General Election 2015 explained: Majorities

Continuing our daily miscellany celebrating the facts, figures and folklore of British general elections

Sunday 26 April 2015 19:03
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Absolute majorities

The last UK general election in which a party achieved an absolute majority of the votes cast – that is, more votes than all the other parties put together – was in 1931, when the National Government’s landslide victory saw the Conservatives win 55 per cent of the popular vote.

Since the Second World War, there have been only two general elections in which the winning party failed to win an absolute majority of seats: in February 1974, Labour won 301 seats (out of 635); and in 2010, the Conservatives won 306 (out of 650).

To win an absolute majority in the current election, a party needs to win 326 seats.

Local Majorities

The largest majority recorded in a constituency in a general election (since the introduction of universal suffrage in 1918) was 62,253, for Sir A C Rowson (Conservative) in Brighton in 1931. The second largest was 62,041, for G C Tryon, for the same party, in the same election, in the same seat. (It was a two-member seat – the last of which was abolished in 1950.)

The largest majority in percentage terms was the 96 per cent Conservative majority in Down North in the 1959 election.

The record for the smallest majority in a general election is shared by A J Flint (National Labour, Ilkeston, 1931) and Mark Oaten (Liberal Democrats, Winchester, 1997), each of whom secured a majority of two. Oaten’s victory was later annulled.

Largest majority in the 2010 general election: 27,826 (Stephen Timms, Labour, East Ham)

Smallest majority in the 2010 general election: four (Michelle Gildemew, Sinn Fein, Fermanagh and South Tyrone).

In 2010, only nine candidates achieved absolute majorities – that is, 50 per cent or more of the votes in their constituencies. Seven of them were Labour candidates.

In 217 constituencies, the winner received 50 per cent or more of the votes cast. (This is not the same as a majority of 50 per cent of more.)

The average majority was 8,366.

Landslides

The biggest landslide in recent memory was the Labour victory of 1997, which saw a swing of 10.3 per cent from Conservatives to Labour. This gave Labour a parliamentary majority of 179 seats– the biggest majority since 1935. Yet the victory was achieved on a turn-out of 71.2 per cent– the lowest since the Second World War – and Labour’s share of the popular vote was only 43.2 per cent.

Since the 1884 Reform Act (which gave the vote to all adult males), the 10 biggest landslide victories in general elections have been:

493: National Government majority (including 324 Conservative majority) in 1931 247: National Government majority in 1935

239: Overall majority of Conservative-Liberal Coalition, 1918

209: Conservative overall majority, 1924

179: Labour overall majority, 1997

167: Labour overall majority, 2001

152: Unionist (ie, Conservative Party and Liberal Unionist Party) overall majority in 1886 146: Labour overall majority, 1945

144: Conservative overall majority, 1983

134: Unionist overall majority, 1900.

The landslides of 1983, 1997 and 2001 (along with the lesser, 102-seat Conservative landslide of 1987) were all achieved with less than 44 per cent of the popular vote.

Minorities

In 2010, 433 candidates won their seats with a minority of votes – that is, less than half the votes cast.

In 2010, seven candidates won their seats despite receiving less than a third of the vote. Austin Mitchell won Great Grimsby for Labour with the votes of just 17.6 per cent of the constituency’s total electorate.

The lowest percentage vote ever achieved by a successful candidate in a general election was 26 per cent, in the now-defunct constituency of Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber, in 1992. The winner, Sir David Russell Johnston (Lib Dem), polled just 1,741 more votes than the fourth-placed Conservative candidate.

In a minority government, the ruling party does not have an absolute majority of seats in the Commons (that is, more than all the other parties combined) but still forms an administration. It will usually be the largest party in the House. Since 1918, there have been five minority governments in the UK. Four were led by Labour: in 1924, in 1929-1931, in 1974, and in 1977-1979; and one, from 1996 to 1997, was led by the Conservatives.

Popular vote

In the 2005 general election, Labour won 35.2 per cent of the popular vote (ie, of all votes cast). The Conservatives won 32.4 per cent, and the Liberal Democrats won 22 per cent. This was enough to win Labour a parliamentary majority, with 55.1 per cent of the seats (355, excluding the Speaker). The Conservatives won 198 seats (30.65 per cent) and the Liberal Democrats won 62 (9.59 per cent).

Tomorrow: No.14 Manifestos

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