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1922 United Kingdom general election
All 615 seats in the House of Commons
308 seats needed for a majority
Colours denote the winning party—as shown in § Results
The 1922 United Kingdom general election was held on Wednesday 15 November 1922. It was won by the Conservative Party, led by Bonar Law, which gained an overall majority over the Labour Party, led by J. R. Clynes, and a divided Liberal Party.
This election is considered one of political realignment, with the Liberal Party falling to third-party status. The Conservative Party went on to spend all but eight of the next forty-two years as the largest party in Parliament, and Labour emerged as the main competition to the Conservatives.
The election was not held in Southern Ireland due to the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in December 1921, under which Southern Ireland seceded from the United Kingdom and became a Dominion, formally recognized as the Irish Free State. This reduced the size of the House of Commons by nearly one hundred seats compared to the previous election.
The Liberal Party had divided into the "National Liberals" led by David Lloyd George, who had been ousted as Prime Minister the previous month, and the "Liberals" led by previous Prime Minister H. H. Asquith. The Conservatives had, until October 1922, been in coalition with a faction of the Liberals (that which later became the National Liberals) led by Lloyd George, at which point Bonar Law had formed a Conservative majority government.
Although still leader of the Liberal Party and a frequent public speaker, former Prime Minister Asquith was no longer a particularly influential figure in the national political debate, and he had played no part in the downfall of the Lloyd George coalition. Most attention was focused on the new and most recent Prime Ministers. Asquith's daughter Violet Bonham-Carter, a prominent Liberal Party campaigner, likened the election to a contest between a man with sleeping sickness (Bonar Law) and a man with St Vitus Dance (Lloyd George).
Some Lloyd George National Liberals were not opposed by Conservative candidates (e.g. Winston Churchill, who was defeated at Dundee nonetheless), while many leading Conservatives (e.g. former leaders Arthur Balfour and Sir Austen Chamberlain, and former Lord Chancellor Lord Birkenhead) were not members of Bonar Law's government, and hoped to hold the balance of power after the election (comparisons were made with the Peelite group—the ousted Conservative front bench of the late 1840s and 1850s); this was not to be, as Bonar Law won an overall majority.
It was the first election at which Labour surpassed the combined strength of both Liberal parties in votes and seats.
Some Liberal candidates stood calling for a reunited Liberal Party, while others appear to have backed both Asquith and Lloyd George. Few sources are able to agree on exact numbers, and even in contemporary records held by the two groups, some MPs were claimed for both sides. By one estimate, there were 29 seats where Liberals stood against one another. This is thought to have cost them at least 14 seats, 10 of them to Labour, so in theory a reunited Liberal Party would have been much closer to, and perhaps even ahead of, Labour in terms of seats. However, in reality the two factions were on poor terms, and Lloyd George was still hoping for a renewed coalition with the Conservatives.
Neither of the leaders of the two main parties succeeded in enjoying their achievement in the election for very long; within less than a month of the election, Clynes was defeated in a leadership challenge by former Labour leader Ramsay MacDonald, while Bonar Law would only last a little over seven months as Prime Minister before being forced to step down due to a terminal illness, resulting in Stanley Baldwin succeeding him as both party leader and Prime Minister. As a result, Bonar Law was the shortest-serving UK Prime Minister of the twentieth century.
The Conservative Party offered continuity to the electorate. Bonar Law's election address stated:
The crying need of the nation have this moment ... Is that we should have tranquility and stability both at home and abroad so that the free scope should be given to the initiative and enterprise of our own citizens, for it is in that way, far more than by any action of the Government that we can hope to recover from the economic and social results of the war.
The Labour Party proposed to nationalise the mines and railways, to impose a levy on financial capital, and to revise the peace treaties. It promised a higher standard of living for workers, higher wages, and better housing.
|Party||Leader||Stood||Elected||Gained||Unseated||Net||% of total||%||No.||Net %|
|Labour||J. R. Clynes||414||142||91||6||+85||23.1||29.7||4,076,665||+8.9|
|Liberal||H. H. Asquith||334||62||44||21||+23||10.1||18.9||2,601,486||+5.9|
|National Liberal||David Lloyd George||155||53||9||80||−71||8.6||9.9||1,355,366||−2.7|
|Scottish Prohibition||Edwin Scrymgeour||1||1||1||0||+1||0.17||0.1||16,289||+0.1|
|Irish Nationalist||Joseph Devlin||2||1||0||0||0||0.2||0.1||12,614||N/A|
|Anti-Parliamentary Communist||Guy Aldred||1||0||0||0||0||0.0||470||N/A|
Transfers of seats
- All comparisons are with the 1918 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 1922. Such circumstances are marked with a †.
- †1 MP elected as an Anti-Waste League candidate at a 1921 by-election, but moved to the Conservatives for the 1922 election
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