Vote harvesters

Since 1945 there have been fifty-two occasions when a party has achieved a million or more votes in a General Election. These have been the exclusive domain of the big three: Conservative, Labour, and the Liberal Democrats (in a number of guises). The nearest another party has got to joining this select club was in 1997 when the Referendum Party polled 811,849 votes.

Not once have the Liberal Democrats beaten any previous vote tally for the either Labour or the Conservatives. Their biggest vote, as the SDP-Liberal Alliance, did see them come within half a million votes of second place though in 1983. That they were held off is seen by many within Labour as Michael Foot’s finest achievement. He managed to hold a warring Labour Party together, despite the longest suicide note in history.

Michael Foot’s 1983 tally is just ahead of what William Hague got as leader of the opposition. Mr Hague suffered from contesting an election which was seen as a foregone conclusion by many in the country – which also, in part at least, accounts for the four million votes lost by Tony Blair over the preceding four years.

Gordon Brown holds the distinction of having the lowest vote for any Prime Minister.

Labour’s biggest vote came in an election they lost. Clement Attlee in 1951 out-polled the Conservatives, yet got less seats – a reverse of the current situation which sees Labour’s vote more efficiently spread nowadays.

Tony Blair’s huge 1997 landslide only sees him in seventh place, and David Cameron may consider himself unlucky in that his 2010 vote was only just lower than that which delivered a second Blair landslide.

It is noticeable that the despite a growing electorate the recent elections do not always deliver the biggest votes for the major parties, and this is a phenomena of the growing strength of the minor parties.

Year Party Votes Leader Position

1

1992 Conservative

14093007

John Major

1

2

1951 Labour

13948385

Clement Attlee

2

3

1987 Conservative

13760935

Margaret Thatcher

1

4

1959 Conservative

13750875

Harold Macmillan

1

5

1951 Conservative

13717850

Winston Churchill

1

6

1979 Conservative

13697923

Margaret Thatcher

1

7

1997 Labour

13518167

Tony Blair

1

8

1955 Conservative

13310891

Anthon Eden

1

9

1950 Labour

13226176

Clement Attlee

1

10

1970 Conservative

13145123

Edward Heath

1

11

1966 Labour

13096629

Harold Wilson

1

12

1983 Conservative

13012316

Margaret Thatcher

1

13

1955 Labour

12405254

Clement Attlee

2

14

1959 Labour

12216172

Hugh Gaitskell

2

15

1970 Labour

12208758

Harold Wilson

2

16

1964 Labour

12205808

Harold Wilson

1

17

1964 Conservative

12002642

Alec Douglas-Home

2

18

1945 Labour

11967746

Clement Attlee

1

19

Feb 1974 Conservative

11872180

Edward Heath

1

20

Feb 1974 Labour

11645616

Harold Wilson

2

21

1992 Labour

11560484

Neil Kinnock

2

22

1979 Labour

11532218

James Callaghan

2

23

1950 Conservative

11507061

Winston Churchill

2

24

Oct 1974 Labour

11457079

Harold Wilson

1

25

1966 Conservative

11418455

Edward Heath

2

26

2001 Labour

10724953

Tony Blair

1

27

2010 Conservative

10703654

David Cameron

1

28

Oct 1974 Conservative

10462565

Edward Heath

2

29

1987 Labour

10029270

Neil Kinnock

2

30

1997 Conservative

9600943

John Major

2

31

2005 Labour

9552436

Tony Blair

1

32

2005 Conservative

8784915

Michael Howard

2

33

1945 Conservative

8716211

Winston Churchill

2

34

2010 Labour

8606517

Gordon Brown

2

35

1983 Labour

8456934

Michael Foot

2

36

2001 Conservative

8357615

William Hague

2

37

1983 SDP-Liberal Alliance

7780949

David Steel and Roy Jenkins

3

38

1987 SDP-Liberal Alliance

7341651

David Steel and David Owen

3

39

2010 Liberal Democrat

6836248

Nick Clegg

3

40

Feb 1974 Liberal

6059519

Jeremy Thorpe

3

41

1992 Liberal Democrat

5999606

Paddy Ashdown

3

42

2005 Liberal Democrat

5985454

Charles Kennedy

3

43

Oct 1974 Liberal

5346704

Jeremy Thorpe

3

44

1997 Liberal Democrat

5242947

Paddy Ashdown

3

45

2001 Liberal Democrat

4814321

Charles Kennedy

3

46

1979 Liberal

4313804

David Steel

3

47

1964 Liberal

3099283

Jo Grimond

3

48

1950 Liberal

2621487

Clement Davies

3

49

1966 Liberal

2327457

Jo Grimond

3

50

1945 Liberal

2177211

Archibald Sinclair

3

51

1970 Liberal

2117035

Jeremy Thorpe

3

52

1959 Liberal

1640760

Jo Grimond

3

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2 Responses to Vote harvesters

  1. “Year Votes Party – Leader
    Feb 1974 11872180 Conservative – Edward Heath
    Feb 1974 11645616 Labour – Harold Wilson”

    February 1974 is possibly the most notorious recent election result – and the starting point for a “game of what it’?” as well as a consideration of our confusion between electing representatives to form a parliament and electing Prime Ministers (see http://wp.me/pUTZ7-3V ).

    The February 1974 election was meant to be on “Who runs Britain the Government or the Unions?” and you still read commentators who refer to the electorate saying (to Ted Heath) “Not you mate” and criticising him for trying to do a deal with Thorpe to stay in office.

    The new House of Commons may have said “Not you mate”, but the electorate said (grudgingly – if we accept that was the question) “Yeh, you”.

    How would the country look if the electorate’s view (rather than a distorted House of Commons view) had prevailed in February 1974? We would have had Heath’s reforms rather than Thatcher’s reforms for a start. A resurgent Liberal Party? Perhaps Callaghan may have later gone on to be a multi-tenure Prime Minister? That would probably have meant no SDP – and No Lib Dems!

  2. Pingback: Votes per MP, a disparity and an argument still true | Julian's musings

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