General Election 1983

June 10, 2018 2:34 PM

Charles Kennedy (By catch21productions from UK (Charles Kennedy MP.jpg Charles Kennedy MP) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)It is 35 years to the day since some of us were celebrating results in the 1983 General Election that had been held on 9 June. The 23 year old Charles Kennedy had gained the seat of Ross, Cromarty and Skye (the only SDP candidate ever to gain a seat in a general election) and which allegedly produced the remark from David Owen, 'Charles Who? Has won where?'

Liberals who gained seats that day included Malcolm Bruce (Gordon), Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil), Alex Carlile (Montgomery) and Michael Meadowcroft (Leeds West).

Archy Kirkwood gained Roxburgh & Berwickshire (although in reality there was already a Liberal majority in the seat that was largely carved out of part of David Steel's old constituency).

Simon Hughes defended the seat that he had won in the Bermondsey by-election a few months earlier.

I was 22 and had been acting as the agent in my first parliamentary election. My candidate, David Alton, became the Liberal MP for Liverpool Mossley Hill (having been first elected in the very different seat of Liverpool Edge Hill when he won the famous by-election in 1979).

'The powers that be' in the Liberal Party at the time said that I was a very good agent, but that my talents were wasted in the 'unwinnable' constituency of Liverpool Mossley Hill (the Tories had a theoretical majority of 9,000 over Labour, and 13,000 over us in third place). But with a 14% swing from Tory to Lib Dem (the highest against the Tories in England) we gained the seat with a 4,195 majority.

It was a great day for me, and our 600 helpers in Liverpool Mossley Hill (and I was not very sober at the after count party). But It was a disappointing day for the 'Alliance' nationally winning just 25 seats (despite getting 26% of the vote, 2% less than Labour).

The story of that 1983 campaign and what then happened to the Liberal Party, the SDP and the Liberal Democrats over the following 23 years is told in my book 'Winning Here'. This explains how the Lib Dems went on to win 13 parliamentary by-elections in the period when formed in 1988 to 2006, and elect over 5,000 council seats, 63 MPs and 12 MEPs.

You can order it from book shops, the publishers Bite Back or

Politics Home review of "Winning Here" by Tom McNally.