1923 United Kingdom general election
The 1923 United Kingdom general election was held on Thursday 6 December 1923. The Conservatives, led by Stanley Baldwin, won the most seats, but Labour, led by Ramsay MacDonald, and H. H. Asquith's reunited Liberal Party gained enough seats to produce a hung parliament. It is the most recent UK general election in which a third party (here, the Liberals) won over 100 seats. The Liberals' percentage of the vote, 29.7%, has not been exceeded by a third party at any general election since.
All 615 seats in the House of Commons
308 seats needed for a majority
Colours denote the winning party—as shown in § Results
MacDonald formed the first ever Labour government with tacit support from the Liberals. Rather than trying to bring the Liberals back into government, Asquith's motivation for permitting Labour to enter power was that he hoped they would prove to be incompetent and quickly lose support. Being a minority, MacDonald's government only lasted ten months and another general election was held in October 1924.
In May 1923, Prime Minister Bonar Law fell ill and resigned on 22 May, after just 209 days in office. He was replaced by Chancellor of the Exchequer, Stanley Baldwin. The Labour Party had also changed leaders since the previous election, after J. R. Clynes was defeated in a leadership challenge by former leader Ramsay MacDonald.
Having won an election just the year before, Baldwin's Conservative Party had a comfortable majority in the House of Commons and could have waited another four years, but the government was concerned. Baldwin felt the need to receive a mandate from the people, which, if successful, would strengthen his grip on the Conservative Party leadership and allow him to introduce tariff reform and imperial preference as protectionist trade policies over the objections of the free trade elements of his party.
Oxford historian (and Conservative MP) J.A.R. Marriott depicts the gloomy national mood:
The times were still out of joint. Mr. Baldwin had indeed succeeded in negotiating (January 1923) a settlement of the British debt to the United States, but on terms which involved an annual payment of £34 million, at the existing rate of exchange. The French remained in the Ruhr. Peace had not yet been made with Turkey; unemployment was a standing menace to national recovery; there was continued unrest among the wage-earners, and a significant strike among farm labourers in Norfolk.
Confronted by these difficulties, convinced that economic conditions in England called for a drastic change in fiscal policy, and urged thereto by the Imperial Conference of 1923, Mr. Baldwin decided to ask the country for a mandate for Preference and Protection.
The result backfired on Baldwin, who lost a host of seats to Labour and the Liberals, resulting in a hung parliament. Baldwin attempted to continue in power, hoping that the Liberals would support his government, but they combined with Labour to vote down the King's Speech prepared by Baldwin, causing his government to fall. For the first time in history, Labour formed a government.
|Party||Leader||Stood||Elected||Gained||Unseated||Net||% of total||%||No.||Net %|
|Liberal||H. H. Asquith||457||158||86||43||+43||25.69||29.7||4,129,922||+0.9|
|Belfast Labour||David Robb Campbell||1||0||0||0||0||0.2||22,255||N/A|
|Scottish Prohibition||Edwin Scrymgeour||1||1||0||0||0||0.1||12,877||0.0|
Transfers of seats
- All comparisons are with the 1922 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 1923. Such circumstances are marked with a †.
- List of MPs elected in the 1923 United Kingdom general election
- 2019 United Kingdom general election, the next UK general election after 1923 to be held in December.
- 1923 United Kingdom general election in Northern Ireland
- Cook, Chris P. (1969), "Wales and the General Election of 1923", Welsh History Review, 4 (4): 393–4
- Craig, F. W. S., ed. (1975), British General Election Manifestos, 1900-74
- Irwin, Douglas A. (1995), Industry or Class Cleavages over Trade Policy? Evidence from the British General Election of 1923 (PDF), National Bureau of Economic Research
- Self, Robert (1992), "Conservative reunion and the general election of 1923: a reassessment", Twentieth Century British History, 3 (3): 249–273, doi:10.1093/tcbh/3.3.249
- Smart, Nick (1996), "Baldwin's Blunder? The General Election of 1923", Twentieth Century British History, 7 (1): 110–139, doi:10.1093/tcbh/7.1.110