United Kingdom general election, 1959

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United Kingdom general election, 1959
United Kingdom
← 1955 8 October 1959 1964 →

All 630 seats in the House of Commons
316 seats needed for a majority
Turnout 78.7% (Increase1.9%)
  First party Second party Third party
  Harold Macmillan number 10 official.jpg Hugh Gaitskell 1958.jpg Jo Grimond.jpg
Leader Harold Macmillan Hugh Gaitskell Jo Grimond
Party Conservative Labour Liberal
Leader since 10 January 1957 14 December 1955 5 November 1956
Leader's seat Bromley Leeds South Orkney and Shetland
Last election 345 seats, 49.7% 277 seats, 46.4% 6 seats, 2.7%
Seats won 365 258 6
Seat change Increase 20 Decrease 19 0
Popular vote 13,750,875 12,216,172 1,640,760
Percentage 49.4% 43.8% 5.9%
Swing Decrease 0.3% Decrease 2.6% Increase 3.2%

UK General Election, 1959.svg
Colours denote the winning party, as shown in the main table of results.

PM before election

Harold Macmillan

Subsequent PM

Harold Macmillan

1951 election MPs
1955 election MPs
1959 election MPs
1964 election MPs

This United Kingdom general election was held on 8 October 1959. It marked a third consecutive victory for the ruling Conservative Party, now led by Harold Macmillan. The Conservatives increased their overall majority again, to 100 seats more than the Labour Party led by Hugh Gaitskell. However, despite this success, they failed to win the most seats in Scotland, and have not done so since, marking the beginning of Labour's solid control of Scottish seats at Westminster, until the rise of the Scottish National Party at the 2015 election.


Following the Suez Crisis in 1956, Anthony Eden the Conservative Prime Minister became unpopular and resigned early in 1957 and was succeeded by Harold Macmillan. At this stage, the Labour Party, with Hugh Gaitskell having taken over as leader from Clement Attlee following the 1955 general election, enjoyed large leads in opinion polls over the Conservative Party, and it looked as if they could win.[1]

The Liberal Party also had a new leader, Jo Grimond, meaning that all three parties would contest the election with a new leader at the helm.[1]

However, the Conservatives enjoyed an upturn in fortunes as the economy improved under Macmillan's leadership, and his personal approval ratings remained high. By September 1958, the Conservatives had moved ahead of Labour in the opinion polls.[1]


This would be the first general election in some time taking place after all of the three main parties changed leadership from the previous election. The Conservatives fought under the slogan "Life is better with the Conservatives, don't let Labour ruin it" and were aided by a pre-election economic boom. Macmillan very effectively "summed up" the mood of the British public when he said that most of the people had "never had it so good". Macmillan was very popular and was described as being a politician of the centre ground, he himself had once held a constituency in the North of England (Stockton-on-Tees) during the 1930s, which had experienced large scale unemployment and poverty. The first week of polling put the Tories comfortably ahead of Labour by over 5%, which narrowed as the election progressed. The Labour Party fought a generally effective campaign, with television broadcasts masterminded by Tony Benn under the umbrella of their manifesto entitled "Britain belongs to you", which accused the Tories of complacency over the growing gap between the rich and poor.[2] Hugh Gaitskell made a mistake by declaring that a Labour government would not raise taxes if it came to power. This was despite the fact that the Labour manifesto contained pledges to increase spending, especially with regard to raising pensions. This led voters to doubt Labour's spending plans, and is usually cited as a key reason for their defeat.[1]


Early on election night it became clear that the Conservative government had been returned with an increased majority. However, there were swings to Labour in parts of North West England, and in Scotland. For the 4th time in a row the Conservatives increased their number of seats at a general election, despite a slight drop in their share of the vote. For Labour the result was disappointing, despite appearing more united than they had in recent years under Gaitskell, the party had failed for the 3rd time to win an election. Future Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was elected for the first time in Finchley.

The Daily Mirror, despite being a staunch supporter of the Labour Party, wished Macmillan "good luck" on its front page after his win.

The BBC's election coverage, presented by Richard Dimbleby, was shown on BBC Parliament on 9 October 2009 to mark the 50th anniversary of the election.

365 258 6 1
Conservative Labour Lib O
UK General Election 1959
Candidates Votes
Party Leader Standing Elected Gained Unseated Net  % of total  % No. Net %
  Conservative Harold Macmillan 625 365 28 8 + 20 57.9 49.4 13,750,875
  Labour Hugh Gaitskell 621 258 9 28 − 19 41.0 43.8 12,216,172
  Liberal Jo Grimond 216 6 1 1 0 1.0 5.9 1,640,760
  Plaid Cymru Gwynfor Evans 20 0 0 0 0 0.3 77,571
  Sinn Féin Paddy McLogan 12 0 0 2 − 2 0.2 63,415
  Communist John Gollan 18 0 0 0 0 0.1 30,896
  SNP Jimmy Halliday 5 0 0 0 0 0.1 21,738
  Ind. Labour Group Frank Hanna 1 0 0 0 0 0.1 20,062
  Independent Conservative N/A 2 1 1 0 + 1 0.2 0.1 14,118
  Independent N/A 5 0 0 0 0 0.0 7,492
  Fife Socialist League Lawrence Daly 1 0 0 0 0 0.0 4,886
  Independent Liberal N/A 2 0 0 0 0 0.0 4,473
  Union Movement Oswald Mosley 1 0 0 0 0 0.0 2,821
  Lancastrian Tom Emmott 1 0 0 0 0 0.0 1,889
  National Labour John Bean 1 0 0 0 0 0.0 1,685
  Fellowship Ronald Mallone 1 0 0 0 0 0.0 1,189
  Ind. Labour Party Fred Morel 2 0 0 0 0 0.0 923
  Socialist (GB) None 1 0 0 0 0 0.0 899
  Alert Party George Forrester 1 0 0 0 0 0.0 788

All parties shown. Conservatives include the National Liberal Party, Scottish Unionist Party and Ulster Unionists.

Government's new majority 100
Total votes cast 27,862,652
Turnout 78.7%

Votes summary[edit]

Popular Vote
Conservative and Unionist

Headline Swing: 1.2% to Conservative

Seat summary[edit]

Parliamentary seats
Conservative and Unionist
Independent Conservative

Seats changing hands[edit]

All comparisons are with the 1955 election. National Liberal MPs are counted as Conservative.

Labour to Conservative (26 seats)[edit]

Seat Incumbent defeated
Reading Ian Mikardo
Derbyshire SE Arthur Champion
The Hartlepools D. T. Jones
Bristol North East William Coldrick
Bristol North West Thomas Christopher Boyd
Rochester and Chatham Arthur Bottomley
Clapham Charles Gibson
Barons Court Thomas Williams
Holborn and St Pancras South Lena Jeger
Wellingborough George Lindgren
Newcastle upon Tyne East Arthur Blenkinsop
Nottingham West Tom O'Brien
Brierley Hill Charles Simmons
Lowestoft Edward Evans
Birmingham All Saints Denis Howell
Birmingham Yardley Henry Usborne
Birmingham Sparkbrook none - existing MP stood down
Coventry South Elaine Burton
Rugby James Johnson
Meriden Reg Moss
Cleveland Arthur Palmer
Keighley Charles Hobson
Swansea West Percy Morris
Uxbridge Frank Beswick
Acton Joseph Sparks
Willesden East Maurice Orbach

Conservative to Labour (6 seats)[edit]

Seat Incumbent defeated Notes
Glasgow Scotstoun Sir James Hutchison, 1st Baronet
Lanark Patrick Maitland
Glasgow Craigton Jack Browne (Under-Secretary of State for Scotland)
Ayrshire Central Douglas Spencer-Nairn
Rochdale none - existing MP continued in post Gained by Labour in a 1958 by-election
Oldham East Sir Ian Horobin

Conservative to Liberal (1 seat)[edit]

Seat Incumbent defeated
Devon North James Lindsay

Liberal to Labour (1 seat)[edit]

Seat Incumbent defeated Notes
Carmarthen none - existing MP continued in post Gained by Labour in a 1957 by-election

Other (3 seats)[edit]

Seat Losing party Gaining party Incumbent defeated Notes
Mid Ulster Independent Unionist Ulster Unionist none - existing MP continued in post MP defected to Ulster Unionists, 1957
Caithness and Sutherland Conservative Independent Conservative none - existing MP continued in post MP resigned and successfully re-fought his seat as an independent
Cirencester and Tewkesbury Independent (Speaker of the House) Conservative none - existing MP stood down

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "1959 election". BBC. Retrieved 20 May 2013. 
  2. ^ "1959: Macmillan wins Tory hat trick". BBC News. 5 April 2005.