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United Kingdom general election, 1955

The 1955 United Kingdom general election was held on 26 May 1955, four years after the previous general election. It resulted in a substantially increased majority of 60 for the Conservative government under new leader and prime minister Sir Anthony Eden against the Labour Party, then in its twentieth year of leadership by Clement Attlee.

United Kingdom general election, 1955

← 1951 26 May 1955 1959 →

All 630 seats in the House of Commons
316 seats needed for a majority
Opinion polls
Turnout 76.8%, Decrease5.8%

  First party Second party Third party
  Sir Anthony-Eden number 10 Official.jpg Clement Attlee.jpg Clement Davies.jpg
Leader Sir Anthony Eden Clement Attlee Clement Davies
Party Conservative Labour Liberal
Leader since 7 April 1955 25 October 1935 2 August 1945
Leader's seat Warwick & Leamington Walthamstow West Montgomeryshire
Last election 321 seats, 48.0% 295 seats, 48.8% 6 seats, 2.5%
Seats won 345 277 6
Seat change Increase23 Decrease18 Steady
Popular vote 13,310,891 12,405,254 722,402
Percentage 49.7% 46.4% 2.7%
Swing Increase1.7% Decrease2.4% Increase0.2%

UK General Election, 1955.svg
Colours denote the winning party—as shown in § Results

Prime Minister before election

Sir Anthony Eden
Conservative

Appointed Prime Minister

Sir Anthony Eden
Conservative

This general election has since been described by many as one of the "dullest" post-war elections, because there was little change in the country,[clarification needed] with Labour steadily losing ground owing to infighting between the left (Bevanites) and the right (Gaitskellites). This resulted in an unclear election message from the Labour Party. It was the fifth and last general election fought by Labour leader Clement Attlee, who by this time was 72. Eden had only become leader of the Conservative Party a few weeks before the election, after the retirement of Winston Churchill, but he had long been considered the heir apparent to the Conservative leadership. The Conservatives were hoping to take advantage of the end of food rationing and the good mood created by the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953. Eden himself was telegenic, although not a great public speaker, and gradual economic growth benefited the party greatly (BBC News 2005).

The 1955 election remains the last time the Conservative Party won the most seats in Scotland, and was also the last time it won the most Scottish seats of any unionist party until the 2017 election. After 1959, Labour established itself as the dominant party in Scotland at UK general elections, a position it maintained until the rise of the pro-independence Scottish National Party at the 2015 election.

For the first time, television took a prominent role in the campaign; this is the earliest UK general election of which television coverage survives (the 1950 and 1951 election nights were not recorded). Only three hours of the coverage, presented by Richard Dimbleby, was kept; this was rebroadcast on BBC Parliament on the 50th and 60th anniversaries of the date of the election.

On election day, the Daily Mirror had printed the front-page headline "Don't Let The Tories Cheat Our Children", urging its readers to elect Labour on the basis that it had "built a better Britain for us all" (Daily Mirror 2012).

Contents

ResultsEdit

This election was fought on new boundaries, with five seats added to the 625 fought in 1951.

The result showed very little change from 1951, with fewer than 25 seats changing hands and only a small swing from Labour to the Conservatives.

The only real highlight of the night was in Northern Ireland, where Sinn Féin won two seats in a British election for the first time since 1918 (before the partition of Ireland).

The Labour Party suffered at this time from deep divisions, yet for it this election was not the disaster it could have been.

Although little changed, this was a strong victory for the Conservatives, who won the largest share of the vote for a single party in a post-war general election.

The Liberal Party had yet another poor performance, only slightly improving their popular vote total from the previous election, and again winning just six seats. Five of their six seats did not have Conservative challengers, as per local-level agreements to avoid vote-splitting which likely would have thrown the seats to Labour; the only Liberal candidate to be victorious against both Conservative and Labour challengers was Orkney and Shetland MP Jo Grimond. The poor national showing was widely viewed as the death knell for the embattled leadership of Clement Davies, who resigned the following year and was replaced by Grimond.

Future Labour leader Michael Foot lost his seat of Plymouth Devonport at this election; he returned for Ebbw Vale in a 1960 by-election.

345 277 6 2
Conservative Labour Lib O
UK General Election 1955
Candidates Votes
Party Leader Stood Elected Gained Unseated Net % of total % No. Net %
  Conservative Anthony Eden 624 345 +23 54.8 49.7 13,310,891 +1.7
  Labour Clement Attlee 620 277 1 19 −18 44.0 46.4 12,405,254 −2.4
  Liberal Clement Davies 110 6 0 0 0 1.0 2.7 722,402 +0.2
  Sinn Féin Paddy McLogan 12 2 2 0 +2 0.3 0.6 152,310 +0.5
  Plaid Cymru Gwynfor Evans 11 0 0 0 0 0.2 45,119 +0.2
  Independent N/A 8 0 0 0 0 0.2 43,791 +0.1
  Communist Harry Pollitt 17 0 0 0 0 0.1 33,144 0.0
  Irish Labour William Norton 1 0 0 1 −1 0.1 16,050 0.0
  Independent Labour N/A 2 0 0 0 0 0.1 15,322 N/A
  SNP Robert McIntyre 2 0 0 0 0 0.1 12,112 0.0
  Ind. Labour Party Annie Maxton 2 0 0 0 0 0.0 3,334 0.0
All parties shown.[a]
Government's new majority 60
Total votes cast 26,759,729
Turnout 76.8%

Votes summaryEdit

Popular vote
Conservative and Unionist
49.7%
Labour
46.4%
Liberal
2.7%
Independent
0.2%
Others
1.0%

Seats summaryEdit

Parliamentary seats
Conservative and Unionist
54.8%
Labour
44.0%
Liberal
1.0%
Sinn Féin
0.3%

Selected declarationsEdit

Transfers of seatsEdit

  • All comparisons are with the 1951 election.
    • In some cases the change is due to the MP defecting to the gaining party. Such circumstances are marked with a *.
    • In other circumstances the change is due to the seat having been won by the gaining party in a by-election in the intervening years, and then retained in 1955. Such circumstances are marked with a †. The parliament of 1951–55 only saw one by-election where a seat changed hands (Sunderland South), and unusually this was a gain for the party in government.
From To No. Seats
Labour Labour (HOLD) many Ashfield (replaced Broxtowe), Barons Court (replaced Hammersmith South), Blackburn (replaced Blackburn East), Fulham (replaced Fulham East), Glasgow Provan (replaced Glasgow Camlachie), Hackney Central (replaced Hackney South), Hull West (replaced Hull Central), Manchester Openshaw (replaced Droylsden), Midlothian (replaced Midlothian and Peebles), Nottingham North (replaced Nottingham East), Nottingham West (replaced Nottingham North West), Reading (replaced Reading South), Walsall North (replaced Walsall), et al.
Liberal National 2 Bradford West (replaced Bradford Central), Plymouth Devonport
Conservative 19 Ayrshire Central, Carlisle, Ealing North, Gloucestershire South, Gravesend, Halifax, Hornchurch, Leeds North East, Liverpool Kirkdale, Maldon, Nottingham Central, Nottingham South, Preston South, Southampton Test, Sunderland South†, Walthamstow East, Wandsworth Central, Watford, The Wrekin
abolished 6 Birmingham Erdington, Fulham West, Glasgow Tradeston, Leeds Central, Manchester Clayton, Sheffield Neepsend
Irish Labour UUP 1 Belfast West
Nationalist Sinn Féin 1 Fermanagh and South Tyrone2
Independent Republican 1 Mid Ulster1
Liberal Liberal (HOLD) 6 Bolton West, Cardiganshire, Carmarthen, Huddersfield West, Montgomery, Orkney and Shetland
Liberal National Liberal National (HOLD) 17 Angus North and Mearns, Angus South, Bedfordshire South, Bradford North, Denbigh, Dumfriesshire, Fife East, Harwich, Holland with Boston, Huntingdonshire, Luton, Newcastle upon Tyne North, Norfolk Central, Renfrewshire West, Ross and Cromarty, St Ives, Torrington
Conservative Labour 4 Bristol North West, Glasgow Govan, Norfolk South West, Romford
Conservative (HOLD) many Birmingham Selly Oak (replaced Birmingham King's Norton), Croydon NE (replaced Croydon East), Croydon NW (replaced Croydon North), Croydon South (replaced Croydon West), Howden (replaced Beverley), Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (replaced Roxburgh and Selkirk), Stroud (replaced Stroud & Thornbury), et al.
Speaker Cirencester and Tewkesbury*
abolished 2 Blackburn West, Leeds North, Reading North
UUP UUP 9 North Antrim, South Antrim, Armagh, Belfast East, Belfast North, Belfast South, Down North, Down South, Londonderry
Seat created Labour 5 Birmingham All Saints, Erith and Crayford, Feltham, Leeds East, Meriden
Seat created Conservative 9 Chigwell, Eastleigh, Essex South East, Glasgow Craigton, Hertfordshire East, Nantwich, Rye, Surbiton, Walsall South
1 Sinn Féin winner overturned on petition for a criminal conviction. The second-placed Ulster Unionist candidate was also overturned by resolution of the House; eventually the 1956 by-election was held, which returned an Independent Unionist.
2 Sinn Féin winner overturned on petition for a criminal conviction. The second-placed candidate, an Ulster Unionist, was awarded the seat.

See alsoEdit

NotesEdit

  1. ^ Conservatives include 19 National Liberals and 10 Ulster Unionists.

ReferencesEdit

Further readingEdit

  • Butler, David E. (1956), The British General Election of 1955, the standard study 

External linksEdit