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United Kingdom general election, 1951

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The 1951 United Kingdom general election was held twenty months after the 1950 general election, which the Labour Party had won with a slim majority of just five seats. The Labour government called the general election for Thursday 25 October 1951 hoping to increase their parliamentary majority. However, despite winning the popular vote, the Labour Party was defeated by the Conservative Party who had won the most seats. This election marked the beginning of the Labour Party's thirteen-year spell in opposition, and the return of Winston Churchill as Prime Minister. Also, this was the final general election to be held with George VI as monarch; as he died the following year on 6 February, and was succeeded by his daughter, Elizabeth II.

United Kingdom general election, 1951

← 1950 25 October 1951 1955 →

All 625 seats in the House of Commons
313 seats needed for a majority
Opinion polls
Turnout 82.6%, Decrease1.3%
  First party Second party Third party
  Sir Winston Churchill - 19086236948 (cropped2).jpg Clement Attlee.jpg Clement Davies.jpg
Leader Winston Churchill Clement Attlee Clement Davies
Party Conservative Labour Liberal
Leader since 9 October 1940 25 October 1935 2 August 1945
Leader's seat Woodford Walthamstow West Montgomeryshire
Last election 298 seats, 43.4% 315 seats, 46.1% 9 seats, 9.1%
Seats won 321 295 6
Seat change Increase23 Decrease20 Decrease3
Popular vote 13,717,851 13,948,385 730,546
Percentage 48.0% 48.8% 2.5%
Swing Increase4.6% Increase2.7% Decrease6.6%

UK General Election, 1951.svg
Colours denote the winning party—as shown in § Results

Prime Minister before election

Clement Attlee
Labour

Appointed Prime Minister

Winston Churchill
Conservative

Contents

BackgroundEdit

Clement Attlee had decided to call the election after the King's concerns that, over leaving the country to go on his Commonwealth tour in 1952 with a government that had such a slim majority, there was danger of a change of government in his absence.[1] (As it transpired the King became too ill to travel and delegated the tour to his daughter Princess Elizabeth shortly before his death in February 1952.)

The Labour government, which by now had implemented most of its 1945 election manifesto, was now beginning to lose many cabinet ministers such as Ernest Bevin and Stafford Cripps due to old age. The Conservatives however, due to the previous year's election, appeared fresher, with more new MPs.

CampaignEdit

Labour's manifesto stated that the party "proud of its record, sure in its policies—confidently asks the electors to renew its mandate". It identified four key tasks facing the United Kingdom which it would tackle: the need to work for peace, the need to work to "maintain full employment and to increase production", the need to reduce cost of living, and the need to "build a just society". The manifesto argued that only a Labour government could achieve these tasks.[2] It also contrasted the Britain of 1951 with that of the interwar years (when there had largely been Conservative-led governments), saying this period saw "mass-unemployment; mass fear; mass misery".[3]

While Labour began to have some policy divisions during the election campaign, the Conservatives ran an efficient campaign that was well-funded and orchestrated. Their manifesto Britain Strong and Free stressed that safeguarding "our traditional way of life" was integral to the Conservative purpose. Significantly, they did not propose to dismantle the welfare state or the National Health Service which the Labour government had established.[4] The manifesto did however promise to to 'stop all further nationalisation' and to repeal the Steel Act introduced by the Labour Government.[5] As for the Liberals, the poor election results in 1950 only worsened.[6]

Four candidates were returned unopposed, all in Northern Ireland. This was the last general election in which any candidates were returned unopposed, although there have since been unopposed by-elections.[7]

The subsequent Labour defeat was significant for several reasons: the party polled almost a quarter of a million votes more than the Conservatives and their National Liberal allies combined, won the most votes that Labour has ever won (as of 2017) and won the most votes of any political party in any election in British political history, a record not surpassed until the Conservative Party's victory in 1992.

Despite this, it was the Conservatives who formed the next government with a majority of 17 seats. Under the first past the post electoral system, many Labour votes were "wasted" as part of large majorities for MPs in safe seats rather than into holding onto marginal seats.

Additionally most of Labour's overall popular vote margin can be accounted for as being the votes not polled by the Conservatives's Ulster Unionist allies in the four constituencies (all safe UUP seats) in which they were unopposed—the UUP would poll 166,400 votes in these four constituencies four years later.

This was the fourth of five elections in the twentieth century where a party lost the popular vote, but won the most seats. The others were January 1910, December 1910, 1929 and February 1974; it also happened in the 1874 election.

ResultsEdit

321 295 6 3
Conservative Labour Lib O
UK General Election 1951
Candidates Votes
Party Leader Stood Elected Gained Unseated Net % of total % No. Net %
  Labour Clement Attlee 617 295 2 22 −20 47.20 48.78 13,948,883
  Conservative Winston Churchill 617 321 23 1 +22 51.36 47.97 13,717,850
  Liberal Clement Davies 109 6 1 4 −3 0.96 2.55 730,546
  Independent Nationalist N/A 3 2 0 0 0 0.32 0.32 92,787
  Irish Labour William Norton 1 1 1 0 +1 0.16 0.12 33,174
  Communist Harry Pollitt 10 0 0 0 0 0.00 0.08 21,640
  Independent N/A 6 0 0 0 0 0.00 0.07 19,791
  Plaid Cymru Gwynfor Evans 4 0 0 0 0 0.00 0.04 10,920
  SNP Robert McIntyre 2 0 0 0 0 0.00 0.03 7,299
  Ind. Conservative N/A 1 0 0 0 0 0.00 0.02 5,904
  Ind. Labour Party Fred Barton 3 0 0 0 0 0.00 0.01 4,057
  British Empire P. J. Ridout 1 0 0 0 0 0.00 0.01 1,643
  Anti-Partition James McSparran 1 0 0 0 0 0.00 0.01 1,340
  United Socialist Guy Aldred 1 0 0 0 0 0.00 0.00 411

The National Liberals were in alliance with the Conservatives, bringing total Conservative strength to 321 seats (51.36%); votes total 13,717,850 (47.97%).

Government's new majority 17
Total votes cast 28,596,594
Turnout 82.6%

Votes summaryEdit

Popular vote
Labour
48.78%
Conservative
47.97%
Liberal
2.55%
Independent
0.43%
Others
0.26%

Seats summaryEdit

Parliamentary seats
Conservative
51.36%
Labour
47.20%
Liberal
0.96%
Others
0.48%

Transfers of seatsEdit

See alsoEdit

NotesEdit

  1. ^ All parties shown. Conservative result includes the Ulster Unionists.
  2. ^ No seats changed hands during the 1950–51 Parliament.

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Judd 2012, p. 238: Judd writes that Attlee confirmed the king's anxiety in his own autobiography.
  2. ^ The Times House of Commons 1951, London: The Times Office, 1951, p. 228 
  3. ^ The Times House of Commons 1951, London: The Times Office, 1951, p. 229 
  4. ^ Kynaston 2009, p. 32.
  5. ^ The Times House of Commons 1951, London: The Times Office, 1951, p. 234 
  6. ^ 1951: Churchill back in power at last, BBC News, 5 April 2005, retrieved 5 October 2013 
  7. ^ "General Election Results 1885–1979", election.demon.co.uk, retrieved 5 October 2013 

SourcesEdit

External linksEdit

Manifestos