1964 United Kingdom general election

The 1964 United Kingdom general election was held on 15 October 1964, five years after the previous election, and thirteen years after the Conservative Party, first led by Winston Churchill, had entered power. It resulted in the Conservatives, led by its fourth leader, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, narrowly losing the election to the Labour Party, led by Harold Wilson, with Labour having an overall majority of four seats. It resulted in Labour ending its thirteen years in opposition and led to Wilson to become, at the time, the youngest Prime Minister in more than 150 years.

1964 United Kingdom general election

15 October 1964

All 630 seats in the House of Commons
316 seats needed for a majority
Turnout77.1%, 1.7%
  First party Second party Third party
Leader Harold Wilson Sir Alec Douglas-Home Jo Grimond
Party Labour Conservative Liberal
Leader since 14 February 1963 18 October 1963 5 November 1956
Leader's seat Huyton Kinross & Western Perthshire Orkney & Shetland
Last election 258 seats, 43.8% 365 seats, 49.4% 6 seats, 5.9%
Seats won 317 304 9
Seat change 59 61 3
Popular vote 12,205,808 12,002,642 3,099,283
Percentage 44.1% 43.4% 11.2%
Swing 0.2% 6.0% 5.3%

Colours denote the winning party—as shown in § Results

Prime Minister before election

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Appointed Prime Minister

Harold Wilson


Both major parties had changed leadership in 1963; after the sudden death of Hugh Gaitskell early in the year, Labour chose Harold Wilson (who was then thought of as being on the party's centre-left), while Sir Alec Douglas-Home (then the Earl of Home) had taken over as Conservative leader and Prime Minister in the autumn after Harold Macmillan announced his resignation. Douglas-Home shortly afterwards disclaimed his title under the Peerage Act 1963 in order to lead the party from the Commons.

Macmillan had led the Conservative government since January 1957. Despite initial popularity and a resounding election victory in 1959, he had become increasingly unpopular in the early-1960s, and while it was for a while thought likely that the Conservatives would win the scheduled 1964 general election, albeit with a reduced majority, the emergence of the Profumo affair in March 1963 and Macmillan's handling of the matter all but destroyed the credibility of his government. While he survived a vote of no confidence in June 1963, polling indicated that the Conservatives would lose the next election heavily if Macmillan remained in power, which, along with health issues, caused Macmillan to announce his resignation in the autumn of 1963.

Douglas-Home faced a difficult task in rebuilding the party's popularity with just a year elapsing between taking office and having to face a general election. Wilson had begun to try to tie the Labour Party to the growing confidence of Britain in the 1960s, asserting that the "white heat of revolution" would sweep away "restrictive practices ... on both sides of industry". The Liberal Party enjoyed a resurgence after a virtual wipeout in the 1950s, and doubled its share of the vote, primarily at the expense of the Conservatives. Although Labour did not increase its vote share significantly, the fall in support for the Conservatives led to Wilson securing an overall majority of four seats.[1] This proved to be unworkable, and Wilson called a snap election in 1966.


The pre-election campaign was prolonged, as Douglas-Home delayed calling a general election to give himself as much time as possible to improve the prospects of his party. The election campaign formally began on 15 September 1964 when Douglas-Home saw the Queen and asked for a dissolution of Parliament. The campaign was dominated by some of the more voluble characters of the political scene at the time. While George Brown, deputy leader of the Labour Party, toured the country making energetic speeches (and the occasional gaffe), Quintin Hogg was a leading spokesman for the Conservatives. The image of Hogg lashing out at a Wilson poster with his walking stick was one of the most striking of the campaign. Many party speakers, especially at televised rallies, had to deal with hecklers; in particular Douglas-Home was treated very roughly at a meeting in Birmingham.

The election night was broadcast live by the BBC, and was presented for the fifth and final time by Richard Dimbleby, with Robin Day, Ian Trethowan, Cliff Michelmore and David Butler.[2]

Opinion poll summary

  • NOP: Lab swing 3.5% (Lab majority of 12)
  • Gallup: Lab swing 4% (Lab majority of 23)
  • Research Services: Lab swing 2.75% (Con majority of 30)
  • Daily Express: Lab swing of 1.75% (Con majority of 60)[lower-alpha 1]


The election resulted in a very slim majority of four seats for the Labour Party, forming a government for the first time since 1951. Labour achieved a swing of just over 3%, although its vote rose by only 0.2%. The main shift was the swing from the Conservatives to the Liberals of 5.7%. The Liberals won nearly twice as many votes as in 1959, partly because they had 150 more candidates. Wilson became Prime Minister, replacing Douglas-Home. The four-seat majority was not sustainable for a full Parliament, and Wilson called another general election in 1966. In particular the small majority meant the government could not implement its policy of nationalising the steel industry, due to the opposition of two of its backbenchers, Woodrow Wyatt and Desmond Donnelly.

This was the only election in Britain's recent history when all seats were won by the three main parties: no minor parties, independents or splinter groups won any seats. It was also the last election in which one party, namely the Conservative Party, contested every single seat. The Conservatives had previously held off on contesting certain Liberal-held seats as per local-level agreements to avoid vote-splitting, but ended that policy at this election. The resultant splitting of votes actually helped grant Labour a majority, by throwing two formerly Liberal-held seats in northern England to Labour; however, the outcome of the election would not have been meaningfully altered had the Liberals retained the seats, as Labour would still have had as many seats as the other two parties combined, and Liberal leader Jo Grimond was not inclined to prop up a minority Conservative government.

317 304 9
Labour Conservative Lib
UK General Election 1964
Candidates Votes
Party Leader Stood Elected Gained Unseated Net % of total % No. Net %
  Labour Harold Wilson 628 317 65 6 +59 50.3 44.1 12,205,808 +0.3
  Conservative Alec Douglas-Home 630 304 5 66 61 48.3 43.4 12,002,642 6.0
  Liberal Jo Grimond 365 9 5 2 +3 1.4 11.2 3,099,283 +5.3
  Independent Republican N/A 12 0 0 0 0 0.4 101,628 N/A
  Plaid Cymru Gwynfor Evans 23 0 0 0 0 0.3 69,507 0.0
  SNP Arthur Donaldson 15 0 0 0 0 0.2 64,044 +0.1
  Communist John Gollan 36 0 0 0 0 0.2 46,442 +0.1
  Independent N/A 20 0 0 0 0 0.1 18,677 N/A
  Independent Liberal N/A 4 0 0 0 0 0.1 16,064 N/A
  Republican Labour Gerry Fitt 1 0 0 0 0 0.1 14,678 N/A
  Ind. Conservative N/A 5 0 0 1 1 0.0 6,459 N/A
  British National John Bean 1 0 0 0 0 0.0 3,410 N/A
  Anti-Common Market League John Paul & Michael Shay 2 0 0 0 0 0.0 3,083 N/A
  Ind. Nuclear Disarmament Pat Arrowsmith 2 0 0 0 0 0.0 1,534 N/A
  Fellowship Ronald Mallone 1 0 0 0 0 0.0 1,112 0.0
  Patriotic Party Richard Hilton 2 0 0 0 0 0.0 1,108 N/A
  League of Empire Loyalists Arthur K. Chesterton 3 0 0 0 0 0.0 1,046 N/A
  Communist Anti-Revisionist Michael McCreery 1 0 0 0 0 0.0 899 N/A
  Christian Progressive N/A 1 0 0 0 0 0.0 865 N/A
  Taxpayers' Coalition Party John E. Dayton 1 0 0 0 0 0.0 709 N/A
  Agriculturalist N/A 1 0 0 0 0 0.0 534 N/A
  Independent Labour N/A 1 0 0 0 0 0.0 458 N/A
  National Democratic David Brown 1 0 0 0 0 0.0 349 N/A
  Socialist (GB) N/A 2 0 0 0 0 0.0 322 0.0
  World Government Gilbert Young 1 0 0 0 0 0.0 318 N/A
  British and Commonwealth Miles Blair 1 0 0 0 0 0.0 310 N/A
  Social Credit Party of Great Britain and Northern Ireland John Hargrave 1 0 0 0 0 0.0 304 N/A
  Christian Socialist N/A 1 0 0 0 0 0.0 265 N/A
All parties shown.[lower-alpha 2]
Government's new majority 4
Total votes cast 27,657,148
Turnout 77%

Votes summary

Popular vote
Conservative and allies

Seats summary

Parliamentary seats
Conservative and allies

Regional results

Great Britain

Party Votes % of vote Candidates Seats % of seats +/–
Conservative & Unionist11,600,74542.9618292
Conservative 10,292,97438.1599286
Unionist 981,6413.66524
National Liberal326,1301.2196
Plaid Cymru69,5070.32300.0
Other parties and independents53,1160.24700.0
Total (turnout: 77.2%)27,018,832100.01,718618100.0
Did not vote7,984,670
Registered voters35,003,502
British population52,608,000
Source: Rallings & Thrasher
Party Votes % of vote Candidates Seats % of seats +/–
Conservative & Unionist10,106,02844.151126251.3
Conservative 9,894,01443.150025650.1
National Liberal212,0140.91161.1
Other parties and independents48,2870.24200.0
Total (turnout: 77.0%)22,937,251100.01,409511100.0
Did not vote6,867,376
Registered voters29,804,627
English population44,610,500
Source: Rallings & Thrasher
Party Votes % of vote Candidates Seats % of seats +/–
Conservative & Unionist1,069,69540.6712433.87
Unionist 981,64137.3652433.81
National Liberal88,0543.3600.06
Other parties and independents4,8290.2500.0
Total (turnout: 77.6%)2,634,539100.019771100.0
Did not vote759,352
Registered voters3,393,891
Scottish population5,209,000
Source: Rallings & Thrasher
Party Votes % of vote Candidates Seats % of seats +/–
Conservative & Unionist425,02229.436616.7
Conservative 398,96027.634616.7
National Liberal26,0621.8200.0
Plaid Cymru69,5074.82300.0
Total (turnout: 80.1%)1,447,042100.011236100.0
Did not vote358,453
Registered voters1,805,495
Voting age population1,805,925
Welsh population2,676,400
Source: Rallings & Thrasher

Northern Ireland

Party Votes % of vote Candidates Seats % of seats +/–
Conservative & Unionist 401,897 63.0 12 12 100.0
Ulster Unionist Party
Independent Republican101,62815.91200.0
Ulster Liberal17,3542.7400.0
Republican Labour14,6782.3100.0
Total (turnout: 71.7%)638,316100.0 12100.0
Did not vote252,236
Registered voters890,552
Voting age population891,043
Northern Irish population1,458,000
Source: Rallings & Thrasher

Transfers of seats

  • All comparisons are with the 1959 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 1964. Such circumstances are marked with a †.
From To No. Seats
Labour Labour (HOLD) Aberavon, Aberdare, Aberdeen North, Abertillery, Accrington, Anglesey, Ashton-under-Lyne, Ayrshire Central, Ayrshire South, Barking, Barrow-in-Furness, Bedwellty, Belper, Birkenhead, Bishop Auckland, Blackburn, Blaydon, Bolsover, Bootle, Bosworth, Bothwell, Brecon and Radnor, Brigg, Bristol Central, Bristol South, Bristol South East4, Burnley, Caernarfon, Caerphilly, Cardiff South East, Cardiff West, Carmarthen, Chester-le-Street, Chesterfield, Chorley, Coatbridge and Airdrie, Consett, Crewe, Dagenham, Dartford, Derby North, Derby South, Derbyshire North East, Dudley, Dunbartonshire East, Dunbartonshire West, Dundee East, Dundee West, Dunfermline Burghs, Durham, Durham North West, Easington, East Ham N, East Ham S, Ebbw Vale, Eccles, Edinburgh Central, Edinburgh East, Edinburgh Leith, Erith and Crayford, Falmouth and Camborne, Farnworth, Faversham, Fife West, Flintshire East, Gateshead East, Gateshead West, Glasgow Bridgeton, Glasgow Central, Glasgow Craigton, Glasgow Gorbals, Glasgow Govan, Glasgow Maryhill, Glasgow Provan, Glasgow Scotstoun, Glasgow Shettleston, Glasgow Springburn, Gloucester, Gloucestershire West, Goole, Gower, Greenock, Grimsby, Hamilton, Houghton-le-Spring, Huyton, Ilkeston, Ince, Jarrow, Kilmarnock, Kingston upon Hull East, Kingston upon Hull West, Kirkcaldy Burghs, Lanark, Lanarkshire North, Leicester NE, Leicester NW, Leicester SW, Leigh, Leyton, Lincoln, Liverpool Edge Hill, Liverpool Exchange, Liverpool Scotland, Llanelli, Loughborough, Manchester Ardwick, Manchester Cheetham, Manchester Exchange, Manchester Gorton, Manchester Openshaw, Merionethshire, Merthyr Tydfil, Midlothian, Motherwell, Neath, Nelson and Colne, Newport (Monmouthshire), Newton, Ogmore, Oldbury and Halesowen, Oldham East, Oldham West, Paisley, Pembrokeshire, Pontypool, Pontypridd, Rhondda East, Rhondda West, Rochdale, Romford, Rossendale, Rowley Regis and Tipton, St Helens, Salford East, Salford West, Sedgefield, South Shields, Southampton Itchen, Stalybridge and Hyde, Stirling and Falkirk, Stirlingshire East and Clackmannan, Stirlingshire West, Stockton-on-Tees, Sunderland North, Swansea East, Thurrock, Walthamstow W, Warrington, West Ham North, West Ham South, West Lothian, Western Isles, Westhoughton, Whitehaven, Widnes, Wigan, Workington, Wrexham
Liberal National
Conservative Eton and Slough
Liberal Labour Bolton West
Liberal (HOLD) Cardiganshire, Devon North, Montgomeryshire, Orkney and Shetland
Liberal National Labour Luton†, Renfrewshire West
Liberal Ross and Cromarty
Liberal National (HOLD) Bristol North East, Harwich, Holland with Boston, Huntingdonshire, St Ives
Conservative Angus North and Mearns, Angus South, Bedfordshire South*, Dumfries†, Fife East†, Plymouth Devonport*
Conservative Labour Bolton East, Buckingham, Bury and Radcliffe, Carlisle, Derbyshire South East, Dover, Epping, Glasgow Kelvingrove, Glasgow Pollok, Glasgow Woodside†, Gravesend, The Hartlepools, Heywood and Royton, Hitchin, Kingston upon Hull North, Liverpool Kirkdale, Liverpool Toxteth, Liverpool Walton, Liverpool West Derby, Manchester Blackley, Manchester Wythenshawe, Preston South, Rochester and Chatham, Rutherglen†, Stockport North, Stockport South, Sunderland South, Swansea West, Watford
Liberal Bodmin, Inverness, Orpington
Conservative (HOLD) Aberdeen South, Aberdeenshire East, Aberdeenshire West, Abingdon, Aldershot, Altrincham and Sale, Argyll, Ashford, Aylesbury, Ayr, Ayrshire North and Bute, Banff, Barnet, Barry, Basingstoke, Bebington, Beckenham, Bedford, Bedfordshire Mid, Berwick and East Lothian, Bexley, Billericay, Blackpool North, Blackpool South, Bournemouth East & Christchurch, Bournemouth West, Bridlington, Bristol North West, Bristol West, Bromley, Bromsgrove, Buckinghamshire South, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, Canterbury, Cardiff North, Cheadle, Chelmsford, Cheltenham, Chester, Chigwell, Chislehurst, Cirencester and Tewkesbury, Clitheroe, Colchester, Conway, Cornwall North, Crosby, Darlington, Darwen, Denbigh, West Derbyshire, Dorset North, Dorset South3, Dorset West, Eastleigh, Edinburgh North, Edinburgh Pentlands, Edinburgh South, Edinburgh West, Essex SE, Exeter, Flintshire West, Folkestone and Hythe, Fylde North, Fylde South, Gainsborough, Galloway, Gillingham, Glasgow Cathcart, Glasgow Hillhead, Gloucestershire South, Gosport and Fareham, Grantham, Haltemprice, Harborough, Hemel Hempstead, Hereford, Hertford, Hertfordshire E, Hertfordshire SW, High Peak, Honiton, Horncastle, Hornchurch, Howden, Ilford North, Ilford South, Isle of Ely, Isle of Thanet, Isle of Wight, Kidderminster, Kinross and West Perthshire, Knutsford, Lancaster, Leicester South East, Leominster, Liverpool Garston, Liverpool Wavertree, Louth, Macclesfield, Maidstone, Maldon, Manchester Moss Side, Manchester Withington, Melton, Middleton and Prestwich, Monmouth, Moray and Nairn, Morecambe and Lonsdale, Nantwich, New Forest, Newbury, Northwich, Ormskirk, Plymouth Sutton, Penrith and the Border, Perth and East Perthshire, Petersfield, Poole, Portsmouth Langstone, Portsmouth South, Portsmouth West, Preston North, Reading, Renfrewshire East, Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles, Runcorn, Rutland and Stamford, Saffron Walden, St Albans, Sevenoaks, Southampton Test, Southend East, Southend West, Southport, Stretford, Stroud, Tavistock, Tiverton, Tonbridge, Torquay, Torrington, Totnes, Truro, Wallasey, Walthamstow East, Wanstead and Woodford, Westmorland, Winchester, Windsor, Wirral, Wokingham, Worcester, Worcestershire South, Wycombe
Ind. Conservative
Ind. Conservative Liberal Caithness and Sutherland
UUP UUP North Antrim, South Antrim, Armagh, Belfast East, Belfast North, Belfast South, Belfast West, Down North, Down South, Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Londonderry, Mid Ulster
Conservative Speaker Cities of London and Westminster
3 Seat gained by Labour in a by-election but regained by the Conservatives in 1964.
4 Seat gained by Conservatives in a 1961 by-election but regained by Labour in another 1963 by-election.

Incumbents defeated




Televised results programmes

Both BBC and ITV provided televised coverage of the results and provided commentary. The BBC coverage is infrequently rebroadcast on the BBC Parliament channel—it was last broadcast on 12 November 2014.[3][4]

Televised declarations

These declarations were covered live by the BBC where the returning officer was heard to say "duly elected".

Constituency Winning party 1959 Constituency result 1964 by party Winning party 1964
Con Lab Lib Others
Cheltenham Conservative 19,797 14,557 7,568 Conservative hold
Salford West Labour 16,446 20,490 Labour hold
Billericay Conservative 35,347 33,755 10,706 Conservative hold
Exeter Conservative 18,035 16,673 8,815 Conservative hold
Battersea South Conservative 10,615 12,263 3,294 Labour gain
Liverpool Exchange Labour 7,239 16,985 Labour hold
Holborn and St Pancras South Conservative 13,117 15,823 226 Labour gain
North Devon Liberal 13,985 4,306 19,031 Liberal hold
Stockport South Conservative 13,718 16,755 7,107 Labour gain
Barons Court Conservative 14,800 15,966 2,821 Labour gain
Bolton West Liberal 13,522 16,519 10,086 Labour gain
Smethwick Labour 16,690 14,916 262 Conservative gain
Huyton Labour 22,940 42,213 899 Labour hold
Orpington Conservative 19,565 4,609 22,637 Liberal win
Torrington Conservative 16,889 5,867 14,831 Conservative hold
  • Orpington was won by the Liberals in a by-election in 1962 and held in the general election. When this happens, it is described as a "win" as opposed to a "gain" or "hold".

See also


  1. This summary of opinion poll findings from the last few days of the campaign is given early in the BBC's election night coverage.
  2. Conservative total includes Scottish Unionists, Ulster Unionists, and National Liberals.


  1. 1964: Labour scrapes through, BBC News, 5 April 2005, retrieved 21 May 2018
  2. UK General Election 1964 – Results Round-up on YouTube
  3. 1964 General Election, Part 1, BBC Parliament, 12 November 2014, retrieved 22 May 2018
  4. 1964 General Election, Part 2, BBC Parliament, 12 November 2014, retrieved 22 May 2018

Further reading

  • Barberis, Peter (September 2007), "The 1964 General Election and the Liberals' False Dawn", Contemporary British History, 21 (3): 373–387
  • Butler, David E.; et al. (1965), The British General Election of 1964, the standard scholarly study
  • Craig, F. W. S. (1989), British Electoral Facts: 1832–1987, Dartmouth: Gower, ISBN 0900178302
  • Denver, David (2007), "The 1964 General Election: Explaining Voting Behaviour Then and Now", Contemporary British History, 21 (3): 295–307, doi:10.1080/13619460600825857
  • Favretto, Ilaria (2000), "'Wilsonism' reconsidered: Labour party revisionism 1952–64", Contemporary British History, 14 (4): 54–80, doi:10.1080/13619460008581603
  • Fielding, Steven (September 2007), "Rethinking Labour's 1964 Campaign", Contemporary British History, 21 (3): 309–324
  • Heppell, Timothy (2010), "The Labour Party Leadership Election of 1963: Explaining the Unexpected Election of Harold Wilson", Contemporary British History, 24 (2): 151–171, doi:10.1080/13619461003768264
  • Morgan, Austen (1992), Harold Wilson, p. 625
  • Tomlinson, Jim (September 2007), "It's the Economy, Stupid! Labour and the Economy, circa 1964", Contemporary British History, 21 (3): 337–349
  • Wrigley, Chris (September 2007), "Trade Unions and the 1964 General Election", Contemporary British History, 21 (3): 325–335
  • Young, John W. (September 2007), "International Factors and the 1964 Election", Contemporary British History, 21 (3): 351–371


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