1931 United Kingdom general election

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1931 United Kingdom general election

← 1929 27 October 1931 1935 →

All 615 seats in the House of Commons
308 seats needed for a majority
Turnout76.4%, Increase0.1%
  First party Second party Third party
Leader Stanley Baldwin Arthur Henderson John Simon
Party Conservative Labour National Liberal
Alliance National National
Leader since 23 May 1923 1 September 1931 5 October 1931
Leader's seat Bewdley Burnley (defeated) Spen Valley
Last election 260 seats, 38.1% 287 seats, 37.1% Did not contest
Seats won 470[note 1] 52 35
Seat change Increase210 Decrease235 Increase35
Popular vote 11,377,022 6,339,306 761,705
Percentage 55.0% 30.6% 3.7%
Swing Increase 16.9% Decrease6.5% New party

  Fourth party Fifth party Sixth party
Leader Herbert Samuel Ramsay MacDonald David Lloyd George
Party Liberal National Labour Independent Liberal
Alliance National National
Leader since October 1931 24 August 1931 1931
Leader's seat Darwen Seaham Caernarvon Boroughs
Last election 59 seats, 23.6% Did not contest Did not contest
Seats won 33 13 4
Seat change Decrease26 Increase13 Increase4
Popular vote 1,346,571 316,741 106,106
Percentage 6.5% 1.5% 0.5%
Swing Decrease17.1% New party New party

Colours denote the winning party—as shown in § Results

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.
UK General Election 1931
Candidates Votes
Party Leader Stood Elected Gained Unseated Net % of total % No. Net %
National Government
  Conservative Stanley Baldwin 518 470 210 0 +210 76.4 55.0 11,377,022 +16.9
  Liberal Herbert Samuel 112 33 15 42 −27 5.4 6.5 1,346,571 −17.1
  National Liberal John Simon 41 35 35 0 +35 5.7 3.7 761,705 N/A
  National Labour Ramsay MacDonald 20 13 13 0 +13 2.1 1.5 316,741 N/A
  National N/A 4 4 4 0 +4 0.7 0.5 100,193 N/A
National Government (total) Ramsay MacDonald 694 554 +236 90.1 67.2 13,902,232 +5.5
Labour Opposition
  Labour Arthur Henderson 490 46 2 243 −241 7.5 29.4 6,081,826 −7.7
  Ind. Labour Party Fenner Brockway 19 3 3 0 +3 0.5 1.2 239,280 N/A
  Other unendorsed Labour N/A 6 3 3 1 +2 0.5 0.3 64,549 N/A
  NI Labour Jack Beattie 1 0 0 0 0 0.0 0.0 9,410 N/A
Labour (total) Arthur Henderson 516 52 −235 8.5 30.6 6,395,065 −6.5
Other opposition parties
  Independent Liberals David Lloyd George 6 4 4 0 +4 0.7 0.5 106,106 N/A
  Nationalist Joseph Devlin 3 2 0 1 −1 0.3 0.4 72,530 +0.3
  Communist Harry Pollitt 26 0 0 0 0 0 0.3 69,692 +0.1
  Independent N/A 7 3 0 3 −3 0.5 0.2 44,257 N/A
  New Party Oswald Mosley 24 0 0 0 0 0 0.2 36,377 N/A
  National (Scotland) Roland Muirhead 5 0 0 0 0 0 0.1 20,954 +0.1
  Independent Labour N/A 3 0 0 1 −1 0 0.1 18,200 0.0
  Scottish Prohibition Edwin Scrymgeour 1 0 0 1 −1 0 0.1 16,114 0.0
  Liverpool Protestant H. D. Longbottom 1 0 0 0 0 0 0.0 7,834 N/A
  Agricultural Party J. F. Wright 1 0 0 0 0 0 0.0 6,993 N/A
  Independent Nationalist N/A 1 0 0 0 0 0 0.0 3,134 N/A
  Independent Liberal N/A 1 0 0 0 0 0 0.0 2,578 −0.1
  Plaid Cymru Saunders Lewis 2 0 0 0 0 0 0.0 2,050 0.0
  Commonwealth Land N/A 2 0 0 0 0 0 0.0 1,347 N/A

Votes summary[edit]

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

Seats summary[edit]

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

Transfers of seats[edit]

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.

  • All comparisons are with the 1929 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 1931. Such circumstances are marked with a †.
To From No. Seats
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 Valley2, 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, Chatham2, 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 C2, 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, Smethwick1, Stoke1, Wednesbury, W Bromwich, Bilston, Wolverhampton W4, Nuneaton, Duddeston, Coventry, Aston1, 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, Galloway1, 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[edit]

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

See also[edit]


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


  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[edit]

External links[edit]