1955 United Kingdom general election

1955 United Kingdom general election

← 1951 26 May 1955 1959 →

All 630 seats in the House of Commons
316 seats needed for a majority
Opinion polls
Turnout 76.8%, Decrease5.8%
  First party Second party Third party
  Anthony Eden (retouched).jpg Clement Attlee.jpg Clement Davies.jpg
Leader Sir Anthony Eden Clement Attlee Clement Davies
Party Conservative Labour Liberal
Leader since 7 April 1955 25 October 1935 2 August 1945
Leader's seat Warwick & Leamington Walthamstow West Montgomeryshire
Last election 321 seats, 48.0% 295 seats, 48.8% 6 seats, 2.5%
Seats won 345 277 6
Seat change Increase23 Decrease18 Steady
Popular vote 13,310,891 12,405,254 722,402
Percentage 49.7% 46.4% 2.7%
Swing Increase1.7% Decrease2.4% Increase0.2%

UK General Election, 1955.svg
Colours denote the winning party—as shown in § Results

Composition of the Commons in 1955.svg
Composition of the House of Commons after the election

Prime Minister before election

Sir Anthony Eden
Conservative

Prime Minister after election

Sir Anthony Eden
Conservative

The 1955 United Kingdom general election was held on Thursday 26 May 1955, four years after the previous general election. It resulted in a substantially increased majority of 60 seats for the Conservative government under new leader and Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden; the result remains the largest party share of the vote at a post-war general election.

The 1955 general election remains the most recent occasion that the Conservative Party won the most seats in Scotland, winning a majority of the popular vote in that country. No party has since won a majority of the votes in Scotland, though the Scottish National Party came very close in 2015. This was also the last time the Conservatives did better in Scotland than in the United Kingdom as a whole (they did even better in England alone).

Results

The election was fought on new boundaries, with five seats added to the 625 fought in 1951. On election day, the Daily Mirror had printed the front-page headline "Don't Let The Tories Cheat Our Children", urging its readers to elect Labour on the basis that it had "built a better Britain for us all" (Daily Mirror 2012).

The BBC later described the election as one of the "dullest" after World War 2.[1] The Daily Express wrote that the British people were more interested in Princess Margaret's romance with Peter Townsend.[2] The Labour Party, then in its twentieth year of leadership under Clement Attlee, steadily lost ground owing to infighting between the left-wing (Bevanites) and the right-wing (Gaitskellites), resulting in an unclear election message. It was the fifth and last general election fought by Labour leader Clement Attlee, who by this time was 72 years old. Eden had only become Leader of the Conservative Party a few weeks before the election, after the retirement of former Prime Minister Winston Churchill, but he had long been considered the heir apparent to the Conservative leadership. The Conservatives were hoping to take advantage of the end of food rationing and the positive atmosphere created by the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. Eden himself was telegenic (although not as great a public speaker as Churchill) and gradual economic growth benefited the party greatly.[1]

The result showed very little change from 1951, with fewer than 25 seats changing hands and only a small swing from Labour to the Conservatives. The only real highlight of the night was in Northern Ireland, where Sinn Féin won two seats at a UK election for the first time since 1918 (before the partition of Ireland).

The Labour Party suffered at this time from deep internal divisions, yet for it this election was not the disaster it could have been.

Although little changed, this was a strong victory for the Conservatives, who won the largest share of the vote for a single party at a post-war general election.

The Liberal Party had yet another poor performance, only slightly improving their popular vote total from the previous election, and again winning just six seats. Five of their six seats did not have Conservative challengers, as per local-level agreements to avoid vote-splitting which likely would have thrown the seats to Labour; the only Liberal candidate to be victorious against both Conservative and Labour challengers was Orkney and Shetland MP Jo Grimond, who was first elected in 1950. The poor national showing was widely viewed as the death knell for the embattled leadership of Clement Davies, who resigned the following year and was replaced by Grimond.

Future Labour leader Michael Foot lost his seat of Plymouth Devonport at this election; he returned for Ebbw Vale at a 1960 by-election.

For the first time, television took a prominent role in the campaign; this is the earliest UK general election of which television coverage survives (the 1950 and 1951 election nights were broadcast on television live, but the footage was not recorded). Only three hours of the coverage, presented by Richard Dimbleby, was kept; this was rebroadcast on BBC Parliament on the fiftieth and sixtieth anniversaries of the date of the election.

345 277 6 2
Conservative Labour Lib O
UK General Election 1955
Candidates Votes
Party Leader Stood Elected Gained Unseated Net % of total % No. Net %
  Conservative Anthony Eden 624 345 22 3 +23 54.8 49.7 13,310,891 +1.7
  Labour Clement Attlee 620 277 4 21 −18 44.0 46.4 12,405,254 −2.4
  Liberal Clement Davies 110 6 0 0 0 1.0 2.7 722,402 +0.2
  Sinn Féin Paddy McLogan 12 2 2 0 +2 0.3 0.6 152,310 +0.5
  Plaid Cymru Gwynfor Evans 11 0 0 0 0 0.2 45,119 +0.2
  Independent N/A 8 0 0 0 0 0.2 43,791 +0.1
  Communist Harry Pollitt 17 0 0 0 0 0.1 33,144 0.0
  Irish Labour William Norton 1 0 0 1 −1 0.1 16,050 0.0
  Independent Labour N/A 2 0 0 0 0 0.1 15,322 N/A
  SNP Robert McIntyre 2 0 0 0 0 0.1 12,112 0.0
  Ind. Labour Party Annie Maxton 2 0 0 0 0 0.0 3,334 0.0
All parties shown. [a]
Government's new majority 60
Total votes cast 26,759,729
Turnout 76.8%

Votes summary

Popular vote
Conservative and Unionist
49.74%
Labour
46.36%
Liberal
2.70%
Others
1.20%

Seats summary

Parliamentary seats
Conservative and Unionist
54.76%
Labour
43.97%
Liberal
0.95%
Sinn Féin
0.32%

Selected declarations

Transfers of seats

  • All comparisons are with the 1951 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 1955. Such circumstances are marked with a †. The parliament of 1951–55 only saw one by-election where a seat changed hands (Sunderland South), and unusually this was a gain for the party in government.
From To No. Seats
Labour Labour (HOLD) many Ashfield (replaced Broxtowe), Barons Court (replaced Hammersmith South), Blackburn (replaced Blackburn East), Fulham (replaced Fulham East), Glasgow Provan (replaced Glasgow Camlachie), Hackney Central (replaced Hackney South), Kingston upon Hull West (replaced Kingston upon Hull Central), Manchester Openshaw (replaced Droylsden), Midlothian (replaced Midlothian and Peebles), Nottingham North (replaced Nottingham East), Nottingham West (replaced Nottingham North West), Reading (replaced Reading South), Walsall North (replaced Walsall), et al.
Liberal National 2 Bradford West (replaced Bradford Central), Plymouth Devonport
Conservative 19 Ayrshire Central, Carlisle, Ealing North, Gloucestershire South, Gravesend, Halifax, Hornchurch, Leeds North East, Liverpool Kirkdale, Maldon, Nottingham Central, Nottingham South, Preston South, Southampton Test, Sunderland South†, Walthamstow East, Wandsworth Central, Watford, The Wrekin
abolished 6 Birmingham Erdington, Fulham West, Glasgow Tradeston, Leeds Central, Manchester Clayton, Sheffield Neepsend
Irish Labour UUP 1 Belfast West
Nationalist Sinn Féin 1 Fermanagh and South Tyrone2
Independent Republican 1 Mid Ulster1
Liberal Liberal (HOLD) 6 Bolton West, Cardiganshire, Carmarthen, Huddersfield West, Montgomery, Orkney and Shetland
Liberal National Liberal National (HOLD) 17 Angus North and Mearns, Angus South, Bedfordshire South, Bradford North, Denbigh, Dumfriesshire, Fife East, Harwich, Holland with Boston, Huntingdonshire, Luton, Newcastle upon Tyne North, Norfolk Central, Renfrewshire West, Ross and Cromarty, St Ives, Torrington
Conservative Labour 4 Bristol North West, Glasgow Govan, Norfolk South West, Romford
Conservative (HOLD) many Birmingham Selly Oak (replaced Birmingham King's Norton), Croydon NE (replaced Croydon East), Croydon NW (replaced Croydon North), Croydon South (replaced Croydon West), Howden (replaced Beverley), Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (replaced Roxburgh and Selkirk), Stroud (replaced Stroud & Thornbury), et al.
Speaker Cirencester and Tewkesbury*
abolished 2 Blackburn West, Leeds North, Reading North
UUP UUP 9 North Antrim, South Antrim, Armagh, Belfast East, Belfast North, Belfast South, Down North, Down South, Londonderry
Seat created Labour 5 Birmingham All Saints, Erith and Crayford, Feltham, Leeds East, Meriden
Seat created Conservative 9 Chigwell, Eastleigh, Essex South East, Glasgow Craigton, Hertfordshire East, Nantwich, Rye, Surbiton, Walsall South

See also

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