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United Kingdom general election, 1959


United Kingdom general election, 1959

United Kingdom general election, 1959

8 October 1959

All 630 seats in the House of Commons
316 seats needed for a majority
Turnout 78.7%
  First party Second party Third party
Leader Harold Macmillan Hugh Gaitskell Jo Grimond
Party Conservative Labour Liberal
Leader since 10 January 1957 14 December 1955 5 November 1956
Leader's seat Bromley Leeds South Orkney and Shetland
Last election 345 seats, 49.7% 277 seats, 46.4% 6 seats, 2.7%
Seats won 365 258 6
Seat change Increase 20 Decrease 19 0
Popular vote 13,750,875 12,216,172 1,640,760
Percentage 49.4% 43.8% 5.9%
Swing Decrease 0.3% Decrease 2.6% Increase 3.2%

PM before election

Harold Macmillan

Subsequent PM

Harold Macmillan

1951 election MPs
1955 election MPs
1959 election MPs
1964 election MPs

This United Kingdom general election was held on 8 October 1959. It marked a third successive victory for the ruling Conservative Party, now led by Harold Macmillan. The Conservatives increased their overall majority again, to 100 seats over the Labour Party under Hugh Gaitskell. However, despite this success, they failed to win the most seats in Scotland, and have not done so since, marking the beginning of Labour's dominance.


Following the Suez Crisis in 1956, Anthony Eden the Conservative Prime Minister became unpopular and resigned early the following year to be succeeded by Harold Macmillan. At this stage, the Labour Party, with Hugh Gaitskell having taken over as leader from Clement Attlee just after the 1955 election, enjoyed large opinion poll leads over the Conservatives, and it looked as if they could win.[1]

The Liberals also had a new leader in Jo Grimmond, meaning that all three parties would contest the election with a new leader at the helm.[1]

However, the Conservatives enjoyed an upturn in fortunes as the economy improved under Macmillan, and his personal approval ratings remained high. By September, 1958, the Conservatives had moved ahead of Labour in the opinion polls.[1]


This would be the first election in some time taking place after all of the 3 main parties changed their leaders. The Conservatives fought under the slogan "Life is better with the Conservatives, don't let Labour ruin it" and were aided by a pre-election economic boom. Macmillan very effectively "summed up" the mood of the British public when he said that most of the people had "never had it so good". Macmillan was very popular and was described as being a politician of the centre ground, he himself had once held a constituency in the north (Stockton-on-Tees) during the 1930s that had experienced large scale unemployment and poverty. The first week of polling put the Tories comfortably ahead of Labour by over 5%, which narrowed as the election progressed. The Labour Party fought a generally effective campaign, with television broadcasts masterminded by Tony Benn under the umbrella of their manifesto entitled "Britain belongs to you", which accused the Tories of complacency over the growing gap between the rich and poor.[2] Hugh Gaitskell made a mistake by declaring that a Labour government would not raise taxes if it came to power. This was despite the fact that the Labour manifesto contained pledges to increase spending, especially with regard to raising pensions. This led voters to doubt Labour's spending plans, and is usually cited as a key reason for their defeat.[1]


Early on election night it became clear that the Conservative government had been returned with an increased majority. However there were swings to Labour in parts of North West England, and in Scotland. For the 4th time in a row the Conservatives increased their number of seats at a general election, despite a slight drop in their share of the vote. For Labour the result was disappointing, despite appearing more united than they had in recent years under Gaitskell, the party had failed for the 3rd time to win an election. Future Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was elected for the first time in Finchley.

The Daily Mirror, despite being a staunch supporter of the Labour Party, wished Macmillan "good luck" on its front page after his win.

The BBC's election coverage, presented by Richard Dimbleby, was shown on BBC Parliament on 9 October 2009 to mark the 50th anniversary of the election.

365 258 6 1
Conservative Labour Lib O
UK General Election 1959
Candidates Votes
Party Standing Elected Gained Unseated Net % of total % No. Net %
  Conservative 625 365 28 8 + 20 57.9 49.4 13,750,875
  Labour 621 258 9 28 - 19 41.0 43.8 12,216,172
  Liberal 216 6 1 1 0 1.0 5.9 1,640,760
  Plaid Cymru 20 0 0 0 0 0.3 77,571
  Sinn Féin 12 0 0 2 - 2 0.2 63,415
  Communist 18 0 0 0 0 0.1 30,896
  SNP 5 0 0 0 0 0.1 21,738
  Ind. Labour Group 1 0 0 0 0 0.1 20,062
  Independent Conservative 2 1 1 0 + 1 0.2 0.1 14,118
  Independent 5 0 0 0 0 0.0 7,492
  Fife Socialist League 1 0 0 0 0 0.0 4,886
  Independent Liberal 2 0 0 0 0 0.0 4,473
  Union Movement 1 0 0 0 0 0.0 2,821
  Lancastrian 1 0 0 0 0 0.0 1,889
  National Labour 1 0 0 0 0 0.0 1,685
  Fellowship 1 0 0 0 0 0.0 1,189
  Ind. Labour Party 2 0 0 0 0 0.0 923
  Socialist (GB) 1 0 0 0 0 0.0 899
  Alert Party 1 0 0 0 0 0.0 788

All parties shown. Conservatives include the National Liberal Party, Scottish Unionist Party and Ulster Unionists.

Government's new majority 100
Total votes cast 27,862,652
Turnout 78.7%

Votes summary

Popular vote
Conservative and Unionist

Headline Swing: 1.2% to Conservative

Seats summary

Parliamentary seats
Conservative and Unionist
Independent Conservative

Seats changing hands

  • From Conservative to Labour (6 seats): Ayrshire Central, Glasgow Craigton, Glasgow Scotstoun, Lanark, Oldham East and Rochdale
  • From Conservative to Liberal (1 seat): Devon North
  • From Conservative to Independent (1 seat): Caithness and Sutherland
  • From Labour to Conservative (28 seats): Acton, Barons Court, Birmingham All Saints, Birmingham Sparkbrook, Birmingham Yardley, Brierley Hill, Bristol North East, Bristol North West, Clapham, Cleveland, Coventry South, Derbyshire South East, Holborn and St Pancras South, Keighley, Lowestoft, Meriden, Newcastle upon Tyne East, Nottingham West, Reading, Rochester and Chatham, Rugby, Swansea West, The Hartlepools, Uxbridge, Wellingborough and Willesden West
  • From Liberal to Labour (1 seat): Carmarthen
  • From Sinn Féin to Conservative (2 seats): Fermanagh and South Tyrone and Mid-Ulster

See also


  1. ^ a b c d "1959 election". BBC. Retrieved 20 May 2013. 
  2. ^ "1959: Macmillan wins Tory hat trick". BBC News. 5 April 2005. 



  • The Next Five Years- 1959 Conservative manifesto.
  • Britain Belongs to You: The Labour Party's Policy for Consideration by the British People - 1959 Labour Party manifesto.
  • People Count - 1959 Liberal Party manifesto.
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