United Kingdom general election, 1951
All 625 seats in the House of Commons
313 seats needed for a majority
Colours denote the winning party, as shown in the main table of results. (Map does not show results in Northern Ireland)
|1945 election • MPs|
|1950 election • MPs|
|1951 election • MPs|
|1955 election • MPs|
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.
Clement Attlee had decided to call the election after the King's concerns over leaving the country to go on his Commonwealth tour in 1952 with a government that had such a slim majority, that there was danger of a change of government in his absence. (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.
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. As for the Liberals, the poor election results in 1950 only worsened.
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.
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 had 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. It should also be noted that 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 at the 1874 election.
|Party||Leader||Standing||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||562||302||20||1||+ 19||48.32||44.27||12,659,712|
|National Liberal||James Stuart||55||191||3||0||+ 3||3.041||3.701||1,058,1381|
|Liberal||Clement Davies||109||6||1||4||− 3||0.96||2.55||730,546|
|Irish Labour||William Norton||1||1||1||0||+ 1||0.16||0.12||33,174|
|Plaid Cymru||Gwynfor Evans||4||0||0||0||0||0.00||0.04||10,920|
|Ind. Labour Party||Fred Barton||3||0||0||0||0||0.00||0.014||4,057|
|British Empire||P. J. Ridout||1||0||0||0||0||0.00||0.006||1,643|
|United Socialist||Guy Aldred||1||0||0||0||0||0.00||0.001||411|
Total votes cast: 28,596,594. All parties shown. Conservative result includes the Ulster Unionists.
1 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|
Headline Swing: 1.13% to Conservative
Transfers of seats
- All comparisons are with the 1950 election.
- No seats changed hands during the 1950-51 parliament.
- Conservative 246 (35.2%), Unionist 26 (3.5%), National Liberal 16 (3.4%), UUP 10 (1.2%)
- Conservative 302 (44.3%), National Liberal 19 (3.7%)
- Judd, Dennis (2012). George VI. I.B. Tauris (paperback). p. 238. ISBN 978-1-78076-071-1. Judd writes that Attlee confirmed the king's anxiety in his own autobiography.
- Kynaston, David (2009). Family Britain 1951-7. London: Bloomsbury. p. 32. ISBN 9780747583851.
- "UK | UK Politics | The Basics | past_elections | 1951: Churchill back in power at last". BBC News. 2005-04-05. Retrieved 2013-10-05.
- "General Election Results 1885-1979". Election.demon.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-10-05.
- David E, Butler The British General Election of 1951 (1952). the standard study
- F. W. S. Craig, British Electoral Facts: 1832–1987
- United Kingdom election results - summary results 1885–1979