My First General Election, A Student’s Eye View 34 Years On, 9 June 1983

Writing 34 years later, on the morning of another general election (today is 8 June 2017), a bit of me wonders “what has changed”?

It was not, in fact, the anniversarial relationship between the 2017 election and my first, in 1983, that triggered me into writing this short piece.

It was Jon Gorvett.

Jon got in touch out of the blue a few days ago, having spotted an Ogblog piece about a protest we orchestrated/attended in 1982 – click here. Jon sent me some wonderful clippings from that event, which you can find if you persevere with the preceding link.

Yesterday, Jon sent me an e-mail with some more scans that made me smile even wider, relating to some student union election shenanigans in February 1983. I wrote a brief note of those a few years ago for the Keele Oral History Project – click here – but now, thanks to Jon and his scanning machine, I can relate the story far more accurately and colourfully for Ogblog. I’ll write that up soon – something for Ogblog enthusiasts and lovers of student politics to look forward to.

So Jon’s documents sent me to my 1983 diary and that got me thinking about the 1983 general election, our very first one as voters.

There are many similarities between 1983 and 2017; an aging, unpopular Labour leader, splits in the Labour party, a Tory woman Prime Minister looking to increase her majority and power…

…there are also many differences. I’m not so fearful of the far right parties this time, whereas we were genuinely (but mistakenly) worried that the National Front and/or British National Party might make ground in 1983. Perhaps the Tories have simply moved onto much of that turf now, albeit with less visceral policies. I’m not so sure that Theresa May will achieve a 1983 Maggie style result – certainly the polls are less clear (or less trusted) in 2017. For sure all the main parties have put up dreadful campaigns in 2017 – I didn’t feel that way in 1983 – the Tories at least seemed like an unstoppable election machine back then.

Before I looked at the relevant page in my 1983 diary, I would have sworn that I remembered following election night in Liza O’Connor’s Rectory Road Shelton digs with a mixture of my Keele friends and Liza’s North Staffs Poly art & design flatmates.

But it wasn’t quite like that and now I do remember.

Thing was, I was bang slap in the middle of my Part One law degree finals.

As I now recall it, I had voted by post in my parent’s constituency (Streatham) where we felt that there was a chance that Labour might win, whereas John Golding (for whom even then I would have struggled to hold my nose and vote) had a safe as houses seat in Newcastle-Under-Lyme. My Streatham plan didn’t work in 1983 – by the time Streatham switched from Tory to Labour in 1992, I was voting in Kensington North.

Now, through boundary changes, my constituency is Kensington, with a Brexity Tory MP in a strongly non-Brexit but utterly safe seat. I’m finding it hard to hold my nose and vote for anyone today, but of course I shall and it won’t be for Lady Brexit-Borwick.

My 9 June 1983 diary note is quite pithy:

Did some work in day. Jon, Simon & Vince came to Rectory Road for tea – we came back to Keele in eve. Panicy.

“Jon” is Jon Gorvett, “Simon” is Simon Jacobs, “Vince” is Vince Beasley.

So my abiding memory of sitting around for hours debating politics with those people was correct – but it was during the day, not election night.

The reason I was “panicy”/panicky was because I had a couple of part one finals papers the very next day. I suspect that the others had finished their finals exams by then. Jon might remember his circumstances. Simon always claims to remember nothing at all.

So I think we held our 1983 election post mortem…pre mortem. I remember debating what next and all that sort of post mortem stuff.

So in 1983 we really knew (or thought we really knew) the result before polls closed – we just wondered exactly how bad it was going to be.

Political life doesn’t feel so certain to me now. Is that my age/experience showing or does that tell us more about the political age we now live in?

Thanks for triggering the memories, Jon Gorvett.

Comments on Ogblog pieces are always welcome but especially so on this piece.