2010 United Kingdom general election

The 2010 United Kingdom general election was held on Thursday 6 May 2010, with 45,597,461 registered voters[1] entitled to vote to elect members to the House of Commons. The election took place in 650 constituencies[note 1] across the United Kingdom under the first-past-the-post system.

2010 United Kingdom general election

 2005 6 May 2010 (2010-05-06) 2015 

All 650 seats in the House of Commons
326 seats needed for a majority
Opinion polls
Turnout65.1% (3.7%)
  First party Second party Third party
Leader David Cameron Gordon Brown Nick Clegg
Party Conservative Labour Liberal Democrats
Leader since 6 December 2005 24 June 2007 18 December 2007
Leader's seat Witney Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath Sheffield Hallam
Last election 198 seats, 32.4% 355 seats, 35.2% 62 seats, 22.0%
Seats before 210 349 62
Seats won 306 258 57
Seat change 96 91 5
Popular vote 10,703,754 8,609,527 6,836,824
Percentage 36.1% 29.0% 23.0%
Swing 3.7 pp 6.2 pp 1.0 pp

Colours denote the winning party, as shown in the main table of results
  • excluding the Speaker
  • owing to electoral boundaries changing, this figure is notional

Composition of the House of Commons after the election

Prime Minister before election

Gordon Brown

Prime Minister after election

David Cameron

The election resulted in a large swing to the Conservative Party similar to that seen in 1979, the last time a Conservative opposition had ousted a Labour government. The Labour Party lost the 66-seat majority it had previously enjoyed, but no party achieved the 326 seats needed for a majority. The Conservatives, led by David Cameron, won the most votes and seats, but still fell 20 seats short. This resulted in a hung parliament where no party was able to command a majority in the House of Commons. This was only the second general election since the Second World War to return a hung parliament, the first being the February 1974 election.

For the leaders of all three major political parties, this was their first general election contest as party leader. Prime minister Gordon Brown had taken office in June 2007 following the end of Tony Blair's 10-year reign as prime minister and 13 years as leader of the Labour Party, while David Cameron had succeeded Michael Howard in December 2005 and Nick Clegg had succeeded Menzies Campbell (who never contested a general election) in December 2007.

However, a hung parliament had been largely anticipated by the opinion polls in the run-up to the election, so politicians and voters were better prepared for the constitutional process that would follow such a result.[2] The coalition government that was subsequently formed was the first to result directly from a UK election. The hung parliament came about in spite of the Conservatives managing both a higher vote total and a higher share of the vote than the previous Labour government had done in 2005, when it had secured a comfortable majority (although vastly reduced from its landslide victories at the previous two elections). A total of 149 sitting MPs stood down at the election, the highest since 1945, including many former New Labour Cabinet ministers such as former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, Alan Milburn, Geoff Hoon, Ruth Kelly, James Purnell and John Reid. One reason for the very high number of MPs standing down was the parliamentary expenses scandal a year earlier.

Coalition talks began immediately between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, and lasted for five days. There was an aborted attempt to put together a Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition (although 11 seats from other smaller parties would have been required). To facilitate this, Gordon Brown announced on the evening of Monday 10 May that he would resign as Leader of the Labour Party. Realising that a deal between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats was imminent, Brown resigned the next day, on Tuesday 11 May, as Prime Minister, marking the end of 13 years of Labour government.[3] This was accepted by Queen Elizabeth II, who then invited David Cameron to form a government in her name and become Prime Minister. Just after midnight on 12 May, the Liberal Democrats approved the agreement "overwhelmingly",[4][5] sealing a coalition government of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

None of the three main party leaders had previously led a general election campaign, a situation which had not occurred since the 1979 election. During the campaign, the three main party leaders engaged in the first televised debates. The Liberal Democrats achieved a breakthrough in opinion polls after the first debate, in which their leader Nick Clegg was widely seen as the strongest performer. Nonetheless, on polling day their share of the vote increased by only 1%, with a net loss of five seats. This was still the Liberal Democrats' largest popular vote since the party's creation in 1988, and they found themselves in a pivotal role in the formation of the new government. The share of votes for parties other than Labour or the Conservatives was 35%, the largest since the 1918 general election. In terms of votes it was the most "three-cornered" election since 1923, and in terms of seats since 1929. The Green Party of England and Wales won its first ever seat in the House of Commons, and the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland also gained its first elected member.[6] The general election saw a 5.1% national swing from Labour to the Conservatives, the third-largest since 1945. The result in one constituency, Oldham East and Saddleworth, was subsequently declared void on petition because of illegal practices during the campaign, the first such instance since 1910.

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