United Kingdom general election, 1959

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United Kingdom general election, 1959
United Kingdom
← 1955 8 October 1959 1964 →

All 630 seats in the House of Commons
316 seats needed for a majority
Turnout 78.7% (Increase1.9%)
  First party Second party Third party
  Harold Macmillan number 10 official.jpg Hugh Gaitskell 1958.jpg Jo Grimond.jpg
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 Steady 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%

UK General Election, 1959.svg
Colours denote the winning party, as shown in the main table of results.

Prime Minister before election

Harold Macmillan

Elected Prime Minister

Harold Macmillan

This United Kingdom general election was held on 8 October 1959, it marked a third consecutive victory for the ruling Conservative Party, now led by Harold Macmillan. The Conservatives increased their overall majority again, to 101 seats over the Labour Party led by Hugh Gaitskell and the Liberal Party led by Jo Grimond. It is to date the only occasion since the Second World War when a government has managed to increase its overall majority whilst seeking a third term in government. However, despite this success, the Conservatives failed to win the most seats in Scotland, and have not done so since; this marks the beginning of Labour's domination of Scottish seats at Westminster, which lasted until the rise of the Scottish National Party at the 2015 general election. Both future Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe and future Conservative leader and eventual Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher first entered Parliament at this election.


After the Suez Crisis in 1956, Anthony Eden, the Conservative Prime Minister, became unpopular. He resigned early in 1957, and was succeeded by Harold Macmillan, at that point, the Labour Party, whose leader Hugh Gaitskell had taken over from Clement Attlee after the 1955 general election, enjoyed large leads in opinion polls over the Conservative Party, and it looked as if they could win.[1]

The Liberal Party also had a new leader, Jo Grimond, so all three parties contested the election with a new leader at the helm.[1]

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


All the three main parties had changed leadership since the previous election, 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 a politician of the centre ground; in the 1930s he had represented a constituency in northern England (Stockton-on-Tees), which had experienced large-scale unemployment and poverty. The first week of polling put the Tories ahead of Labour by over 5%, but this narrowed as the campaign continued, 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 rich and poor.[2] Hugh Gaitskell made a mistake in declaring that a Labour government would not raise taxes if it came to power – even though the Labour manifesto contained pledges to increase spending; especially to increase 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 fourth general election in a row, the Conservatives increased their number of seats, despite this time a slight fall 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 failed for the third time to win an election. Future Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was elected for the first time in Finchley. Future Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe was elected for the first time in North Devon.

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 Leader Standing Elected Gained Unseated Net  % of total  % No. Net %
  Conservative Harold Macmillan 625 365 28 8 + 20 57.9 49.4 13,750,875
  Labour Hugh Gaitskell 621 258 9 28 − 19 41.0 43.8 12,216,172
  Liberal Jo Grimond 216 6 1 1 0 1.0 5.9 1,640,760
  Plaid Cymru Gwynfor Evans 20 0 0 0 0 0.3 77,571
  Sinn Féin Paddy McLogan 12 0 0 2 − 2 0.2 63,415
  Communist John Gollan 18 0 0 0 0 0.1 30,896
  SNP Jimmy Halliday 5 0 0 0 0 0.1 21,738
  Ind. Labour Group Frank Hanna 1 0 0 0 0 0.1 20,062
  Independent Conservative N/A 2 1 1 0 + 1 0.2 0.1 14,118
  Independent N/A 5 0 0 0 0 0.0 7,492
  Fife Socialist League Lawrence Daly 1 0 0 0 0 0.0 4,886
  Independent Liberal N/A 2 0 0 0 0 0.0 4,473
  Union Movement Oswald Mosley 1 0 0 0 0 0.0 2,821
  Lancastrian Tom Emmott 1 0 0 0 0 0.0 1,889
  National Labour John Bean 1 0 0 0 0 0.0 1,685
  Fellowship Ronald Mallone 1 0 0 0 0 0.0 1,189
  Ind. Labour Party Fred Morel 2 0 0 0 0 0.0 923
  Socialist (GB) None 1 0 0 0 0 0.0 899
  Alert Party George Forrester 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[edit]

Popular Vote
Conservative and Unionist

Headline Swing: 1.2% to Conservative

Seat summary[edit]

Parliamentary seats
Conservative and Unionist
Independent Conservative

Transfers of seats[edit]

  • All comparisons are with the 1955 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 1959. Such circumstances are marked with a †.
From To No. Seats
Labour Labour (HOLD) many
Labour Nat Liberal 1 Bristol North East
Labour Conservative 25 Acton, Barons Court, Birmingham All Saints, Birmingham Sparkbrook, Birmingham Yardley, Brierley Hill, Bristol North West, Clapham, Cleveland, Coventry South, Derbyshire SE, The Hartlepools, Holborn and St Pancras South, Keighley, Lowestoft, Meriden, Newcastle upon Tyne East, Nottingham West, Reading, Rochester and Chatham, Rugby, Swansea West, Uxbridge, Wellingborough, Willesden East
Sinn Fein Ulster Unionist 2 Mid Ulster1, Fermanagh and South Tyrone2
Liberal Labour 1 Carmarthen
Liberal Liberal (HOLD) 5 Bolton West, Cardiganshire, Huddersfield West, Montgomery, Orkney and Shetland
Nat Liberal Nat Liberal (HOLD) 16 Angus North and Mearns, Angus South, Bedfordshire South, Bradford North, Bradford West, Dumfriesshire, Fife East, Harwich, Holland with Boston, Huntingdonshire, Luton, Norfolk Central, Plymouth Devonport, Renfrewshire West, Ross and Cromarty, St Ives
Nat Liberal Conservative 3 Denbigh, Newcastle upon Tyne North†, Torrington3
Conservative Labour 6 Ayrshire Central, Glasgow Craigton, Glasgow Scotstoun, Lanark, Oldham East, Rochdale
Conservative Liberal 1 Devon North
Conservative Conservative (HOLD) many
Conservative Ind Conserv 1 Caithness and Sutherland*
Ulster Unionist Ulster Unionist 10 North Antrim, South Antrim, Armagh, Belfast East, Belfast North, Belfast South, Belfast West, Down North, Down South, Londonderry
Speaker Conservative 1 Cirencester and Tewkesbury

1 Sinn Féin winner in 1955 overturned on petition, the second-placed Ulster Unionist candidate was also overturned, by resolution of the House; eventually the 1956 by-election was held, which returned an Independent Unionist. This candidate later defected to the Ulster Unionists.

2 Sinn Féin winner in 1955 overturned on petition for criminal conviction, the second-placed candidate, an Ulster Unionist, was awarded the seat. He retained it in 1959.

3 seat had been won by the Liberals in a 1958 by-election.

See also[edit]


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