Voting and the Electorate

  • Patrick Dunleavy


Superficially the 1979 election produced a result very similar to that held almost exactly twenty-four years previously. The Conservatives won 334 seats in 1955 and three more in 1979, while Labour’s MPs decreased from 277 to 269 across the two years. In May 1955, 76.7 per cent of voters went to the polls; twenty-four years later the figure was down very slightly, by 0.7 per cent. In both cases the Conservative government had a clear working majority in Parliament, and the House of Commons was dominated by the two major parties. Yet most commentators agree that 1955 was the heyday of the post-war two-party system, while 1979 was a key stage in its decline. This basic change showed up far more graphically in the 1983 election, when Labour’s share of the poll collapsed to its lowest level since 1918, boosting the Liberal-SDP Alliance’s vote to the highest achieved by any third party since the interwar period. The electoral system ensured, however, that the primary change in Commons’ representation was an ‘artificial’ Conservative landslide, giving them 397 seats. Labour was slightly protected from the full consequences of defeat, retaining 209 seats. The Alliance secured only 6 SDP and 17 Liberal MPs (around 140 seats short given their share of the vote).


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Guide to Further Reading

  1. Iain McLean, Dealing in Votes (Martin Robertson, 1982, chs 1–4),Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Paul Arthur, Nick Bosanquet, Paul Byrne, Henry Drucker, Patrick Dunleavy, Andrew Gamble, Martin Holmes, Martin Kettle, Joni Lovenduski, Peter Nailor, Gillian Peele, Raymond Plant, R. A. W. Rhodes 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • Patrick Dunleavy

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