgow Hillhead)Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department of Industry (1975–1976) 1962 Roy Jenkins MP SDP
Bob Cryer Keighley 1974 Gary Waller Conservative
Joseph Dean Leeds West Lord Commissioner of the Treasury (1978–1979) 1974 Michael Meadowcroft Liberal
David Ennals Norwich North Secretary of State for Social Services (1976–1979) 1974 Patrick Thompson Conservative
John Garrett Norwich South 1974 John Powley Conservative
Ted Graham Edmonton Lord Commissioner of the Treasury (1976–1979) 1974 Ian Twinn Conservative
William Homewood Kettering (contested Corby) 1979 William Powell Conservative
Frank Hooley Sheffield Heeley (contested Stratford-on-Avon) 1966 Alan Howarth Conservative
Russell Kerr Feltham and Heston 1966 Patrick Ground Conservative
Joan Lestor Eton and Slough (contested Slough) Chair of the Labour Party (1977–78) 1966 John Watts Conservative
Alex Lyon York 1966 Conal Gregory Conservative
Jim Marshall Leicester South 1974 Derek Spencer Conservative
Roland Moyle Lewisham East Minister of State for Health (1976–1979) 1966 Colin Moynihan Conservative
Stan Newens Harlow 1974 Jerry Hayes Conservative
Oswald O'Brien Darlington 1983 Michael Fallon Conservative
Christopher Price Lewisham West 1974 John Maples Conservative
Gwilym Roberts Cannock (contested Cannock and Burntwood) 1974 Gerald Howarth Conservative
John Sever Birmingham Ladywood, contested (Meriden) 1977 Iain Mills Conservative
John Spellar Birmingham Northfield 1982 Roger Douglas King Conservative
David Stoddart Swindon Lord Commissioner of the Treasury (1975–1978) 1970 Simon Coombs Conservative
Shirley Summerskill Halifax Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (1976–1979) 1964 Roy Galley Conservative
Ann Taylor Bolton West (contested Bolton North East) 1974 Peter Thurnham Conservative
John Tilley Lambeth Central (contested Southwark and Bermondsey) 1978 Simon Hughes MP Liberal
Frank White Bury and Radcliffe (contested Bury North) 1974 Alistair Burt Conservative
Phillip Whitehead Derby North 1970 Greg Knight Conservative
William Whitlock Nottingham North Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (1968–1969) 1959 Richard Ottaway Conservative
Kenneth Woolmer Batley and Morley (contested Batley and Spen) 1979 Elizabeth Peacock Conservative
SDP Tom Bradley [14] Leicester East 1962 Peter Bruinvels Conservative
Christopher Brocklebank-Fowler [15] North West Norfolk 1970 Henry Bellingham Conservative
Ronald Brown [14] Hackney South and Shoreditch 1964 Brian Sedgemore Conservative
Richard Crawshaw [14] Liverpool Toxteth (contested Liverpool Broadgreen) Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (1979–1981) 1964 Terry Fields Labour
George Cunningham [14] Islington South and Finsbury 1970 Chris Smith Labour
Tom Ellis [14] Wrexham (contested Clwyd South West) 1970 Robert Harvey Conservative
David Ginsburg [14] Dewsbury 1959 John Whitfield Conservative
John Grant [14] Islington Central (contested Islington North) Under-Secretary of State for Employment (1976–1979) 1970 Jeremy Corbyn Labour
John Horam [14] Gateshead West (contested Newcastle upon Tyne Central) Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (1976–1979) 1970 Piers Merchant Conservative
Ednyfed Hudson Davies [14] Caerphilly (contested Basingstoke) 1979 Andrew Hunter Conservative
Edward Lyons [14] Bradford West 1966 Max Madden Labour
Dickson Mabon [14] Greenock and Port Glasgow (contested Inverclyde) Minister for Energy (1976–1979) 1955 Anna McCurley Conservative
Tom McNally [14] Stockport South (contested Stockport) 1979 Anthony Favell Conservative
Bryan Magee [14] Leyton 1974 Harry Cohen Labour
Bob Mitchell [14] Southampton Itchen 1971 Christopher Chope Conservative
Eric Ogden [14] Liverpool West Derby 1964 Bob Wareing Labour
William Rodgers [14] Stockton-on-Tees (contested Stockton North) Secretary of State for Transport (1976–1979) 1962 Frank Cook Labour
John Roper [14] Farnworth (contested Worsley) SDP Chief Whip (1981–83) 1970 Terry Lewis Labour
Neville Sandelson [14] Hayes and Harlington 1971 Terry Dicks Conservative
Jeffrey Thomas [14] Abertillery (contested Cardiff West) 1970 Stefan Terlezki Conservative
Michael Thomas [14] Newcastle upon Tyne East 1974 Nick Brown Labour
James Wellbeloved [14] Erith and Crayford 1965 David Evennett Conservative
Shirley Williams Crosby (elected as SDP) Secretary of State for Education and Science (1976–1979) 1981 Malcolm Thornton Conservative
Conservative David Myles Banffshire (contested Orkney and Shetland) 1979 Jim Wallace Liberal
Iain Sproat Aberdeen South (contested Roxburgh and Berwickshire) 1970 Archy Kirkwood Liberal
Delwyn Williams Montgomeryshire 1979 Alex Carlile Liberal
Hamish Gray Ross and Cromarty (contested Ross, Cromarty and Skye) Minister of State for Energy (1979–1983) 1970 Charles Kennedy SDP
Independent Ben Ford [14] Bradford North 1964 Geoffrey Lawler Conservative
Arthur Lewis [14] Newham North West 1945 Tony Banks Labour
Michael O'Halloran [14] Islington North 1969 Jeremy Corbyn Labour
Gerry Fitt [16] Belfast West 1966 Gerry Adams Sinn Féin
Sinn Féin Owen Carron Fermanagh and South Tyrone 1981 Ken Maginnis Ulster Unionist
Liberal Bill Pitt Croydon North West 1981 Humfrey Malins Conservative

Tables of target seats

Conservative targets

RankConstituency1983 winner
1 Isle of Wight Alliance
2 Oxford East Conservative
3 Cunninghame North Conservative
4 Corby Conservative
5 Nottingham East Conservative
6 Hertfordshire West Conservative
7 Mitcham and Morden Conservative
8 Derbyshire South Conservative
9 Leicestershire North West Conservative
10 Southampton Itchen Conservative
11 Halifax Conservative
12 Stockton South Alliance
13 Lewisham West Conservative
14 Edmonton Conservative
15 Stevenage Conservative
16 York Conservative
17 Darlington Conservative
18 Ceredigion and Pembroke North Alliance
19 Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber Alliance
20 Bridgend Conservative

Labour targets

To regain an overall majority, Labour needed to make at least 65 gains.

RankConstituency1983 winner
1 Birmingham Northfield Conservative
2 Bury South Conservative
3 Dulwich Conservative
4 Liverpool Broadgreen Labour
5 Nottingham South Conservative
6 Aberdeen South Conservative
7 Stirling Conservative
8 Hornchurch Conservative
9 Luton South Conservative
10 Calder Valley Conservative
11 Pendle Conservative
12 Bolton North East Conservative
13 Cardiff Central Conservative
14 Croydon North West Conservative
15 Fulham Conservative
16 Cambridge Conservative
17 Birmingham Erdington Labour
18 Dudley West Conservative
19 Welwyn Hatfield Conservative
20 Glasgow Cathcart Labour

SDP–Liberal Alliance targets

RankConstituency1983 winner
1 Roxburgh and Berwickshire Alliance
2 Richmond and Barnes Conservative
3 Montgomeryshire Alliance
4 Chelmsford Conservative
5 Wiltshire North Conservative
6 Cornwall North Conservative
7 Hereford Conservative
8 Colne Valley Alliance
9 Gordon Alliance
10 Southport Conservative
11 Salisbury Conservative
12 Devon North Conservative
13 Gainsborough and Horncastle Conservative
14 Cornwall South East Conservative
15 Clwyd South West Conservative
16 Liverpool Broadgreen Labour
17 Newbury Conservative
18 Yeovil Alliance
19 Pudsey Conservative
20 Ross, Cromarty and Skye Alliance

Opinion polls

See also


  1. Results for the Liberals only. The SDP did not contest
  2. 1 2 3 Includes boundary change—so this is a nominal figure.
  3. Includes official Liberal candidates who were not given national Alliance endorsement in three constituencies: Liverpool Broadgreen, Hackney South and Shoreditch, and Hammersmith.
  4. The SDP–Liberal Alliance vote is compared with the Liberal Party vote in the 1979 election.
  5. The Independent Unionist elected in the 1979 election defended and held his seat for the Ulster Popular Unionist Party. The United Ulster Unionist Party dissolved and its sole MP did not re-stand.
  6. The Independent Republican elected in the 1979 election died in 1981. In the ensuring by-election the seat was won by Bobby Sands, an Anti-H-Block/Armagh Political Prisoner who then died and was succeeded by an Anti-H-Block Proxy Political Prisoner candidate Owen Carron. He defended and lost his seat standing for Sinn Féin who contested seats in Northern Ireland for the first time since 1959.
  7. This election was fought under revised boundaries. The changes reflect those comparing to the notional results on the new boundaries. One significant change was the increase in the number of seats allocated to Northern Ireland from 12 to 17.
  8. Benn did not serve during his Viscountcy between 1960 and 1963.

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  8. White, Michael (11 April 2005), "Michael White on 35 years of covering elections", The Guardian, retrieved 23 June 2018
  9. Richards, Steve (2021). The Prime Ministers We Never Had; Success and Failure from Butler to Corbyn. London: Atlantic Books. pp. 70–71. ISBN   978-1-83895-241-9.
  10. Richards, Steve (2021). The Prime Ministers We Never Had; Success and Failure from Butler to Corbyn. London: Atlantic Books. p. 71. ISBN   978-1-83895-241-9.
  11. Julian Haviland (1983). "The June 1983 Election Campaign:Conservative lead was never challenged". The Times Guide to the House of Commons June 1983. London: Times Books Ltd. p. 26. ISBN   0-7230-0255-X.
  12. Craig, F.W.S. (1983). The BBC/ITN Guide to the New Parliamentary Constituencies. Chichester: Parliamentary Research Services. ISBN   978-0-90017-814-6.
  13. Osnos, Peter (10 May 1983). "Thatcher Sets June 9 For Election". The Washington Post. Retrieved 14 May 2023.
  14. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 Elected as a Labour MP
  15. Elected as a Conservative Party
  16. Elected as a SDLP MP

Further reading