1997 United Kingdom general election

The 1997 United Kingdom general election was held on 1 May 1997. The incumbent governing Conservative Party led by Prime Minister John Major was defeated in a landslide by the Labour Party led by Tony Blair.

1997 United Kingdom general election

 1992 1 May 1997 2001 

All 659 seats to the House of Commons
330 seats needed for a majority
Opinion polls
Turnout71.3% (6.4%)
  First party Second party Third party
 
Leader Tony Blair John Major Paddy Ashdown
Party Labour Conservative Liberal Democrats
Leader since 21 July 1994 4 July 1995[n 1] 16 July 1988
Leader's seat Sedgefield Huntingdon Yeovil
Last election 271 seats, 34.4% 336 seats, 41.9% 20 seats, 17.8%
Seats before 273 343 18
Seats won 418 165 46
Seat change 145* 171* 26*
Popular vote 13,518,167 9,600,943 5,242,947
Percentage 43.2% 30.7% 16.8%
Swing 8.8% 11.2% 1.0%

Colours denote the winning party, as shown in the main table of results.
* Indicates boundary change, so this is a nominal figure.
Notional 1992 results on new boundaries.
^ Figure does not include the speaker.

Composition of the House of Commons after the election

Prime Minister before election

John Major
Conservative

Prime Minister after election

Tony Blair
Labour

Seats won in the election (outer ring) against number of votes (inner ring).

The political backdrop of campaigning focused on public opinion towards a change in government. Labour Leader, Tony Blair focused on transforming his party through a more centrist policy platform, entitled 'New Labour', with promises towards devolution referendums for Scotland and Wales, fiscal responsibility, and Blair's decision to nominate more female politicians for constituencies. Major sought to rebuild public trust in the Conservatives following a series of scandals, including the events of Black Wednesday in 1992,[2] through campaigning on the strength of the economic recovery following the early 1990s recession, but faced divisions within the party over the UK's membership of the European Union.[3]

Opinion polls during campaigning showed strong support for Labour due to the popularity of Blair amongst voters,[4][5] and Blair won a personal public endorsement from The Sun newspaper two months before the vote.[6] The final result of the election on 2 May 1997 revealed that Labour had won a landslide majority, making a net gain of 146 seats and winning 43.2% of the vote. 133 Members of Parliament lost their seats. The Conservatives, meanwhile, suffered defeat with a net loss of 178 seats, despite winning 30.7% of the vote. The Liberal Democrats, under the leadership of Paddy Ashdown, made a net gain of 28 seats, winning 16.8% of the vote.

The overall result of the election ended 18 years of Conservative government, in their worst defeat since 1906, which left them devoid of any MPs outside of England, only 17 MPs north of the Midlands, and less than 20% of MPs in London. Immediately following the election Major resigned both as Prime Minister and as party leader. Labour's victory, the largest achieved in their history and by any political party in British politics since the Second World War, led to the party's first of three consecutive terms in power lasting 13 years, with Blair as the newly appointed Prime Minister. The Liberal Democrats' success in the election, in part due to anti-Conservative tactical voting,[7] both strengthened Ashdown's leadership and the party's position as a strong third party, having won the highest number of seats by any third party since 1929.

Although the Conservatives lost many ministers such as Michael Portillo, Tony Newton, Malcolm Rifkind, Ian Lang and William Waldegrave and controversial MPs such as Neil Hamilton and Jonathan Aitken,[8] some of the Conservative newcomers in this election were future Prime Minister Theresa May, future Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond as well as future Speaker John Bercow. Meanwhile, Labour newcomers included future Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet members Hazel Blears, Ben Bradshaw, Yvette Cooper, Caroline Flint, Barry Gardiner, Alan Johnson, Ruth Kelly, John McDonnell, Stephen Twigg and Rosie Winterton, as well as future Speaker Lindsay Hoyle. The election of 120 women, including 101 to the Labour benches came to be seen as a watershed moment in female political representation in the UK.[9]