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United Kingdom general election, 1987: Map


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Seats won in the election (outer ring) against number of votes (inner ring).

The United Kingdom general election of 1987 was held on 11 June 1987 and was the third consecutive victory for the Conservative Party under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher. She was the first Prime Minister since the 2nd Earl of Liverpool to lead a party to three successive election victories, a record subsequently equalled by Tony Blair.

The Conservative government had survived the industrial disputes with mine workers (1984–85) and print unions (1985–86), and had weathered the 1986 Westland affair even with the resignation of Michael Heseltine and Leon Brittan, and the overall economy was strong. The Labour party at the time was slowly returning to a more centrist stance under new leader Neil Kinnock and was expecting to do much better than in the 1983 election. The main aim of the Labour party was, arguably, not to win a majority of parliamentary seats but simply to re-establish themselves as the main progressive centre-left alternative to the Conservatives, after the rise of the SDP forced Labour onto the defence. Indeed, the Labour party succeeded in doing so with this general election. The SDP and the Liberal renewed their SDP-Liberal Alliance but co-leaders David Owen and David Steel could not agree whether to support either major party in the event of a hung parliament. This turned out to be a purely academic problem, as the Conservatives were re-elected with a reduced majority of 102 seats. The failure of the SDP-Liberal Alliance to break through the electoral barriers ultimately resulted in the merger of the two parties in 1988 to become the Social and Liberal Democrats (latterly Liberal Democrats).

The run-up to the 1987 election had been a rough ride for the Conservatives. The Miner's Strike of 1984/85 had seen the industry grind to a virtual standstill for 12 months as miners went on strike in protest against Mrs Thatcher's plans to close 20 coal mines in England and Wales, a move which would claim 20,000 jobs and deprive many communities of their main source of employment. In 1986, government ministers Leon Brittan and Michael Heseltine had resigned over the Westland affair and Mrs Thatcher was reportedly considering her resignation. However, Britain had come a long way since the 1983 election. Unemployment had fallen below 3,000,000 for the first time since 1981, inflation was at a mere 4% (its lowest for nearly 20 years) and the economy generally in its healthiest position for many years - combined with Labour and the Liberals scrapping for the anti-Conservative vote. The tabloid media also had strong support for the Conservatives, particularly The Sun newspaper newspaper who ran anti-Labour articles with headlines such as Why I'm backing Kinnock, by Stalin.


All parties gaining over 500 votes listed.

Votes summary

Seats summary

Campaign and policies

The Conservatives' campaign emphasized lower taxes, a strong economy, and defence, and also employed rapid-response reactions to take advantage of Labour errors. Tim Bell and Saatchi and Saatchi produced memorable posters for the Conservatives, such as a picture of a British soldier's arms raised in surrender with the caption: "Labour's Policy On Arms"—a reference to Labour's policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament. The first Conservative party political broadcast played on the theme of "Freedom" and ended with a fluttering Union Jack, the hymn I Vow to Thee, My Country and the slogan: "It's Great To Be Great Again".

The Labour campaign was a marked change from previous efforts; professionally directed by Peter Mandelson and Bryan Gould, it concentrated on presenting and improving Neil Kinnock's image to the electorate. Labour's first party political broadcast, dubbed Kinnock: The Movie, was directed by Hugh Hudson of Chariots of Fire fame, and concentrated on portraying Kinnock as a caring, compassionate family man. Kinnock's personal popularity jumped 16% overnight after the initial broadcast.

On 24 May Kinnock was interviewed by David Frost and claimed that Labour's alternative defence strategy in the event of a Soviet attack would be "using the resources you've got to make any occupation totally untenable". In a speech two days later Mrs. Thatcher attacked Labour's defence policy as a programme for "defeat, surrender, occupation, and finally, prolonged guerilla fighting...I do not understand how anyone who aspires to Government can treat the defence of our country so lightly."


The Conservatives were returned with a 102-seat majority, down 42 on 1983 with a swing of about 1% toward Labour. Increasing polarisation marked divisions across the country: the Conservatives dominated southern England and took additional seats from Labour in the south but performed less well in Northern England, Scotlandmarker, and Walesmarker. Yet the overall result of this election proved that the policies of Margaret Thatcher retained significant support, with the Conservatives given a third convincing majority.

Despite initial optimism and the professional campaign run by Neil Kinnock, the election brought only twenty additional seats for Labour from the 1983 Conservative landslide. However, it represented a decisive victory against the SDP-Liberal Alliance and marked out the Labour Party as the main opposition to the Conservative Party. This was in stark contrast to 1983, when the Labour Party and the SDP-Liberal Alliance took a roughly equal share of the vote.

The result for the SDP-Liberal Alliance was a disappointment, in that they had hoped to overtake Labour as the second party in the UK in terms of vote share. Instead they lost one net seat and saw their vote share drop by almost 3%, with a widening gap of 8% between them and the Labour party (compared to a 2% gap four years before). These results would eventually lead to the end of the SDP-Liberal Alliance and the birth of the Liberal Democrats.

Most of the prominent MPs retained their seats. Notable failures included Enoch Powell and two SDP-Liberal Alliance members, Liberal Clement Freud and former SDP leader Roy Jenkins.

In Northern Irelandmarker the various unionist parties maintained an electoral pact (with a few dissenters) in opposition to the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

Turnout: 32,530,204 (75.3%)

See also


  2. David Butler and Dennis Kavanagh, The British General Election of 1987 (Macmillan, 1988), p. 154.
  3. TV-AM (24 May 1987)
  4. Speech to Conservative Rally in Newport (26 May 1987)



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