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1980 Labour Party leadership election (UK)

1980 Labour Party leadership election
← 1976 4–10 November 1980 (1980-11-04 – 1980-11-10) 1983 →
  Michael Foot (1981).jpg Denis Healey.jpg
Candidate Michael Foot Denis Healey
First ballot 83 (31.3%) 112 (42.3%)
Second ballot 139 (51.9%) 129 (48.1%)

Candidate John Silkin Peter Shore
First ballot 38 (14.3%) 32 (12.1%)
Second ballot Eliminated Eliminated

Leader before election

James Callaghan

Elected Leader

Michael Foot

The 1980 Labour Party leadership election was held following the resignation of James Callaghan. Callaghan had been Prime Minister from 1976 to 1979 and had stayed on as leader of the Labour Party for eighteen months in order to oversee an orderly transition to his favoured successor, Denis Healey over his own deputy Michael Foot. However, during this period the party had become bogged down in internal arguments about its procedures and future direction.

Initially, the candidates were thought likely to be Denis Healey, Peter Shore and John Silkin, but Michael Foot was persuaded to stand by left-wingers who believed that only he could defeat Healey. In the event, Foot won by a margin of 10 votes in the final ballot of MPs. In 1998 Ivor Crewe and Anthony King revealed that at least five (unnamed) Labour MPs who defected to the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1981 deliberately voted for Foot in order to give the Labour Party a man whom they regarded as an ostensibly unelectable left-wing leader (although none of the SDP's founding "Gang of Four" did so).[1]



The result of the first ballot of Labour MPs on 4 November was as follows:[2]

First ballot: 4 November 1980
Candidate Votes %
Denis Healey 112 42.3
Michael Foot 83 31.3
John Silkin 38 14.3
Peter Shore 32 12.1
Majority 29 11.0
Turnout 265 N/A
Second ballot required

In the second ballot, held six days later, there was a run-off between Healey and Foot.[2]

Second ballot: 10 November 1980
Candidate Votes %
Michael Foot 139 51.9
Denis Healey 129 48.1
Majority 10 3.8
Turnout 268 N/A
Michael Foot elected

This was the last leadership election to be conducted amongst Members of Parliament only; an electoral college was introduced for future contests.


  1. ^ Crewe & King 1995, p. 74–75.
  2. ^ a b Crewe & King 1995, p. 73.


  • Crewe, Ivor; King, Anthony (1995). SDP: The Birth, Life and Death of the Social Democratic Party. New York: Oxford University Press. Retrieved 6 April 2015 – via Questia. ISBN 978-0-1982-8050-7
  • Butler, David; Butler, Gareth (2000). Twentieth-Century British Political Facts 1900–2000 (8th ed.). Macmillan Press. ISBN 978-0-3122-2947-4