United Kingdom general election, 1951

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United Kingdom general election, 1951
United Kingdom
← 1950 25 October 1951 1955 →

All 625 seats in the House of Commons
313 seats needed for a majority
Turnout 82.6% (Decrease1.3%)
  First party Second party Third party
  Winston Churchill cph.3a49758.jpg Attlee with GeorgeVI HU 59486 (cropped).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 Increase22 Decrease20 Decrease3
Popular vote 13,717,851 13,948,385 730,546
Percentage 48.0% 48.8% 2.5%
Swing Increase5.6% Increase2.7% Decrease6.6%

UK Election 1951 Map.png
Colours denote the winning party, as shown in the main table of results. (Map does not show results in Northern Ireland)

Prime Minister before election

Clement Attlee

Appointed Prime Minister

Winston Churchill

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.


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.[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.


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.[2] As for the Liberals, the poor election results in 1950 only worsened.[3]

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.[4]

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.


321 295 6 3
Conservative Labour Lib O
UK General Election 1951
Candidates Votes
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 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
  Independent 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

Total votes cast: 28,596,594. All parties shown. Conservative result includes the Ulster Unionists.

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 summary

Popular vote

Headline Swing: 1.13% to Conservative

Seats summary

Parliamentary seats

Transfers of seats

  • All comparisons are with the 1950 election.
  • No seats changed hands during the 1950-51 parliament.
From To No. Seats
Labour Labour (HOLD) many
Labour Liberal 1 Bolton West
Labour Conservative 21 Barry, Battersea South, Bedfordshire South, Berwick and East Lothian, Bolton East, Buckingham, Conway, Darlington, Doncaster, Dulwich, King's Lynn, Manchester Blackley, Middlesbrough West, Norfolk South West, Oldham East, Plymouth Sutton, Reading North, Rochdale, Rutherglen, Wycombe, Yarmouth
Irish Nationalist Irish Nationalist 1 Fermanagh and South Tyrone
Ind Republican Ind Republican 1 Mid Ulster
Liberal Labour 2 Anglesey, Meirioneth
Liberal Liberal (HOLD) 6 Bolton West, Cardiganshire, Carmarthen, Huddersfield West, Montgomery, Orkney and Shetland
Liberal Conservative 2 Eye, Roxburgh and Selkirk
Nat Liberal Nat Liberal (HOLD) 16 Angus North and Mearns, Angus South, Bedfordshire South, Bradford North, Denbigh, Dumfriesshire, Fife East, Harwich, Holland with Boston, Huntingdonshire, Luton, Norfolk Central, Renfrewshire West, Ross and Cromarty, St Ives, Torrington
Conservative Nat Liberal 1 Newcastle upon Tyne North
Conservative Conservative (HOLD) many
Speaker Conservative 1 Hexham
Ulster Unionist Irish Labour 1 Belfast West
Ulster Unionist Ulster Unionist 9 North Antrim, South Antrim, Armagh, Belfast East, Belfast North, Belfast South, Down North, Down South, Londonderry

See also


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ Kynaston, David (2009). Family Britain 1951-7. London: Bloomsbury. p. 32. ISBN 9780747583851. 
  3. ^ "UK | UK Politics | The Basics | past_elections | 1951: Churchill back in power at last". BBC News. 2005-04-05. Retrieved 2013-10-05. 
  4. ^ "General Election Results 1885-1979". Election.demon.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-10-05. 

Further reading

  • 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


  • CONSERVATIVE PARTY: 1951- 1951 Conservative manifesto.
  • Labour Party Election Manifesto - 1951 Labour Party manifesto.
  • The Nation's Task - 1951 Liberal Party manifesto.
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