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Significant records from UK general elections

With the general election scheduled for 4th July 2024, this is a great time to look at some of the most fascinating election records and those moments that have gone down in history for both the right and wrong reasons.

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Biggest swings in 20th-century history

Large swings from one leading party to another are always a shock to the political system.


The 1931 election saw a landslide victory for the National Government, a coalition formed from all the leading parties. The impact of the Wall Street Crash saw the beginnings of the Great Depression and the National Government won 67% of the votes, taking over from the second Labour government. The exact swing percentage was 14.4%.


The tumultuous times of World War II left voters wanting change, and this resulted in an 11.8% swing from the Conservative/National Liberal government to Labour’s Clement Attlee. People were shocked that Winston Churchill was defeated, with Attlee receiving 47.7% of the popular vote.

Largest falls in the percentage share of the vote

A party's share of the vote at a general election is not always matched at subsequent general elections.


Voters simply could not forgive Nick Clegg for selling out his Liberal Democrat ethos and joining a coalition with David Cameron’s Conservatives. This showed in the turnout of Liberal votes in 2015, with a 15.1% decrease in their percentage share.


Once again, Churchill’s post-war loss was also demonstrated in the fall in the percentage of share of the vote the Conservatives received, with a drop of 11.6%.

Party leaders losing their seats

There is nothing quite as shocking as the party leader losing their seat at a general election and it says a lot about what the public thinks of the chosen leader.

Jo Swinson

Jo Swinson was the leader of the Liberal Democrats from July to December 2019 and was the shortest-serving holder of the post. She was the member of parliament for East Dunbartonshire from 2005 to 2015 and from 2017 to 2019. However, in 2019 she lost her seat in parliament to the Scottish National Party.

George Galloway

A divisive figure as his political career shows, George Galloway lost his Bradford West constituency seat in 2015 while the leader of the Respect Party. This didn’t deter him from continuing his political career, although he is now an independent MP representing Rochdale. He is also one of only a very small number of MPs who were defeated at a general election, returned at a by-election, only to be defeated again at the subsequent general election.

General elections after a loss of confidence vote

A loss of confidence vote can be the end for a prime minister and often results in the opposition taking charge, as in these notable examples.


The first-ever Labour government was formed with the support of the Liberal Party after the shock loss of the Conservatives. However, Liberal and Labour relations were never fully settled and soon led to Liberal MP Sir John Simon calling a motion of no confidence in Ramsay MacDonald’s government, triggering a general election. The 1924 general election was held on Wednesday, 29th October and Conservative Stanley Baldwin returned to premiership.


Margaret Thatcher tabled a motion of no confidence in James Callaghan’s Labour government in March 1979 and got it passed with just one vote, triggering a general election five months earlier than the government’s natural term. Thatcher went on to win this election and her time as prime minister of the UK began.

General elections to achieve a workable majority

Governments really struggle to function without a majority allowing them to pass laws and make judgements based on their political beliefs. This leads to prime ministers sometimes hedging their bets and calling an election to try and achieve a workable majority, like in these examples.


Harold Wilson called a snap general election just 17 months after the previous one, as his unworkably small majority of just four MPs was impossible to govern with. The 1966 election resulted in a successful landslide for Wilson, awarding him a majority of 98 seats.


The Conservative Party were unable to secure a majority at the 2017 general election and governed alongside the DUP of Northern Ireland until 2019. Once Theresa May resigned and was succeeded by Boris Johnson, he knew he needed to achieve a workable majority to get his Brexit plans agreed. Johnson’s snap election took place on 12th December 2019 and saw the Conservatives win a landslide victory with a majority of 80 seats.

General elections resulting in hung parliaments

A hung parliament is when no single party wins a majority in the House of Commons, and they have to look to other parties to support their claim to rule. It can result in some controversial decisions on the part of supporting

parties and often doesn’t work out for long.


Edward Heath’s Conservative government lost its majority, yet he held onto the position of prime minister for a few days as they tried to form a coalition. However, he was unable to do so and the second general election of 1974 saw Labour return to office with a very small majority.


One of the most infamous moments in modern politics took place when the Liberal Democrats made the decision to join forces with the Conservatives and support their rule after the 2010 General Election, which proved to have disastrous consequences for Nick Clegg’s political career.