1880 United Kingdom general election

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1880 United Kingdom general election
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg
  1874 31 March – 27 April 1880 (1880-03-31 1880-04-27) [1] 1885  

All 652 seats in the House of Commons
327 seats needed for a majority
 First partySecond partyThird party
  Photo of Spencer Cavendish, 8th Duke of Devonshire.jpg Benjamin Disraeli, 1878 (cropped).jpg No image.svg
Leader Spencer Cavendish Benjamin Disraeli William Shaw
Party Liberal Conservative Home Rule
Leader sinceJanuary 187527 February 1868May 1879
Leader's seat North East Lancashire House of Lords County Cork
Last election242 seats, 52.0%350 seats, 44.3%60 seats, 3.7%
Seats won35223763
Seat changeIncrease2.svg110Decrease2.svg113Increase2.svg3
Popular vote1,836,4231,426,34995,528

United Kingdom general election 1880.svg
Colours denote the winning party

Prime Minister before election

Earl of Beaconsfield

Prime Minister after the election

William Gladstone

The 1880 United Kingdom general election was a general election in the United Kingdom held from 31 March to 27 April 1880.


Its intense rhetoric was led by the Midlothian campaign of the Liberals, particularly the fierce oratory of Liberal leader William Gladstone. [2] He vehemently attacked the foreign policy of the government of Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield, as utterly immoral.

Liberals secured one of their largest-ever majorities, leaving the Conservatives a distant second. As a result of the campaign, the Liberal Commons leader, Spencer Cavendish and that in the Lords, Lord Granville, stood back in favour of Gladstone, who thus became Prime Minister a second time. It was the last general election in which any party other than the Conservatives won a majority of the votes (rather than a plurality).


A painting by Alfred George Palmer of election night outside Exeter Guildhall in the collection of the Royal Albert Memorial Museum (333/1997). The Guildhall on Election Night, 1880.jpg
A painting by Alfred George Palmer of election night outside Exeter Guildhall in the collection of the Royal Albert Memorial Museum (333/1997).

The Conservative government was doomed by the poor condition of the British economy and the vulnerability of its foreign policy to moralistic attacks by the Liberals. William Gladstone, appealing to moralistic evangelicals, led the attack on the foreign policy of Benjamin Disraeli (now known as Lord Beaconsfield) as immoral. [3] Historian Paul Smith paraphrases the rhetorical tone which focused on attacking "Beaconsfieldism" (in Smith's words) as a:

Sinister system of policy, which not merely involved the country in immoral, vainglorious and expensive external adventures, inimical to peace and to the rights of small peoples, but aimed at nothing less than the subversion of parliamentary government in favour of some simulacrum of the oriental despotism its creator was alleged to admire. [4]

Smith notes that there was indeed some substance to the allegations, but: "Most of this was partisan extravaganza, worthy of its target's own excursions against the Whigs." [5]

Crowds wait outside Leeds Town Hall to hear the result Leeds Town Hall, General Election results.jpg
Crowds wait outside Leeds Town Hall to hear the result

Disraeli himself was now the Earl of Beaconsfield in the House of Lords, and custom did not allow peers to campaign. His party was unable to deal effectively with the rhetorical onslaught. Although he had improved the organisation of the Conservative Party, Disraeli was firmly based in the rural gentry, and had little contact with or understanding of the urban middle class that was increasingly dominating his party.

Besides their trouble with foreign policy issues, it was even more important that the Conservatives were unable to effectively defend their economic record on the home front. The 1870s coincided with a long-term global depression caused by the collapse of the worldwide railway boom of the 1870s which previously had been so profitable to Britain. The stress was growing by the late 1870s; prices fell, profits fell, employment fell, and there was downward pressure on wage rates that caused much hardship among the industrial working class. The free trade system supported by both parties made Britain defenceless against the flood of cheap wheat from North America, which was exacerbated by the worst harvest of the century in Britain in 1879. The party in power got the blame, and Liberals repeatedly emphasised the growing budget deficit as a measure of bad stewardship. In the election itself, Disraeli's party lost heavily up and down the line, especially in Scotland and Ireland, and in the urban boroughs. His Conservative strength fell from 351 to 238, while the Liberals jumped from 250 to 353. Disraeli resigned on 21 April 1880. [6]


1880 UK parliament.svg
UK General Election 1880
StoodElectedGainedUnseatedNet % of total %No.Net %
  Liberal 499352+132-22+11053.9954.661,836,423+2.7
  Conservative 521237+20-13311336.3542.461,426,3511.8
  Home Rule 8163+6-3+39.662.8495,5350.9
  Independent 2000000.031,1070

Voting summary

Popular vote
Home Rule

Seats summary

Parliamentary seats
Home Rule

Regional results

Great Britain

United Kingdom general election 1885 (by country).svg
Largest party in each constituent country
PartySeatsSeats changeVotes % % change
Liberal 334Increase2.svg1041,780,17157.3Increase2.svg1.9
Lib-Lab 3Increase2.svg1
Conservative 214Decrease2.svg1051,326,74442.7Decrease2.svg1.9


PartySeatsSeats changeVotes % % change
Liberal 251Increase2.svg821,519,57656.2Increase2.svg2.4
Lib-Lab 3Increase2.svg1
Conservative 197Decrease2.svg831,205,99043.7Decrease2.svg2.5


PartySeatsSeats changeVotes % % change
Liberal 52Increase2.svg12195,51770.1Increase2.svg1.7
Conservative 6Decrease2.svg1274,14529.9Decrease2.svg1.7


PartySeatsSeats changeVotes % % change
Liberal 29Increase2.svg1050,40358.8Decrease2.svg2.1
Conservative 4Decrease2.svg1041,10641.2Increase2.svg2.1


PartySeatsSeats changeVotes % % change
Home Rule 63Increase2.svg395,53537.5Decrease2.svg2.1%
Irish Conservative 23Decrease2.svg899,60739.8Decrease2.svg1.0%
Liberal 15Increase2.svg556,25222.7Increase2.svg4.3%


PartySeatsSeats changeVotes % % change
Conservative 75,50349.2
Liberal 25,67550.8

See also

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  1. "Data" (PDF), parliament.uk
  2. Fitzsimons 1960, pp. 187–201.
  3. Matthew 1997, pp. 293–312.
  4. Smith 1996, pp. 198–99.
  5. Smith 1996, p. 199.
  6. Smith 1996, pp. 202–3; Blake 1967, pp. 707–13, 717.

Sources and further reading