1931 United Kingdom general election

Last updated

1931 United Kingdom general election
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg
  1929 27 October 1931 1935  

All 615 seats in the House of Commons
308 seats needed for a majority
Turnout76.4%, Increase2.svg0.1%
 First partySecond partyThird party
  Stanley Baldwin 1932.jpg Arthurhenderson.jpg Viscount Simon.jpg
Leader Stanley Baldwin Arthur Henderson John Simon
Party Conservative Labour National Liberal
Alliance National National
Leader since23 May 1923 1 September 1931 5 October 1931
Leader's seat Bewdley Burnley  (defeated) Spen Valley
Last election260 seats, 38.1%287 seats, 37.1%Did not contest
Seats won470 [note 1] 5235
Seat changeIncrease2.svg210Decrease2.svg235Increase2.svg35
Popular vote11,377,0226,339,306761,705
SwingIncrease2.svg 16.9%Decrease2.svg6.5%New party

 Fourth partyFifth partySixth party
  Herbert Samuel.jpg Ramsay MacDonald ggbain 35734.jpg David Lloyd George.jpg
Leader Herbert Samuel Ramsay MacDonald David Lloyd George
Party Liberal National Labour Independent Liberal
Alliance National National
Leader sinceOctober 193124 August 19311931
Leader's seat Darwen Seaham Caernarvon Boroughs
Last election59 seats, 23.6%Did not contestDid not contest
Seats won33134
Seat changeDecrease2.svg26Increase2.svg13Increase2.svg4
Popular vote1,346,571316,741106,106
SwingDecrease2.svg17.1%New partyNew party

1931 UK general election map.svg
Colours denote the winning party—as shown in § Results

1931 General Election.svg
Composition of the House of Commons after the 1931 General Election

Prime Minister before election

Ramsay MacDonald

Prime Minister after election

Ramsay MacDonald

The 1931 United Kingdom general election was held on Tuesday 27 October 1931 and saw a landslide election victory for the National Government which had been formed two months previously after the collapse of the second Labour government. [1] Collectively, the parties forming the National Government won 67% of the votes and 554 seats out of 615. Although the bulk of the National Government's support came from the Conservative Party and the Conservatives won 470 seats, National Labour leader Ramsay MacDonald remained as Prime Minister. The Labour Party suffered its greatest defeat, losing four out of every five seats compared with the previous election, including the seat of its leader Arthur Henderson. Ivor Bulmer-Thomas said the results "were the most astonishing in the history of the British party system". [2] It is the most recent election in which one party (the Conservatives) received an absolute majority of the votes cast, and the last UK general election not to take place on a Thursday. It would be the last election until 1997 in which a party won over 400 seats in the House of Commons.



After battling with the Great Depression for two years, the Labour government of Ramsay MacDonald was faced with a budget crisis in August 1931. The cabinet deadlocked over its response, with several influential members, such as Arthur Henderson, unwilling to support the budget cuts (in particular a cut in the rate of unemployment benefit) which were pressed by the civil service and opposition parties. Then, Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Snowden refused to consider deficit spending or tariffs as alternative solutions.

When the government resigned, MacDonald was encouraged by King George V to form an all-party National Government to deal with the immediate crisis.

The initial hope that the government would hold office for a few weeks, and then dissolve to return to ordinary party politics, were frustrated when the government was forced to remove the pound sterling from the gold standard; meanwhile the Labour Party expelled all those who were supporting the government.

The Conservatives began pressing for the National Government to fight an election as a combined unit, and MacDonald's supporters from the Labour Party formed a National Labour Organisation to support him; MacDonald came to endorse an early election to take advantage of Labour's unpopularity. However the Liberals were sceptical about an election and had to be persuaded. Former Liberal leader David Lloyd George firmly opposed the decision to call an election and urged his colleagues to withdraw from the National Government.

A main issue was the Conservatives' wish to introduce protectionist trade policies. This issue not only divided the government from the opposition but also divided the parties in the National Government: the majority of Liberals, led by Sir Herbert Samuel, were opposed and supported free trade, but on the eve of the election a faction known as Liberal Nationals under the leadership of Sir John Simon was formed who were willing to support protectionist trade policies.

In order to preserve the Liberals within the National Government, the government itself did not endorse a policy but appealed for a "Doctor's Mandate" to do whatever was necessary to rescue the economy. Individual Conservative candidates supported protective tariffs.

Labour campaigned on opposition to public spending cuts, but found it difficult to defend the record of the party's former government and the fact that most of the cuts had been agreed before it fell.

Historian Andrew Thorpe argues that Labour lost credibility by 1931 as unemployment soared, especially in coal, textiles, shipbuilding and steel. The working class increasingly lost confidence in the ability of Labour to solve the most pressing problem. [3]

The 2.5 million Irish Catholics in England and Scotland were a major component in the Labour base in many industrial areas. The Catholic Church had previously tolerated the Labour Party, and denied that it represented true socialism. However, the bishops by 1930 had grown increasingly alarmed at Labour's policies towards Communist Russia, towards birth control and especially towards funding Catholic schools. They warned its members. The Catholic shift against Labour and in favour of the National Government played a major role in Labour's losses. [4]

Parliament was dissolved on 7 October. [5]


The mainstream Labour vote fell sharply; the 20 seats contested by National Labour however saw 13 gains. The National Government promised came about. This was as to 470 of its 518 seats through Conservatives, 518 being a landslide or supermajority for safety, denoting no high taxation, large deficits, superinflation nor great currency devaluation but also for a government of national unity, all talents and spreading of state investments and relief measures nationwide to tackle the poverty and downturn of the Great Depression.

Most Government MPs were Conservatives under the leadership of Stanley Baldwin but MacDonald (Nat. Lab.) remained as Prime Minister in the new National Government.

The main group of Liberals lacked the funds to contest all viable seats yet won almost as many as the Labour Party. More MPs (72) were elected under a Liberal ticket (ballot description) of some type than the tally of Labour and National Labour MPs (65), but the three-way split in their party meant that the main Labour group would be the second-largest in the House of Commons.


Note: Seat changes are compared with the 1929 election result.
1931 UK parliament.svg
UK General Election 1931
PartyLeaderStoodElectedGainedUnseatedNet % of total %No.Net %
National Government
  Conservative Stanley Baldwin 5184702100+21076.455.011,377,022+16.9
  Liberal Herbert Samuel 112321542275.46.51,346,57117.1
  National Liberal John Simon 4135350+355.73.7761,705N/A
  National Labour Ramsay MacDonald 2013130+132.11.5316,741N/A
  National N/A4440+40.70.5100,193N/A
National Government (total) Ramsay MacDonald 694554+23690.167.213,902,232+5.5
Labour Opposition
  Labour Arthur Henderson 4904622432417.529.46,081,8267.7
  Ind. Labour Party Fenner Brockway 19330+30.51.2239,280N/A
  Other unendorsed Labour N/A633 1 +20.50.364,549N/A
  NI Labour Jack Beattie 1 00000.00.09,410N/A
Labour (total) Arthur Henderson 516522358.530.6 6,395,0656.5
Other opposition parties
  Independent Liberals David Lloyd George 6440+40.70.5106,106N/A
  Nationalist Joseph Devlin 320110.30.472,530+0.3
  Communist Harry Pollitt 26000000.369,692+0.1
  Independent N/A730330.50.244,257N/A
  New Party Oswald Mosley 24000000.236,377N/A
  National (Scotland) Roland Muirhead 5000000.120,954+0.1
  Independent Labour N/A3001100.118,2000.0
  Scottish Prohibition Edwin Scrymgeour 1 001100.116,1140.0
  Liverpool Protestant H. D. Longbottom 1 000000.07,834N/A
  Agricultural Party J. F. Wright 1 000000.06,993N/A
  Independent Nationalist N/A1000000.03,134N/A
  Independent Liberal N/A 1 000000.02,5780.1
  Plaid Cymru Saunders Lewis 2000000.02,0500.0
  Commonwealth Land N/A2000000.01,347N/A

Votes summary

Popular vote
National Liberal
Nat. Labour
Popular vote (as National Gov't)
National Gov't

Seats summary

Parliamentary seats
National Liberal
Nat. Labour
Parliamentary seats (as National Gov't)
National Gov't

Transfers of seats

This differs from the above list in including seats where the incumbent was standing down and therefore there was no possibility of any one person being defeated. The aim is to provide a comparison with the previous election. In addition, it provides information about which party gained the seat.

Ind. Labour Party Labour 4 Merthyr*, Shettleston*, Bridgeton*, Gorbals*
Independent Labour gains:4
Labour Independent Labour 1 Govan*
Nationalist 1 Liverpool Scotland
Labour gains:2
Liberal Labour 16 Dundee (one of two), Paisley, Edinburgh East, South Shields, Durham, Bristol North, Leicester West, Lambeth North, Whitechapel and St Georges, Walsall, Middlesbrough East, Bradford South, Dewsbury, Colne Valley 2, Wrexham, Carmarthen
Liberal gains:16
National Labour Labour 13 Kilmarnock*, Ilkeston, Derby (one of two)*, Seaham*, Forest of Dean, Ormskirk*, Finsbury*, Tottenham South, Bassetlaw*, Nottingham South*, Lichfield*, Leeds Central*, Cardiff C*
National Liberal 11 Dunfermline Burghs, Bishop Auckland, Consett, Gateshead, Southampton (one of two), Burnley, Shoreditch, Southwark North, Huddersfield, Barnsley, Swansea West
Liberal 26 Inverness*, Ross and Cromarty*, Western Isles*, Montrose Burghs*, Fife East*, Greenock*, Leith*, Dumfriesshire*, Luton*, Huntingdonshire*, Eddisbury*, St Ives*, Devonport*, South Molton*, Harwich*, Bosworth*, Holland with Boston*, Great Yarmouth*, Norfolk East*, Norwich (one of two)*, Newcastle upon Tyne East*, Eye*, Spen Valley*, Denbigh*, Flintshire*, Montgomeryshire*
National Liberal gains:37
National Independent Labour 1 Mossley
National 2 Southwark Central, Burslem
Conservative Scottish Prohibition 1 Dundee (one of two)
Labour 194 Aberdeen N, Stirling and Falkirk, Clackmannan and E Stirlingshire, Stirlingshire W, Fife W, Kirkcaldy Burghs, Dunbartonshire, Lanark, Partick, Lanarkshire N, Renfrewshire W, Maryhill, Motherwell, Camlachie, Bothwell, Coatbridge, Springburn, Rutherglen, Tradeston, Ayrshire S, Edinburgh W, Edinburgh C, Midlothian S & Peebles, Linlithgow, Berwick & Haddington, Reading, Birkenhead W, Crewe, Stalybridge and Hyde, Stockport (one of two), Carlisle, Whitehaven, Derbyshire NE, Chesterfield, Derby (one of two), Belper, Derbyshire S, Drake, Blaydon, Houghton-le-Spring, Jarrow, Barnard Castle, Sedgefield, Darlington, Stockton-on-Tees, Sunderland (one of two), Sunderland (one of two)†, Leyton E, East Ham N, East Ham S, Essex SE, Leyton W, Romford, Walthamstow E, Upton, Bristol C, Bristol S, Portsmouth C, Southampton (one of two), Dudley, Stourbridge, Kingston upon Hull C, Kingston upon Hull E, Kingston upon Hull SW, Chatham 2, Dartford, Accrington, Barrow-in-Furness, Blackburn (both seats), Nelson and Colne, Preston (one of two), Rossendale, Ashton-under-Lyne, Bolton (both seats), Eccles, Farnworth, Ardwick, Clayton, Gorton, Hulme, Platting, Oldham (both seats), Rochdale, Salford N, Salford S, Salford W, Bootle, Edge Hill, Everton, Kirkdale, W Toxteth, Newton, St Helens, Warrington, Widnes, Leicester E, Loughborough, Brigg, Lincoln, Battersea N, Battersea S, Camberwell N, Camberwell NW, Deptford, Greenwich, Hackney C, Hackney S, Hammersmith N, Hammersmith S, Islington E, Islington N, Islington S, Islington W, Kennington, Kensington N, Peckham, Rotherhithe, St Pancras N, St Pancras SE, St Pancras SW, Fulham W†, Southwark SE, Mile End, Wandsworth C 2, Acton, Enfield, Willesden W, Edmonton, Tottenham N, Norfolk N, Norfolk SW, Norwich (one of two), Kettering, Northampton, Peterborough, Wellingborough, Morpeth, Newcastle C, Newcastle W, Wallsend, Wansbeck, Nottingham W, The Wrekin, Frome, Cannock, Hanley, Kingswinford, Leek, Smethwick 1, Stoke 1, Wednesbury, W Bromwich, Bilston, Wolverhampton W 4, Nuneaton, Duddeston, Coventry, Aston 1, Deritend, Erdington, Ladywood, Yardley, Swindon, York, Cleveland, Sheffield C, Bradford N, Sowerby, Elland, Leeds W, Halifax, Bradford E, Shipley†, Wakefield, Sheffield Park, Rotherham, Bradford C, Keighley, Pontefract, Hillsborough, Attercliffe, Brightside, Penistone, Leeds S, Doncaster, Batley and Morley, Newport, Brecon and Radnor, Llandaff & Barry, Cardiff E, Cardiff S
Liberal 13 Aberdeenshire W & Kincardine, Galloway 1, Bedfordshire Mid, Camborne, Penryn & Falmouth, Dorset E, Hereford, Ashford, Preston (one of two)3, Heywood & Radcliffe, Blackley, Withington, Nottingham E
Independent 1 Stretford
Ind. Conservative 1 Exeter
Conservative gains:210
1 Sitting MP had defected to the New Party
2 Sitting MP had defected to National Labour
3 Sitting MP had defected to Labour
4 Sitting MP had defected to Independent Labour

Results by constituency

These are available at the PoliticsResources website, a link to which is given below.

See also


    1. The seat and vote count figures for the Conservatives given here include the Speaker of the House of Commons

    Related Research Articles

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">Liberal Party (UK)</span> Major political party in the United Kingdom from 1859 to 1988

    The Liberal Party was one of the two major political parties in the United Kingdom, along with the Conservative Party, in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Beginning as an alliance of Whigs, free trade–supporting Peelites, and reformist Radicals in the 1850s, by the end of the 19th century, it had formed four governments under William Gladstone. Despite being divided over the issue of Irish Home Rule, the party returned to government in 1905 and won a landslide victory in the 1906 general election.

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">1979 United Kingdom general election</span>

    The 1979 United Kingdom general election was held on Thursday 3 May 1979 to elect 635 members to the House of Commons.

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">February 1974 United Kingdom general election</span>

    The February 1974 United Kingdom general election was held on Thursday 28 February 1974. The Labour Party, led by Leader of the Opposition and former Prime Minister Harold Wilson, gained 14 seats but was seventeen short of an overall majority. The Conservative Party, led by incumbent Prime Minister Edward Heath, lost 28 seats. That resulted in a hung parliament, the first since 1929. Heath sought a coalition with the Liberals, but the two parties failed to come to an agreement and so Wilson became Prime Minister for a second time, his first with a minority government. Wilson called another early election in September, which was held in October and resulted in a Labour majority. The February election was also the first general election to be held with the United Kingdom as a member state of the European Communities (EC), which was widely known as the "Common Market".

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">1945 United Kingdom general election</span>

    The 1945 United Kingdom general election was a national election held on Thursday 5 July 1945, but polling in some constituencies was delayed by some days, and the counting of votes was delayed until 26 July to provide time for overseas votes to be brought to Britain. The governing Conservative Party sought to maintain its position in Parliament but faced challenges from public opinion about the future of the United Kingdom in the post-war period. Prime Minister Winston Churchill proposed to call for a general election in Parliament, which passed with a majority vote less than two months after the conclusion of the Second World War in Europe.

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">1959 United Kingdom general election</span> 8 October 1959

    The 1959 United Kingdom general election was held on Thursday, 8 October 1959. It marked a third consecutive victory for the ruling Conservative Party, now led by Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. For the second time in a row, the Conservatives increased their overall majority in Parliament, this time to a landslide majority of 100 seats, having gained 20 seats for a return of 365. The Labour Party, led by Hugh Gaitskell, lost 19 seats and returned 258. The Liberal Party, led by Jo Grimond, again returned only six MPs to the House of Commons, but managed to increase its overall share of the vote to 5.9%, compared to just 2.7% four years earlier.

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">1935 United Kingdom general election</span>

    The 1935 United Kingdom general election was held on Thursday 14 November, and resulted in a large, albeit reduced, majority for the National Government now led by Stanley Baldwin of the Conservative Party. The greatest number of members, as before, were Conservatives, while the National Liberal vote held steady. The much smaller National Labour vote also held steady but the resurgence in the main Labour vote caused over a third of their MPs, including National Labour leader Ramsay MacDonald, to lose their seats. It was the last election in which a party or alliance won a majority of the votes cast.

    The National Labour Organisation, also known simply as National Labour, was formed in 1931 by supporters of the National Government in Britain who had come from the Labour Party. Its leaders were Ramsay MacDonald (1931–1937) and his son Malcolm MacDonald (1937–1945).

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">1929 United Kingdom general election</span>

    The 1929 United Kingdom general election was held on Thursday, 30 May 1929 and resulted in a hung parliament. Ramsay MacDonald's Labour Party won the most seats in the House of Commons for the first time despite receiving fewer votes than the Conservative Party, led by Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin. The Liberal Party led again by former Prime Minister David Lloyd George regained some ground lost in the 1924 general election and held the balance of power. Parliament was dissolved on 10 May.

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">1924 United Kingdom general election</span>

    The 1924 United Kingdom general election was held on Wednesday 29 October 1924, as a result of the defeat of the Labour minority government, led by Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald, in the House of Commons on a motion of no confidence. It was the third general election to be held in less than two years. Parliament was dissolved on 9 October.

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">1923 United Kingdom general election</span>

    The 1923 United Kingdom general election was held on Thursday 6 December 1923. The Conservatives, led by Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, won the most seats, but Labour, led by Ramsay MacDonald, and H. H. Asquith's reunited Liberal Party gained enough seats to produce a hung parliament. It is the most recent UK general election in which a third party won over 100 seats. The Liberals' percentage of the vote, 29.7%, has not been exceeded by a third party at any general election since.

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">1918 United Kingdom general election</span>

    The 1918 United Kingdom general election was called immediately after the Armistice with Germany which ended the First World War, and was held on Saturday, 14 December 1918. The governing coalition, under Prime Minister David Lloyd George, sent letters of endorsement to candidates who supported the coalition government. These were nicknamed "Coalition Coupons", and led to the election being known as the "coupon election". The result was a massive landslide in favour of the coalition, comprising primarily the Conservatives and Coalition Liberals, with massive losses for Liberals who were not endorsed. Nearly all the Liberal MPs without coupons were defeated, including party leader H. H. Asquith.

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">National Government (United Kingdom)</span> UK term for a government formed by an alliance of some or all of the major political parties

    In the politics of the United Kingdom, a National Government is a coalition of some or all of the major political parties. In a historical sense, it refers primarily to the governments of Ramsay MacDonald, Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain which held office from 1931 until 1940.

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">Independent Liberals (UK, 1931)</span> Political party

    At the 1931 general election, a small group of official Liberal candidates led by former Liberal Party leader, David Lloyd George, and mostly related to him, stood on a platform of opposition to the National Government and were sometimes referred to as Independent Liberals.

    Thomas Bridgehill Wilson Ramsay was a Scottish Liberal Party, and National Liberal Party politician and Member of Parliament (MP).

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">National Government (1931)</span>

    The National Government of August–October 1931, also known as the First National Government, was the first of a series of national governments formed during the Great Depression in the United Kingdom. It was formed by Ramsay MacDonald as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom following the collapse of the previous minority government, led by the Labour Party, known as the Second MacDonald ministry.

    The 1929 Kilmarnock by-election was a by-election held on 27 September 1929 for the British House of Commons constituency of Kilmarnock in Ayrshire.

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">James Duncan Millar</span>

    Sir James Duncan Millar was a Scottish barrister and Liberal, later National Liberal politician.

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">R. J. Russell</span>

    Richard John Russell was a British dental surgeon and Liberal later Liberal National politician.

    The National Liberal Party, known until 1948 as the Liberal National Party, was a liberal political party in the United Kingdom from 1931 to 1968. It broke away from the Liberal Party on the issue of abandoning Free trade and supporting protectionism, and later co-operated and merged with the Conservative Party.


    1. Macmahon, Arthur W. (1932). "The British General Election of 1931". American Political Science Review. 26 (2): 333–345. doi:10.2307/1947117. ISSN   0003-0554. JSTOR   1947117. S2CID   143537799.
    2. Bulmer-Thomas, Ivor (1967), The Growth of the British Party System Volume II 1924–1964, p. 76
    3. Thorpe, Andrew (1996), "The Industrial Meaning of 'Gradualism': The Labour Party and Industry, 1918–1931", The Journal of British Studies, 35 (1): 84–113, doi:10.1086/386097, hdl: 10036/19512 , S2CID   155016569
    4. Riddell, Neil (1997), "The Catholic Church and the Labour Party, 1918–1931", Twentieth Century British History, 8 (2): 165–193, doi:10.1093/tcbh/8.2.165
    5. "Parliamentary Election Timetables" (PDF) (3rd ed.). House of Commons Library. 25 March 1997. Retrieved 3 July 2022.

    Further reading