Labour Party (UK) deputy leadership election, 1981

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Labour Party (UK) deputy leadership election
United Kingdom
← 1980 27 September 1981 (1981-09-27) 1983 →
  Denis Healey.jpg Tony Benn2.jpg
Candidate Denis Healey Tony Benn John Silkin
First round total 45.4% 36.6% 18.0%
Second round total 50.4% 49.6%

Deputy Leader before election

Denis Healey

Elected Deputy Leader

Denis Healey

The 1981 Labour Party deputy leadership election took place on 27 September 1981 when Tony Benn unsuccessfully challenged the incumbent deputy leader Denis Healey at the party conference. Healey had been elected unopposed as deputy leader in the previous year.


As well as Healey and Benn, John Silkin also stood in the election. It was the first election to take place using the party's electoral college. At this time 40% of the votes were given to affiliated unions and societies, and 30% each to the Parliamentary Labour Party and the individual members and activists of the party. When this plurality in favour of the unions was first introduced, it received considerable criticism from the more social democratic wing of the party. Ironically it transpired that if the unions had had an equal share to the PLP and the membership then Healey's narrow majority would have been wiped out and the more left-wing Benn won the contest. The challenge for the deputy leadership of the party came a year after the election of Michael Foot as leader, which had seen the party shift to the left and resulted in a split which had created the SDP, who in turn had formed an alliance with the Liberal Party to appeal to centrist voters.


First round

Candidate Affiliated Constituency Parliamentary Total (%)
Denis Healey 24.696 5.367 15.306 45.369
Tony Benn 6.410 23.482 6.735 36.627
John Silkin 8.894 1.150 7.959 18.003
John Silkin eliminated

Second round

Candidate Affiliated Constituency Parliamentary Total (%)
Denis Healey 24.994 5.673 19.760 50.427
Tony Benn 15.006 24.327 10.240 49.573
Denis Healey re-elected