1955 United Kingdom general election
The 1955 United Kingdom general election was held on 26 May 1955, four years after the previous general election. It resulted in a substantially increased majority of 60 for the Conservative government under new leader and prime minister Sir Anthony Eden; the result remains the largest party share of the vote in a post-war general election.
All 630 seats in the House of Commons
316 seats needed for a majority
Colours denote the winning party—as shown in § Results
This general election has since been described by many as one of the "dullest" post-war elections, because there was little change in the country. Labour then in its twentieth year of leadership by Clement Attlee, steadily lost ground owing to infighting between the left (Bevanites) and the right (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. Eden had only become leader of the Conservative Party a few weeks before the election, after the retirement of 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 good mood created by the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953. Eden himself was telegenic, although not a great public speaker, and gradual economic growth benefited the party greatly (BBC News 2005).
The 1955 election remains the last time the Conservative Party won the most seats in Scotland, and was also the last time it won the most Scottish seats of any unionist party until the 2017 election. After 1959, Labour established itself as the dominant party in Scotland at UK general elections, a position it maintained until the rise of the pro-independence Scottish National Party at the 2015 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 not recorded). Only three hours of the coverage, presented by Richard Dimbleby, was kept; this was rebroadcast on BBC Parliament on the 50th and 60th anniversaries of the date of the election.
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).
This election was fought on new boundaries, with five seats added to the 625 fought in 1951.
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 Labour Party suffered at this time from deep 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 in 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. 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.
|Party||Leader||Stood||Elected||Gained||Unseated||Net||% of total||%||No.||Net %|
|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|
|Irish Labour||William Norton||1||0||0||1||−1||0.1||16,050||0.0|
|Ind. Labour Party||Annie Maxton||2||0||0||0||0||0.0||3,334||0.0|
|Government's new majority||60|
|Total votes cast||26,759,729|
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.
- 1 Sinn Féin winner overturned on petition for a criminal conviction. The second-placed Ulster Unionist candidate was also overturned by resolution of the House; eventually the 1956 by-election was held, which returned an Independent Unionist.
- 2 Sinn Féin winner overturned on petition for a criminal conviction. The second-placed candidate, an Ulster Unionist, was awarded the seat.
- 1955: Eden given mandate, BBC News, 5 April 2005, retrieved 19 May 2018
- Craig, F. W. S. (1989), British Electoral Facts: 1832–1987, Dartmouth: Gower, ISBN 0900178302
- "General Election 2010 – A century of Daily Mirror front pages", Daily Mirror, 3 February 2012, retrieved 19 May 2018
- Butler, David E. (1956), The British General Election of 1955, the standard study
- United for Peace and Progress: The Conservative and Unionist Party's Policy, 1955 Conservative Party manifesto
- Forward With Labour: Labour's Policy for the Consideration of the Nation, 1955 Labour Party manifesto
- Crisis Unresolved, 1955 Liberal Party manifesto