IN 1983 Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was riding a wave of personal popularity.

But during the first few years of her premiership things were not as rosy – with a recession and high unemployment leading to civil disorder which culminated in the Brixton riots of April 1981.

Yet, the as recession started to abate and, buoyed by a decisive victory over Argentina in the Falklands War, her popularity boomed.

On the other side of the Commons was Labour leader Michael Foot who proposed a number of radical left wing policies including nuclear disarmament, leaving the Common Market, the abolition of the House of Lords and the removal of Cruise missiles from Britain.

It would later be dubbed by then shadow minister Gerald Kaufman as “the longest suicide note in history”.

Salisbury Journal:

Meanwhile, a split from the Labour Party by the centralist Gang of Four – Roy Jenkins, David Owen, Bill Rodgers and Shirley Williams – to create the SDP, led to an alliance with the Liberal party.

Before the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands the Alliance was polling at above 50 per cent which led leader David Steel to say: “Go back to your constituencies and prepare for government”. But, as the UK’s economy began to prosper, support for the Alliance began to dwindle.

In Salisbury long-term MP Michael Hamilton was retiring after 18 years and in his place as Conservative candidate was 38- year-old Robert Key from Landford, who, as the son of a former Bishop of Sherborne, was an old boy of both Leaden Hall and Cathedral School.

Against him would be businessman John Lakeman who would be standing for his fourth consecutive election as Liberal candidate and Labour housewife Celia Lamberth.

In a hustings ahead of the election the candidates clashed over the nuclear deterrent and grammar schools. Mr Key said: “I believe people will continue to rely on traditional systems.

“They know that Conservatives will not gamble with the nation’s defences.”

Mrs Lamberth responded: “We want to be strong enough to counter attack with conventional weapons, not nuclear arms.”

The Liberal and Labour candidates also attacked Mr Key over his support of the grammar school system.

On the eve of the election Salisbury was gripped by the visit of the Prime Minister who spent the day touring the city.

Mrs Thatcher met workers at UK Provident headquarters and 5,000 people packed the Guildhall Square to hear her speak.

Salisbury Journal:

At the end of her tour Mrs Thatcher told the Journal: “I loved the reception. I decided to come to Salisbury after Robert Key was sitting next to me at the candidates’ dinner.

“I said ‘all right, we have not been to that part of the country yet’. I didn’t only come for Robert, but because it’s a marvellous place to come to, with its beautiful market place.”

On Election Day Mr Key was triumphantly elected to Westminster with an increased majority of 7,174 despite Liberal candidate Mr Lakeman increasing his share of the vote for the fourth consecutive election.

“The result is exactly what I hoped for,” said Mr Key. “We have increased our majority from 6,244 to 7,174 – now watch us increase it again next time.”

With a return to tradition, Mr Key went to the balcony of the White Hart the next morning to give a rendition of The Vly Be On The Turmut – for the first time since the night-time count was introduced – to a crowd of jubilant Tory supporters.

Nationally, Mrs Thatcher crushed her left wing opposition with a landslide majority of 144 seats with Labour gaining their worst share of the vote since 1918.

Salisbury Journal: