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[clarification needed] 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. It saw a landslide election victory for the National Government, a three-party coalition which had been formed two months previously after the collapse of the second Labour government.[1] Journalist Ivor Bulmer-Thomas described the result as "the most astonishing in the history of the British party system".[2]

Unable to secure support from his cabinet for his preferred policy responses to the economic and social crises brought about by the Great Depression, Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald split from the Labour Party and formed a new national government in coalition with the Conservative Party and a number of Liberals. MacDonald subsequently campaigned for a "Doctor's Mandate" to do whatever was necessary to fix the economy, running as the leader of a new party called National Labour within the coalition. Disagreement over whether to join the new government also resulted in the Liberal Party splitting into three separate factions, including one led by former Prime Minister David Lloyd George.

Collectively, the parties forming the National Government won 67% of the popular vote and 554 (90.1%) of 615 seats in the House of Commons. Although the bulk of the National Government's support came from the Conservative Party, which won 470 seats, MacDonald remained Prime Minister. The Labour Party suffered its greatest ever defeat—losing four-fifths of its seats, including the seat of leader Arthur Henderson—and became the official opposition with just 52 MPs. The collapse of the Liberals into competing factions also ended their time as a significant force in British politics; the breakaway National Liberals were eventually absorbed into the Conservatives in 1947, while the main Liberal Party would spend the next half-century in the political wilderness until its revival in the 1970s.

It is the most recent election in which any single 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 was also the last election until 1997 in which any party won more than 400 seats.


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 budget cuts (in particular a cut in the rate of unemployment benefit) which were pressed by the civil service and opposition parties. Crucially, Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Snowden refused to consider deficit spending or tariffs as alternative solutions, and without any other options to address the crisis the government was forced to resign. However, MacDonald was encouraged by King George V to form an all-party National Government in coalition with the Conservatives and Liberals in order to break the deadlock.

The initial hope was that the coalition government would hold office for only a few weeks in order to address the country's immediate economic crises, then dissolve for a return to ordinary party politics—but when the government was forced to remove the pound sterling from the gold standard it became clear that it would require more time in office. Meanwhile, the Labour Party expelled all those who were supporting the government, and MacDonald's decision to lead a Conservative-dominated coalition instead of the party he had co-founded was labelled a "betrayal" by his erstwhile colleagues and supporters. [3]

The Conservatives began pressing their partners to fight an election together as a combined unit in order to secure a mandate for radical economic reform, and MacDonald's supporters from the Labour Party formed the National Labour Organisation to support him. While initially against an early election, MacDonald came to endorse the idea in order to take advantage of Labour's unpopularity due to its poor economic record in office.

However, the Liberals were sceptical about an election and had to be persuaded. The key issue was the Conservatives' wish to introduce protectionist trade policies: the majority of the Liberals, led by Sir Herbert Samuel, were opposed, considering support for free trade to be a non-negotiable component of the Liberal political tradition. The argument split the party in half: Samuel withdrew the Liberals from the National Government (though continued to lend it their confidence, and still stood in the election as part of the coalition), while the National Liberals—under the leadership of Sir John Simon—remained, willing to support protectionism.

While this was happening, former prime minister David Lloyd George was still technically the Liberal Party's leader—however, due to having undergone an operation in early 1931, with a long recuperation, he was unable to take up a ministerial role when the National Government was formed. While initially supportive of both the coalition and its protectionist trade policy, he strongly opposed the proposal for an election. He and a third faction of Liberal MPs—the Independent Liberals—also broke away, and ran in the election on an anti-National Government platform.

Parliament was dissolved on 7 October.[4] In order to appease the various factions within the coalition its manifesto avoided proposing any specific policy, and instead asked voters for a "Doctor's Mandate" to do whatever was necessary to rescue the economy. Individual candidates were then allowed to state their support for policies such as trade tariffs.

Labour campaigned on opposition to public spending cuts, but this was a difficult position to justify when many of the cuts had initially been agreed when Labour was in government. By 1931, Labour had lost significant economic credibility due to soaring unemployment—especially in coal, textiles, shipbuilding and steel—and the party's working class base increasingly lost confidence in its ability to solve the most pressing problems facing the country.[5]

An additional problem for Labour came from the 2.5 million Irish Catholics in England and Scotland, who had traditionally been a major component of their working class base. By 1930 a number of Catholic bishops had grown increasingly alarmed at the party's stances on Communist Russia, birth control, and especially regarding funding Catholic schools, and the Church began to warn its members against voting Labour. This shift played a major role in Labour's collapse in support in some urban areas.[6]


The election was a landslide for the National Government coalition, which won 67.2% of the popular vote and 518 seats out of 615 in the House of Commons—for both, it stands as the largest share ever secured in a British general election since the passage of the Reform Act 1832. (The next-best results were both was secured by the Whigs in 1832, who won 67.01% of the vote and 67.02% of seats under a substantially different electoral system with a much smaller electorate.) However, by far the largest share of the government's seats was won by the Conservatives, and the party's 470 seats also remains the record for the largest share of the total seats in Parliament (76.4%) won by any single party.

The victory gave the National Government a clear mandate to enact its policy platform, which the coalition believed would pull the economy out of the doldrums of the Great Depression while avoiding high taxation, large budget deficits, superinflation, or currency devaluation. Labour's share of the vote fell sharply, and the party lost 235 of the 287 seats it had won in the previous election—it remains Labour's most significant per capita election loss in its history. By contrast, National Labour contested 20 seats and won 13. MacDonald remained Prime Minister, but the Conservatives were the dominant party within the coalition, and with his increasingly poor health he would come to be more of a figurehead for the government rather than an active leader.

Collectively, the Liberal factions won more seats (72) than the combined number of Labour and National Labour MPs (65), but the party's three-way split meant that Labour was the second-largest in the House of Commons and therefore the official opposition.


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

Total votes cast: 20,693,475. Turnout: 76.4%.

Votes summary

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

Seats summary

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

Transfers of seats

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.

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

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

See also


  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. ^ Martin Pugh Speak for Britain!: A New History of the Labour Party (2010) pp. 212–216
  4. ^ "Parliamentary Election Timetables" (PDF) (3rd ed.). House of Commons Library. 25 March 1997. Retrieved 3 July 2022.
  5. ^ 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
  6. ^ 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

Further reading