This paper presents an overview of election results since 1918. It provides summary results for all elections from 1918 to 2019, focusing on elections to the House of Commons.
Download the full report
- CBP-7529-.download (Excel Spreadsheet, 593 KB)
This Commons Library briefing paper presents an overview of election results since 1918. It provides summary results for all elections from 1918 to 2019, focusing on elections to the House of Commons. It also includes elections to the European Parliament, devolved legislatures and local government.
The graph below provides data on share of votes by party in UK General Elections from 1918 to 2019. This graph and supporting reference table is available in the Briefing Paper on p. 6. Results for each individual UK constituency at every General Election from 1918 to 2019 may be found in a further Library Briefing on General Election Results
The Conservative’s best result in terms of seats won since 1945 was at the 1983 General Election, when 397 MPs were elected. Its highest share of the vote was 49.7% in 1955.
At the 1997 General Election, there were 165 Conservative MPs elected and the party received 30.7% of the vote. This was its worst performance in terms of share of the vote and seats won since 1918. In 2019, the Party won 365 seats. This was the most they have held since 1987.
The first Labour majority government was elected in 1945.
The highest share of the vote received by Labour in a general election was 48.8% in 1951, when the Conservatives won the most seats despite polling fewer votes. Labour’s worst general election performance of the post-war years was in 1983, with 27.6% of the vote and 209 seats.
In 1997, Labour’s 418 seats were the highest ever number for a single party.
In 2019, Labour won 202 seats, their lowest number since 1935.
The Liberal Party contested the 1983 and 1987 elections in alliance with the Social Democratic Party (SDP), before the two parties merged in 1988 to form the Liberal Democrat Party. The SDP had been established in January 1981 and by March 1982 it had 29 MPs, most of whom had defected from Labour.
The Alliance received a quarter of votes cast in the 1983 election but won only 23 seats.
62 Liberal Democrat MPs were elected in 2005, the highest number for the Party and its predecessors since 1923 (when the Liberals won 158 seats). In 2010, there were 57 Liberal Democrat MPs, but their number fell to 8 in 2015. In 2017 the number of Liberal Democrat MPs rose to 12, before decreasing to 11 in 2019.
Scottish National Party
The Scottish National Party (SNP) won its first seat at a general election in 1970. The May 2015 election, when the party received 50% of the vote in Scotland and won 56 seats, was the SNP’s best performance.
In 2019, the SNP won 48 seats and 45% vote share. This was 8 percentage points up on 2017, although it did not return to its previous height of 50% in 2015.
Plaid Cymru won its first seats in a general election in February 1974. The most seats won by Plaid Cymru at a general election is four, in 1992, 1997, 2001, 2017 and 2019.
UKIP & Brexit Party
The Eurosceptic parties received their highest share of votes (with 12.6% of the total vote) in 2015 when the UK Independence Party (UKIP) won its first ever seat. The party lost this seat in 2017 and failed to regain it 2019. In the 2019 General Election, UKIP recorded its lowest vote share since its establishment in 1991. It is likely that it lost some of its support to the Conservatives and the Brexit Party, headed by its former leader, Nigel Farage. The Brexit Party won 2% of the vote across the UK did not win any seats in 2019.
The Green Party won a House of Commons seat for the first time at the 2010 General Election, this seat (Brighton Pavilion) remained the only Green seat after the 2015, 2017 and 2019 General Elections. In 2019, the party increased their vote share compared to 2017, but did not equal the record 3.8% vote share they won at the 2015 General Election.
Since the Northern Ireland House of Commons (Stormont) was established in 1921, the Ulster Unionists dominated elections to Westminster as well as to the devolved Northern Ireland Parliament. The Ulster Unionists took the Conservative whip at Westminster until 1972. In this paper, Ulster Unionist general election candidates are listed as Conservatives for elections up to 1970 but are listed separately from 1974.
Democratic Unionist Party
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has replaced the Ulster Unionist as the main Northern Ireland unionist party in 2001. In 2019, the DUP won eight seats, two fewer than in 2017. Unionists now have fewer Westminster seats than Nationalists for the first time since Northern Ireland’s establishment in 1922.
Sinn Féin won seven seats at the 2019 General Election, the same as in 2017. This is its highest number since the establishment of Northern Ireland in 1922. The Party maintained its number of seats inspite of 7 percentage points lower vote share in 2019 compared to 2017.
Social Democratic and Labour Party
The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) gained two seats in 2019. This was a recovery from failing to win any seats in the House of Commons in 2017, for the first time since its formation in 1970.
Speaker of the House of Commons
The Speaker of the House of Commons now contests general elections as “the Speaker seeking re-election” rather than as a party candidate. By convention the main parties do not put up candidates against the Speaker.
In this paper, the Speaker is listed under ‘Other’ for elections from 1997 onwards. For elections before 1997, the Speaker is listed under the party for which he or she was formerly a Member.
Detailed analysis of party performance at the General Election and supporting data is available in the Briefing Paper sections 2.1 to 2.5 (pp. 6-27)
Characteristics of MPs
220 female MPs were elected at the 2019 General Election (34% of all MPs). In total, 552 women have been elected to the House of Commons since 1918.
Section 2.6 (p. 28) in the Briefing Paper includes a table which shows Women MPs elected at General Elections by party 1918-2019
As individual’s ethnicity is self-defined, it is hard to obtain historical records of MPs’ ethnicity. It is generally said that the first black and minority ethnic (BME) MPs since World War II were elected in 1987, when four Labour MPs were from BME backgrounds.
Table 8 (p. 29) in the Briefing Paper shows Black and Minority Ethnic MPs elected at General Elections, 1987-2019.
Other characteristics of MPs
Briefing Paper includes information on the following:
- Age (Tables 6-7 (pp. 28-29) in the Briefing Paper)
- Ethnicity (Table 8 (p. 29) in the Briefing Paper)
- Parliamentary experience(Table 9 (p. 30) in the Briefing Paper)
- Education (Table 10 (p. 31) in the Briefing Paper)
- Occupation (Tables 11a-11c (p. 32-35) in the Briefing Paper)
House of Commons by-elections
Generally parties in government perform poorly at by-elections while opposition parties have the chance to make gains. There have been no by-elections called since the new parliament was elected in December 2019 (as of February 2020).
Table 12 (pp. 36-46) in the Briefing Paper shows a summary of parliamentary by-elections in Great Britain, 1945- December 2019.
There were by-elections in Northern Ireland in seven of the last nineteen Parliaments (detailed statistics are available in the Table 14a and 14b (p. 38) in the Briefing Paper), including one in the last parliament.
European Parliament elections
Elections to the European Parliament are held every five years. Prior to the first direct elections in June 1979, members of the European Parliament were delegates from national parliaments.
Table 15a (p. 52) in the Briefing paper shows UK MEPs elected at European Parliament elections by party, 1979-2019, the last election before the UK left the EU in January 2020.
Devolved legislatures and London elections
The graphs below provides data on the number of members in devolved legislatures and London Assembly in the period from 1918 to 2017. This graph and supporting reference table is available in the Briefing Paper section 5, pp. 52-62.
National Assembly for Wales
Since the establishment of the National Assembly for Wales in 1999 Labour has always had the largest share of Assembly seats. 2016 was the first Assembly election when all three UK-wide parties: Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrats lost seats.
Table 16 (p. 54) in the Briefing Paper shows National Assembly for Wales elections, 1999-2016
The Scottish National Party has dominated the Scottish Parliament since 2007 when it overtook the Labour Party by one seat. The Conservatives became the second largest party after overtaking Labour by seven seats in 2016.
Table 17 (p. 56) in the Briefing Paper shows Scottish Parliament elections, 1999-2016
Northern Ireland Assembly
An early election was called in 2017 following the resignation of Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness. The DUP remained the largest party but without enough MLAs to use a ‘petition of concern’. The size of Assembly was reduced from 108 seats to 90.
Table 18 (p. 58) in the Briefing Paper shows Northern Ireland Assembly elections: 1998-2017
Since the London Assembly was established in 2000 Labour and Conservative parties have had the largest share of Assembly Members. They were also the only two parties that have had secured constituency seats. Labour became the largest party after winning 12 seats in the 2012 election and maintained its share in 2016.
In the four elections held since 2000, only Conservative and Labour Members have been elected on the constituency ballot, with other parties picking up seats from the London-wide list.
Table 20a (p. 60) in the Briefing Paper shows London Assembly seats by party, 2000-2016
The graph below provides data on party affiliation of councillors in the period from 1973 to 2019. This graph and supporting reference table is available in the Briefing Paper section 6, pp. 64-80
Elections for the Mayor of London have been held every four years since 2000, using the Supplementary Vote system. In 2016 Labour’s Sadiq Khan was elected Mayor of London.
Table 21a (p. 61) in the Briefing Paper shows London Mayoral Elections, 2000-2016
Elected mayors currently hold office in 15 local authorities (excluding Greater London).
The first election for elected mayors of combined authorities took place (known as “Metro-majors”) took place in 2017. Of the eight elected combined authority mayors, four are Conservativeand four Labour.
Tables 28c (p. 71) in the Briefing Paper shows data for Mayoral Elections, 2000-2019.
- Women’s representation in devolved assemblies and the European Parliament (Section 5.6 (p. 63) in the Briefing Paper)
- Referendums (Section 8 (pp. 84-92) in the Briefing Paper)
Download the full report
- CBP-7529-.download (Excel Spreadsheet, 593 KB)