United Kingdom general election, 1931
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The United Kingdom general election on Tuesday 27 October 1931 was an overwhelming landslide for the Conservative Party which won 470 seats. The Labour party suffered its greatest defeat, losing 80% of its seats. The Liberals continued to shrink, and now they split in three parts that never reunited. The National Liberal faction was part of the governing coalition. Bulmer-Thomas says the results “were the most astonishing in the history of the British party system.”
It was the last election where one party (the Conservatives) received an absolute majority of the votes cast.
The 1931 general election was the first to be held since the onset of the Great Depression, and by 1931 Ramsay MacDonald's Labour government had reached a deadlock over a response to the crisis. Influential members of the Labour Cabinet, such as Arthur Henderson, were not willing to support the budget cuts advised by the civil service, while the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Snowden refused to consider deficit spending or tariffs. MacDonald was then encouraged to form an all-party National Government to deal with the financial crisis.
MacDonald's decision before the election to form a coalition with the Conservatives saw him expelled from the Labour Party. He was replaced as leader by Henderson. MacDonald and a small group of supporters then formed National Labour. The Labour split persuaded MacDonald that a quick election was necessary.
The Liberals opposed the calling of an election and Liberal leader David Lloyd George urged his colleagues to withdraw from the National Government. However, the majority of Liberals, led by Sir Herbert Samuel decided to remain within it. Complicating matters further a group of Liberal MPs emerged as the "Liberal Nationals" who urged full support for the National Government and expressed a willingness to fill any vacancies created by the resignations of other Liberals and maintain the multi-party nature of the government.
A main issue was the Conservatives' wish to introduce protectionist trade policies. This not only divided the government from the opposition but also divided the parties in the National Government. The Liberal Nationals under Sir John Simon supported the Conservative protectionist trade policies. The Liberals led by Samuel and Lloyd George campaigned in defence of free trade.
In the event, the Labour vote fell sharply, and the National Government won a landslide majority. Although the overwhelming majority of the Government MPs were Conservatives under the leadership of Stanley Baldwin, Ramsay MacDonald remained Prime Minister in the new National government. The Liberals lacked the funds to contest the full range of seats, but still won almost as many constituencies as the Labour Party.
|UK General Election 1931|
|Party||Standing||Elected||Gained||Unseated||Net||% of total||%||No.||Net %|
|Liberal National||41||35||10||3||+ 7||5.7||3.7||761,705||N/A|
|National Labour||20||13||3||5||– 2||2.1||1.5||316,741||N/A|
|National Government (total)||694||554||239||21||+ 218||90.1||67.2||13,902,232|
|Ind. Labour Party||19||3||0||6||– 6||0.5||1.2||239,280||N/A|
|Other unendorsed Labour||6||3||0||1||– 1||0.5||0.3||64,549||N/A|
|Labour total||516||52||0||213||– 213||8.5||30.6||6,339,306||– 6.5|
|'Independent' Liberals||6||4||4||0||+ 4||0.7||0.5||103,528||N/A|
|Nationalist (NI)||3||2||0||1||– 1||0.3||0.4||72,530||+0.3|
|New Party||24||0||0||4||– 4||0||0.2||36,377||N/A|
|Independent Labour||2||0||0||1||– 1||0||0.1||18,200||0.0|
|Scottish Prohibition||1||0||0||1||– 1||0||0.1||16,114||0.0|
Note: Seat changes are compared with the dissolution and are based on "The Times House of Commons 1931" p. 134-6 with revisions from F. W. S. Craig.
Results by constituency
These are available at the PoliticsResources website, a link to which is given below.
- Ivor Bulmer-Thomas, The Growth of the British Party System Volume II 1924-1964 (1967) p 76
- Ball, Stuart. Baldwin and the Conservative Party: The Crisis of 1929-31 (Yale University Press, 1988)
- Bulmer-Thomas, Ivor. The Growth of the British Party System Volume II 1924-1964 (1967) pp. 68-82
- F. W. S. Craig, British Electoral Facts: 1832-1987
- Thorpe, Andrew. The British General Election of 1931 (Oxford, 1991)
- 1931 election results by constituency
- 1931 Conservative manifesto
- 1931 Labour manifesto
- 1931 Liberal manifesto