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UK by-election records is an annotated list of notable records from United Kingdommarker by-elections. A by-election occurs when a Member of Parliament resigns, dies, or is disqualified or expelled, and an election is held to fill the vacant seat. A constituency is the seat or division that member represented.

Prior to 1945, electoral competition in the United Kingdom exhibited features which make meaningful comparisons with modern results difficult.

Among the most significant were:

  • Frequent interventions and withdrawals of parties in different seats.
  • Frequent Coalitions between parties, splits within parties and floor-crossing by members.
  • Uncontested elections and truces between parties, in particular during both World Wars.
  • Generally more significant competition from independent candidates and minor parties.
  • Multi-member seats and University seats.
  • Higher frequency of by-elections.
  • Generally higher turnouts, although several wartime elections exhibited the lowest recorded turnouts.
  • Generally higher variation in size of constituency electorates.

Since 1945, the evolution of a stable three-party system has tended to negate each of the above features so that, broadly speaking, elections are more comparable.

In Northern Irelandmarker, as ever, the pattern of party competition is completely different from that on the mainland and comparisons remain problematic.

Hence, unless otherwise stated records are based on results since the 1945 General Election, and earlier exceptional results are listed separately.

For comparison purposes the following definitions have been adopted.

  • Gain - victory by a party which was not victorious at the immediate previous election.
  • Loss - defeat of a party which was victorious at the immediate previous election.
  • Hold - victory by a party which was victorious at the immediate previous election.
  • Win - victory by a party. Ambiguous term that could mean either a gain or a hold.
  • Incumbent - the party which held the seat at the immediate previous election, irrespective of any intervening change of candidate or candidate's change of party.
  • Third party - In England, since 1922, the "third party" has been the Liberal Party and its successors, the Liberal Democrats. Additionally, in Scotlandmarker and Walesmarker the Scottish National Party (SNP) and Plaid Cymru are also considered to be third parties. Prior to 1922, the third party was the Labour Party.
  • Minor party - parties smaller than the third party
  • Uncontested - an election where only one candidate is put forward. No votes are actually cast and the candidate is by definition the victor.

Numerical records

For more information about what is meant by the term "swing", see Swing

Largest swings

Election Swing (%) From To
Christchurch by-election, 1993 35.4 Conservative Liberal Democrat
Liverpool Wavertree by-election, 1935 30.0 Conservative Labour
Dudley West by-election, 1994 29.2 Conservative Labour
Newbury by-election, 1993 28.4 Conservative Liberal Democrat
South East Staffordshire by-election, 1996 22.1 Conservative Labour
Dagenham by-election, 1994 23.1 Conservative Labour
Barking by-election, 1994 22.0 Conservative Labour
Glasgow East by-election, 2008 22.6 Labour Scottish National Party
Walsall North by-election, 1976 22.6 Labour Conservative
Dudley by-election, 1968 21.2 Labour Conservative
Ashfield by-election, 1977 20.9 Labour Conservative

Largest fall in percentage share of vote

A party's share of the vote at a general election is not always matched at subsequent by-elections, but given the five-year maximum term of a Parliament, reductions of 20% or more are unusual. Those of 25% or more are listed below:

Election Reduction in

% share
Party Result
Merthyr by-election, 1934 59.6

Glasgow Camlachie by-election, 1948 51.3

Southwark South East by-election, 1921 49.7

Westminster St George's by-election, 1921 47.7

Liverpool Wavertree by-election, 1935 46.7

Bermondsey by-election, 1983 37.5

Birmingham Ladywood by-election, 1969 33.4

Christchurch by-election, 1993 32.5

Rochdale by-election, 1958 31.7

Dudley West by-election, 1994 30.2

North Down by-election, 1995 29.9

 gain from Popular Unionist
Hamilton by-election, 1967 29.7

Birmingham Hodge Hill by-election, 2004 29.6

Paisley by-election, 1961 29.5

Brent East by-election, 2003 29.4

Newbury by-election, 1993 29.0

Caerphilly by-election, 1968 28.7

Hamilton South by-election, 1999 28.7

West Lothian by-election, 1962 28.3

Torrington by-election, 1958 27.7

Norwich North by-election, 2009 26.7

West Derbyshire by-election, 1962 25.2


Worst results for other parties:

Party By-election Reduction in

% share
Socialist Labour Party Glasgow North East by-election, 2009 14.0 Labour gain from Speaker
Ulster Unionist Belfast South by-election, 1982 22.4 Ulster Unionist hold
Liberal Clitheroe by-election, 1979 14.2 Conservative hold
Scottish National Kinross and West Perthshire by-election, 1963 07.7 Conservative hold
Plaid Cymru Swansea East by-election, 1963 05.3 Labour hold

Largest increase in percentage share of vote

Election Increase in Share Party Result
Bermondsey by-election, 1983 50.9

Paisley by-election, 1961 41.4

Christchurch by-election, 1993 38.6

Glasgow Govan by-election, 1988 38.4

Liverpool Edge Hill by-election, 1979 36.8

Glasgow Govan by-election, 1973 31.6

Southwark South East by-election, 1921 29.6

Croydon North West by-election, 1981 29.5

Caerphilly by-election, 1968 29.3

Brent East by-election, 2003 28.5

Dudley West by-election, 1994 28.0

Greenwich by-election, 1987 27.9

Merthyr Tydfil by-election, 1972 27.4

Carmarthen by-election, 1966 27.4

Ribble Valley by-election, 1991 27.1

Monklands East by-election, 1994 26.9

Birmingham Hodge Hill by-election, 2004 26.1

Glasgow East by-election, 2008 26.1

Mid Staffordshire by-election, 1990 24.3

Haltemprice and Howden by-election, 2008 24.1

Bristol West by-election, 1951 22.5

South East Staffordshire by-election, 1996 22.0

Eastbourne by-election, 1990 21.1

Walthamstow East by-election, 1969 20.8

Ashfield by-election, 1977 20.8

Fermanagh and South Tyrone by-election, April 1981 20.8

Barking by-election, 1994 20.5

Glasgow Central by-election, 1989 20.3

Pontypridd by-election, 1989 20.0


If seats in which the nationalist party had not stood in the general election are included, the best results are:

51.4% at the Motherwell by-election, 1945, gained by the Scottish National Party.
43.2% at the Paisley by-election, 1948, held by Labour.

Largest winning share of the vote

Candidate Party Election Votes % Share
Ernest Everard Gates

Middleton and Prestwich by-election, 1940 32,036 98.7
Ian Paisley

North Antrim by-election, 1986 33,937 97.4
John Craik-Henderson

Leeds North East by-election, 1940 23,882 97.1
James Milner

Leeds South East by-election, 1929 11,804 95.8
John Mackintosh McLeod

Glasgow Central by-election, 1915 95.3
John Taylor

Strangford by-election, 1986 32,627 94.2
Clifford Forsythe

South Antrim by-election, 1986 30,087 94.1

Lowest winning share of the vote

Winning shares of the vote below 35%, since 1918:

Candidate Party Election Votes % Share
[[Henry Strauss, 1st Baron Conesford|Henry Strauss]]

Combined English Universities by-election, 1946 5,483 30.0
Edward Taswell Campbell

Bromley by-election, 1930 12,782 32.4
George Machin

Dundee East by-election, 1973 14,411 32.7
Roy Jenkins

Glasgow Hillhead by-election, 1982 10,106 33.4
Guy Barnett

South Dorset by-election, 1962 13,783 33.5
James Carmichael

Glasgow Bridgeton by-election, 1946 6,351 34.3
Leah Manning

Islington East by-election, 1931 10,591 34.7
Kenneth Lindsay

Kilmarnock by-election, 1933 12,577 34.8
Parmjit Singh Gill

Leicester South by-election, 2004 10,274 34.9

The Stockport by-election, 1920, was held to elect two MPs. The winners' shares of the total vote were 25.6% and 25.1%. However, as each voter could cast two votes, the situation is not readily comparable to other by-elections in this period.

At the Sheffield Attercliffe by-election, 1909, the winning candidate took only 27.5% of the vote.

Lowest share of the vote

Major parties

Major parties winning 2% or less share of votes cast in a by-election, since 1918:

Candidate Party Election Votes % Share
Roger Goodfellow

Glasgow Camlachie by-election, 1948 312 1.2
John Scott Duckers

Westminster Abbey by-election, 1924 291 1.3
Robert McCreadie

Glasgow Central by-election, 1989 411 1.6
Patrick Davies

Winchester by-election, 1997 944 1.7
Ian Miller

Glasgow Pollok by-election, 1967 735 1.9
Steve Billcliffe

Newbury by-election, 1993 1,151 2.0

The worst Conservative performance was in the North Down by-election, 1995, where they took 2.1% of the votes cast.

Candidates winning fewer than ten votes

Since 1918:1

Votes Name Affiliation Label
5 Bill Boaks Public Safety Democratic Monarchist White Resident Glasgow Hillhead by-election, 1982
5 Kailash Trivedi Independent Janata Party Kensington by-election, 1988
7 John Connell Peace - stop ITN manipulation Chesterfield by-election, 1984
8 Esmond Bevan Systems Designer2 Bermondsey by-election, 1983
8 Tony Farnon Independent Haltemprice and Howden by-election, 2008
8 Norman Scarth Independent Haltemprice and Howden by-election, 2008

1 F. R. Lees, a Temperance Chartist, won no votes in the Ripon by-election, 1860, as his supporters mistakenly believed that he had withdrawn.
2 Bevan made a mistake when filling out his nomination paper and put his occupation ("Systems Designer") in the space labelled 'description' which was then printed on the ballot paper. He was an independent candidate.

Smallest majorities

All majorities of less than 1,000 since the Second World War. Bold entries indicate a new record.

Votes Election Notes
57 Berwick-upon-Tweed by-election, 1973 Gained by the Liberal Party
62 Walthamstow West by-election, 1967 Gained by the Conservatives
100 West Derbyshire by-election, 1986 Held by the Conservatives
205 Leyton by-election, 1965 Gained by the Conservatives
219 Torrington by-election, 1958 Gained by the Liberals
220 Central Norfolk by-election, 1962 Held by the Conservatives
264 Ashfield by-election, 1977 Gained by the Conservatives
289 Birmingham Northfield by-election, 1982 Gained by Labour
293 West Dumbartonshire by-election, 1950 Held by Labour
359 Combined English Universities by-election, 1946 Gained by the Conservatives
365 Glasgow East by-election, 2008 Gained by the SNP
395 Glasgow Camlachie by-election, 1948 Gained by the Conservatives
430 Southend East by-election, 1980 Held by the Conservatives
437 Brighouse and Spenborough by-election, 1950 Held by Labour
452 Heywood and Radcliffe by-election, 1946 Held by Labour
460 Birmingham Hodge Hill by-election, 2004 Held by Labour
478 Swindon by-election, 1969 Gained by the Conservatives
517 Paddington North by-election, 1969 Held by Labour
520 Grimsby by-election, 1977 Held by Labour
552 Penrith and The Border by-election, 1983 Held by the Conservatives
556 Hamilton South by-election, 1999 Held by Labour
557 Manchester Gorton by-election, 1967 Held by Labour
559 Brecon and Radnor by-election, 1985 Gained by the Liberal Party
571 Glasgow Govan by-election, 1973 Gained by the SNP
633 Bromley and Chislehurst by-election, 2006 Held by the Conservatives
641 Bolton East by-election, 1960 Held by the Conservatives
657 Taunton by-election, 1956 Held by the Conservatives
666 Brighouse and Spenborough by-election, 1960 Gained by the Conservatives
704 South Dorset by-election, 1962 Gained by Labour
705 Falkirk West by-election, 2000 Held by Labour
740 Bassetlaw by-election, 1968 Held by Labour
799 Newcastle-under-Lyme by-election, 1986 Held by Labour
806 Mid Ulster by-election, 1955 Held by Sinn Féin
815 Kensington by-election, 1988 Held by the Conservatives
822 South Antrim by-election, 2000 Gained by the DUP
865 South Norfolk by-election, 1955 Held by the Conservatives
913 Belfast West by-election, 1950 Held by the Unionists
917 South Northamptonshire by-election, 1962 Held by the Conservatives
946 Ripon by-election, 1973 Gained by the Liberal Party
971 Dumfriesshire by-election, 1963 Held by the Conservatives
973 Blackpool North by-election, 1962 Held by the Conservatives
Still smaller majorities have been recorded since 1918. The majority in the Penrith and Cockermouth by-election, 1921, was only 31 votes, and in the Westminster Abbey by-election 1924 was 43 votes.


Turnout is recorded as the percentage of valid votes from the total recorded vote.

Highest turnout

The highest turnouts since 1918:

Turnout increased from general election

It is highly unusual for a by-election to attract a higher turnout in a seat than the previous general election.

By-election Turnout % Turnout %

at general election
Increase %
Mid Ulster by-election, 1969 91.5 83.9 7.6
Carmarthen by-election, 1957 87.4 85.1 2.3
Fermanagh and South Tyrone by-election, August 1981 88.6 87.1 1.5
Darlington by-election, 1926 87.6 86.1 1.5
Mid Ulster by-election, 1955 89.7 88.6 1.1
Ashton-under-Lyne by-election, 1928 89.1 88.3 0.8
Glasgow Hillhead by-election, 1982 76.4 75.7 0.7

Lowest turnout

During the Second World War the electoral register was not kept up to date despite significant population movements, especially in the London area (which contains all three constituencies listed below). Consequently only those eligible to vote in the constituency at the outbreak of war were eligible to vote in the by-elections and many voters were physically unable to as they were located elsewhere; in addition the major parties did not compete against each other. The lowest turnout in peacetime since 1918 was 19.9% at the Leeds Central by-election, 1999. The lowest turnouts since 1918 have been:

Most candidates

Any number of candidates can be nominated for election under current UK electoral law. There are no restrictions, with the only required stipulation (other than residency rules) being the valid nomination of ten electors from the constituency. By-elections often attract "fringe" or novelty candidates, single-issue candidates, or independents. As with nominations in a general election, candidates must pay a £500 deposit which is only refunded if the candidate wins 5% of the votes cast.

All by-elections with more than ten candidates are listed. Those which created a new record number are shown in bold.

Year Number of candidates Election
2008 26 Haltemprice and Howden
1993 19 Newbury
1999 18 Kensington and Chelsea
1984 17 Chesterfield
2003 16 Brent East
1988 15 Kensington
1993 14 Christchurch
2004 Hartlepool
1990 Mid Staffordshire
1989 Vauxhall
2009 13 Glasgow North East
1996 South East Staffordshire
1981 12 Croydon North West
2003 Ealing Southall
1999 Hamilton South
2008 Henley
2009 Norwich North
1997 Wirral South
2006 11 Bromley and Chislehurst
1986 Hammersmith and Fulham
1978 Lambeth Central
2004 Leicester South
2007 Sedgefield
1990 Upper Bann
1997 Uxbridge
1989 Vale of Glamorgan
1981 Warrington
1977 10 Birmingham Ladywood
1990 Bradford North
1977 City of London and Westminster South
2008 Crewe and Nantwich
1994 Dudley West
1996 Hemsworth
1995 Littleborough and Saddleworth
2005 Livingston
2002 Ogmore

Fewest candidates

Year Number of candidates Election
1954 1 (uncontested) Armagh
1953 North Down
1952 Antrim North
1951 Londonderry by-election
1946 Hemsworth1
1986 2 Eight of the Northern Ireland by-elections
1981 Fermanagh and South Tyrone
1971 Widnes1
1986 3 Ryedale

*1 The most recent mainland UK example :*2 Four of the eight straight fights were between the Unionist incumbent and a "paper candidate" using the name "Peter Barry", the name of the then Irish Foreign Minister.

Candidate records

Durable by-election candidates

Former Labour cabinet minister Tony Benn contested no fewer than four by-elections during his career, topping the poll on each occasion: Bristol South East in 1950, Bristol South East in 1961, Bristol South East in 1963 and Chesterfield in 1984. His first and last by-election victories were 33 years and 3 months apart.

Former cabinet minister and European Commissioner Roy Jenkins fought two different by-elections for the Social Democratic Party only eight months apart. He narrowly failed in the Warrington by-election, 1981 before winning the Glasgow Hillhead by-election, 1982. He had been first elected as a Labour MP almost 34 years previously in the Southwark Central by-election, 1948.

Former Speaker of the House of Commons, Betty Boothroyd finally secured election at her third by-election attempt at the West Bromwich by-election, 1973marker. She had previously failed in the Leicester South East by-election, 1957 and the Nelson and Colne by-election, 1968 as well as the General Elections of 1959 and 1970.

Fringe candidates Bill Boaks, Screaming Lord Sutch of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party and Tom Keen of the Campaign for a More Prosperous Britain contested numerous by-elections without success.


Arthur Henderson was distinguished in being successful in no fewer than five by-elections in different seats, in Barnard Castle, Widnes, Newcastle-upon-Tyne East, Burnleymarker, and Clay Cross.

Joseph Gibbins is the only person in modern times to gain the same seat twice in two different by-elections. He triumphed for Labour in the Liverpool West Toxteth by-election, 1924 and the Liverpool West Toxteth by-election, 1935.

William O'Brien won four by-elections, in Mallow in 1883, North East Cork in 1887 and then Cork City in 1904 and 1914. On these last two occasions, he was re-elected having resigned the seat.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill contested five by-elections in his long career:-

John Wilkes won the Aylesbury by-election, 1757, and was then elected in the Middlesex by-elections of February, March and April 1769, on each occasion being subsequently expelled from the House of Commons.

Former MPs making a comeback at a by-election


1 by-election gain lost at the subsequent General Election

2 by-election gain held at the subsequent General Election

Former MPs failing in a by-election

Re-election of Ministers
Until the Re-election of Ministers Acts 1919 and 1926 there were many cases of members having to seek re-election on appointment to ministerial office. In eight instances they were unsuccessful:

Shortest-serving by-election victors

Since 1945

  • 1 died
  • 2 defeated at next general election
  • 3 disqualified (Beattie was never elected. He was awarded the seat on the disqualification of his predecessor, only to be found to be disqualified himself)
  • 4 retired at next general election (seat abolished by redistribution and failed to secure alternative seat)
  • 5 retired at next general election due to personal difficulties
  • a returned to Parliament at a subsequent election
  • b had served previously as an MP


  • 1 died
  • 2 defeated at next general election
  • 3 retired at next general election
  • 4 retired at next general election, upon succession to a peerage
  • 5 assassinated by IRA
  • 6 elevated to the Peerage
  • 7 resigned
  • a returned to Parliament at a subsequent election
  • b had served previously as an MP

Youngest by-election victors

Babies of the House elected at by-elections

See Baby of the House of Commons

Oldest by-election victors

First women by-election victors

The first woman to be elected in a by-election was Nancy Astor, who succeeded her husband at the Plymouth Sutton by-election, 1919, becoming the first woman to take her seat in the House of Commons.

The first woman to gain a seat in a by-election was Susan Lawrence who won the East Ham North by-election, 1926, although she had previously sat for the same seat between 1923-4.1

The first woman to gain a seat ab initio in a by-election was Jennie Lee who won the North Lanarkshire by-election, 1929, at the same time becoming the first woman Baby of the House of Commons.

Note1Mabel Philipson succeeded her husband at the Berwick-upon-Tweed by-election, 1923. He had been elected as a National Liberal. She won as a Conservative so this could arguably be classed as the first gain by a woman.

First ethnic minority by-election victors

Whilst the first ethnic minority Members of Parliament were elected as early as the 1890s, it would be almost 100 years before one was returned at a by-election.

The first ethnic minority candidate to be elected in a by-election was Ashok Kumar who gained the Langbaurgh by-election, 1991 for Labour.

The first by-election in which all three major-party candidates were from the ethnic minorities was the Ealing Southall by-election, 2007, held by Labour.

First by-election victors from specific religions

When the UK Parliament was established in 1801, non-Anglicans were prevented from taking their seats as MPs under the Test Act 1672. However, Methodists took communion at Anglican churches until 1795, and some continued to do so, and many Presbyterians were prepared to accept Anglican communion, thus ensuring that members of these creeds were represented in the Parliament. Some Unitarians were also elected.

The first Roman Catholic by-election victor in the UK Parliament was Daniel O'Connell in the Clare by-election, 1828. He was not permitted to take his seat until the following year.

David Salomons was the first Jewish by-election victor, at the Greenwich by-election, 1851.

Parmjit Singh Gill became the first Sikh by-election victor, at the Leicester South by-election, 2004.

Virendra Sharma became the first Hindu by-election victor, at the Ealing Southall by-election, 2007.

By-elections losers awarded seats on disqualification of winner

Two or more former MPs contest by-election

1 Conservative MPs David Davis and Walter Sweeney

Frequency and duration records

Longest period without a by-election

All periods of over a year between by-elections are listed:
  • 20 November 1997 - 10 June 1999: 567 days
  • 7 November 1991 - 6 May 1993: 546 days
  • 12 March 1987 - 14 July 1988: 489 days
  • 14 February 2002 - 18 June 2003: 489 days
  • 23 May 1974 - 26 June 1975: 399 days
  • 18 June 2003 - 15 July 2004: 393 days
  • 29 June 2006 - 19 July 2007: 385 days

Notes. 1992 and 1998 are the only calendar years in history without a single by-election. Since 1992 was nonetheless a General Election year, 1998 stands as the only year in British history without any parliamentary election.

Longest period without a seat changing hands

The longest period without a seat changing hands in a by-election was the five years between the Conservative victories in the Glasgow Camlachie by-election, 1948 and the Sunderland South by-election, 1953.

During the short Parliaments of 1910, 1950-1 and 1974 no seats changed hands in a by-election.

Longest period between by-election gains for a party

The Liberal Party endured 29 years without a single by-election gain between the Holland and Boston by-election, 1929 and the Torrington by-election, 1958. It did not win a single by-election in the thirteen years between holding the Middlesbrough West by-election, 1945 and gaining Torrington.

Until the Crewe and Nantwich by-election, 2008, the opposition Conservative Party had not gained a seat in almost 26 years, the last being the Mitcham and Morden by-election, 1982, which occurred during the unique cirmcumstances of the Falklands War and the sitting Labour MP defecting to the Social Democratic Party and seeking re-election under his new party label. The Conservatives' last gain while in Opposition was 30 years previously at the Ilford North by-election, 1978.

Labour's longest lean stretch was almost 18 years, between gaining the Brecon and Radnor by-election, 1939 and the Lewisham North by-election, 1957.1

Note1 The Labour Party were the official opposition in the Parliament elected in 1935, but after the major parties agreed an electoral truce on the outbreak of war in 1939, they did not contest any Conservative or Liberal seats for the remainder of the Parliament, a period of six years, and were members of the wartime coalition government between May 1940 and May 1945.

Longest period between by-election holds for a party

The Conservatives did not successfully defend a single by-election in the eight years between their holds of the Richmond by-election, 1989 and the Uxbridge by-election, 1997, losing a record 15 consecutive seats where they were the incumbents.

Labour's worst run was in losing 4 by-elections on the trot, which has occurred three times since 1945:

between holding the Newcastle-upon-Tyne Central by-election, 1976 and the Grimsby by-election, 1977.

between holding the Manchester Gorton by-election, 1967 and the Sheffield Brightside by-election, 1968.

between holding the Rhondda West by-election, 1967 and the Manchester Gorton by-election, 1967.

Longest period without an opposition gain

For a period of 11 years, until the Crewe and Nantwich by-election, 2008, the principal opposition Conservative Party failed to register a by-election gain against the incumbent Labour Government. This is the longest period of such failure since records began, and more than twice the previous record of the five years it took the then Labour opposition to gain the Lewisham North by-election, 1957.

Apart from the brief parliaments of 1910, 1950-1 and 1974, the parliaments of 1951-5 and 1997-2001 are the only occasions when the Government did not lose a by-election.

Most by-elections in one day

The largest number of by-elections held on a single day occurred on 23 January 1986 when 15 simultaneous contests were held in Northern Ireland. The elections had been engineered by the incumbent Unionist parties as a protest against the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985. They intended the results to be interpreted as a referendum on the treaty. The elections were boycotted by the main Nationalist parties except in four seats where they had a reasonable prospect of victory. In the event, the Social Democratic and Labour Party gained one seat, Newry and Armagh, from the Ulster Unionist Party.

Apart from the above example, it is common for UK mainland parties to schedule several by-elections on the same day. Motivations include attempting to divide opponents' resources and getting bad news (expected losses) out of the way. Since 1945, the largest number of simultaneous mainland by-elections has been 6, held on 16 November 1960. On four occasions, 5 by-elections have been held on the same day, most recently on 9 June 1994. Groupings of two or three are very common.

Most by-election losses in one day

The largest number of by-elections lost on a single day is three, when the Labour party lost Acton, Dudley and Meriden on 28 March 1968, all to the Conservatives.

Occasions since 1945 when two seats have fallen are:

Seats with more than one by-election in a single Parliament

Other seats with by-elections less than five years apart

By-election days

Currently, all British Parliamentary elections are invariably held on a Thursday. The last by-election not held on a Thursday was the Hamilton by-election, 1978, held on Wednesday 31 May due to a World Cup opening match on the Thursday evening.

Due to an administrative oversight, the Manchester Exchange by-election, 1973 was held on Wednesday 27 June 1973. Prior to that, the last by-elections not held on a Thursday were the Saffron Walden by-election, 1965 held on Tuesday 23 March, and the Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles by-election, 1965 held the following day.

Until the mid-1960s, it was common to hold by-elections on any day of the week (other than Sunday).

Causes of by-elections

By-elections prompted by assassination

By-elections prompted by accidental death

By-elections prompted by suicide

By-elections prompted by posthumous election of MP

By-elections prompted by scandal

By-elections prompted to provide seat for seat-less personality

By-elections prompted by party splits or disputes

By-elections re-contested over a single issue

By-elections to ratify a change of party

By-elections are ostensibly to vote for a 'person', not a 'party', meaning theoretically that a member switching parties mid-term is not cause for a by-election. However, some members do seek re-election under their new party as a point of principle.

By-elections triggered when member leaves on principle

By-elections prompted by Member's desire to contest another seat

By-elections prompted by Election Courts

By-elections prompted by disqualification of the sitting Member

By-elections prompted by expulsion from the House

By-elections prompted by lunacy

By-elections prompted by bankruptcy

By-elections prompted for miscellaneous reasons

  • Widnes by-election, 1916: William Hall Walker resigned to permit him to donate his thoroughbred racing stock to create a National Stud in an "arms-length" transaction. He was returned unopposed at the by-election.

By-elections prompted by death of member on wartime active service

Second World War

Notes: The above list is of those members either mentioned as having died on War Service in a written Commons answer from Prime Minister Winston Churchill on 19 January 1945, or who appear in the House of Commons Book of Remembrance unveiled in 1949.

a Mentioned in the written Commons answer, but does not appear in the House of Commons Book of Remembrance.
b Not mentioned in the written Commons answer, but does appear in the House of Commons Book of Remembrance.

NB:- The above list does not include the names of three members who deaths on active service were overtaken by the 1945 General Election. For a complete list see Records of members of parliament of the United Kingdom#Second World War

First World War

Miscellaneous records

Incumbents fall directly from first place to third place

1 Bruce Douglas-Mann had been re-elected as Labour MP for the seat in the 1979 General Election. In 1981, along with several other MPs, he defected to the newly-formed Social Democratic Party. Against his new colleagues' advice, he honoured a pledge to face his electors under his new party colours and precipitated a by-election. He came second in the by-election which was won by the Conservatives. The new Labour candidate finished third.

2 the Liberal MP, Lt-Commander the Hon. Joseph Montague Kenworthy, defected to Labour and sought re-election under his new colours. He was successful, and the new Liberal candidate lost his deposit.

Incumbent Government gains seats

These records show the rare occasions when the Government won a seat they had not won at the previous General election.


1 Seat awarded by Election Court to Conservative runner-up because Labour victor deemed ineligible.
2 An arguable gain; Stockport was a two-member seat; in the 1918 general election it was won by two supporters of the Coalition Government, one a Liberal and one a Labour member. After a death and a resignation, a by-election was held for both seats. The seats were again won by two Coalition Government supporters, but this time a Conservative and a Liberal, while a Labour candidate who did not support the government was unsuccessful.


1 Uncontested gain from Irish Nationalist.
2 Liberal MP defected to Labour and was re-elected as Labour at a by-election the Liberals did not contest.

Labour won both the West Bromwich West by-election, 2000 and Glasgow North East by-election, 2009, regarded as a gain from the contest at the United Kingdom general elections in 1997 and 2005 respectively as that seat has been contested by the then Speakers of the House of Commons.

Principal Opposition loses seats

These records show the rare occasions when the official Opposition failed to hold onto a seat they had won at the previous General election.


1A confused situation, where the victorious Empire Free Trade Crusade candidate was effectively a right-wing unofficial Conservative, who subsequently took the whip and was re-elected as official Conservative candidate.


1seat awarded by Election Court to Conservative runner-up because Labour victor Viscount Stansgate was deemed ineligible.
2Sir Owen Thomas had been elected as Independent Labour, took the whip for a while, before reverting to Independent Labour.

By-election holds overturned at next general election

By-elections usually see the high-water mark of any challenge to the incumbents. On rare occasions a party has failed to overturn an incumbent in the by-election yet has gone on to gain the seat at the subsequent general election.

By-election victors had not contested previous general election

It is unusual for a political party which has not contested a seat at a general election to take it at a subsequent by-election. Many of the parties which have done so were founded after the general election. Independent candidates are not included.


1 Alliance partner the Liberal party had contested the seat.
2 the victor was the sitting MP, who had left the Labour party.

Incumbent party did not contest

Losers had been unopposed at previous election

1 the Nationalists did not contest the by-election
2 the Speaker had originally been a Liberal MP.

Major party did not run

Great Britain

Neither the Liberal Democrat nor the Labour Party stood candidates in the Haltemprice and Howden by-election, 2008. The by-election was a single-issue election in regards to government security policy, in which the Liberal Democrats supported the Conservative candidate.

The Conservative Party did not run a candidate in the Bristol South East by-election, 1963, the Carmarthen by-election, 1957, the Paisley by-election, 1948 or the Ogmore by-election, 1946.

The Labour Party did not run in the City of London by-election, 1945, the Kensington South by-election, 1945 or the Combined English Universities by-election, 1946.

Prior to 2008, the last by-election without an official Liberal Democrat, Liberal or SDP candidate had been the Newham North East by-election, 1994; the Lib Dems nominated a candidate, but he joined the Labour Party before the election. No official Liberal candidate was nominated was the Glasgow Central by-election, 1980, whilst no Liberal stood in either the Westhoughton by-election, 1973 or the West Bromwich by-election, 1973, both held on 24 May 1973.

The last Scottish by-elections without official Scottish National Party candidates were the Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles by-election, 1965 and the Rutherglen by-election, 1964.

The last Welsh by-elections without official Welsh Nationalist candidates were the Abertillery by-election, 1950, the Pontypool by-election, 1946 and the Monmouth by-election, 1945.

Northern Ireland

The more fluid nature of politics in Northern Ireland makes it harder to define all major parties. In addition many by-elections have not been contested by parties holding other seats in the House of Commons, whether due to agreements with other parties, poor organisation in the constituency or the particular circumstances on the by-election. However for the period since 1981 (which saw the first by-elections in twelve years, during which time several major political realignments had occurred) the main parties are usually considered to be the Democratic Unionist Party, Sinn Féin, the Social Democratic and Labour Party and the Ulster Unionist Party.

The last by-elections without official Democratic Unionist candidates were the North Down by-election, 1995 and the Upper Bann by-election, 1990. They also did not stand in the twelve seats held by other Unionist parties in the 15 by-elections in 1986.

The last by-election without official candidates from either Sinn Féin or the Social Democratic and Labour Party was the the North Down by-election, 1995. Both parties also declined to stand in the eleven Unionist majority seats in the 15 by-elections in 1986. The SDLP also did not contest either the April or August 1981 by-elections in Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

The last by-elections without official Ulster Unionist candidates were North Antrim, East Belfast, Mid Ulster and North Down in the 15 by-elections in 1986.

The main British parties have generally not stood in seats in Northern Ireland. The by-election exceptions are the Upper Bann by-election, 1990 (Conservatives and continuing SDP) and the North Down by-election, 1995 (Conservatives). Prior to the 1970s the Ulster Unionists were effectively the local Conservatives, whilst the Liberals contested some but not all seats. The Social Democratic and Labour Party has traditionally seen itself as a "sister party" to the British Labour party, and its MPs usually accept the Labour whip in Parliament.

Victories by minor parties

Victories by independent and minor party candidates since 1945. For a complete list, see the list of UK minor party and independent MPs elected.

Minor parties other strong performance

Parties without representation in Parliament which saved their deposit:

Party By-election Candidate Votes Percentage Position Notes
Belfast East by-election, 1986 Oliver Napier 5,917 17.4 2 Party historically represented at Westminster
Belfast North by-election, 1986 Paul Maguire 5,072 16.7 2 Party historically represented at Westminster
Belfast South by-election, 1982 David Cook 11,726 26.9 2 Party historically represented at Westminster
Belfast South by-election, 1986 David Cook 7,635 25.0 2 Party historically represented at Westminster
East Antrim by-election, 1986 Sean Neeson 5,405 15.1 2 Party historically represented at Westminster
North Down by-election, 1986 John Cushnahan 8,066 20.8 2 Party historically represented at Westminster
North Down by-election, 1995 Oliver Napier 6,970 25.4 3 Party historically represented at Westminster
South Antrim by-election, 2000 David Ford 2,031 6.6 5 Party represented in the Northern Ireland Assembly and historically at Westminster
All-Party Alliance Oldham West by-election, 1968 John Creasey 3,389 13.2 3
Dagenham by-election, 1994 John Tyndall 1,511 7.0 4
Sedgefield by-election, 2007 Andrew Spence 2,494 8.9 4
Haltemprice and Howden by-election, 2008 Joanne Robinson 1,714 7.2 3
Haltemprice and Howden by-election, 2008 Shan Oakes 1,758 7.4 2 Party represented in the European Parliament and historically at Westminster
Vauxhall by-election, 1989 Henry Bewley 1,767 6.1 4 Party historically represented at Westminster
Combined English Universities by-election, 1946 Mary Stocks 5,124 28.0 2
Combined English Universities by-election, 1946 Ernest Simon 4,028 22.0 3
East Londonderry by-election, 1986 Peter Barry 2,001 6.1 2
Hamilton South by-election, 1999 Stephen Mungall 1,075 5.5 5
Sedgefield by-election, 2007 Paul Gittins 1,885 6.7 5
South Antrim by-election, 1986 Peter Barry 1,870 5.9 2
Strangford by-election, 1986 Peter Barry 1,993 5.8 2
Combined English Universities by-election, 1946 S. Wormald 3,414 18.7 4
Liverpool Walton by-election, 1991 Lesley Mahmood 2,613 6.5 3
Down by-election, 1946 J. Hastings-Little 16,895 17.1 3
North Down by-election, 1995 Alan Chambers 2,170 7.9 4
Armagh by-election, 1948 James O'Reilly 16,284 40.3 2 Party later represented at Westminster
Belfast West by-election, 1950 Jack Beattie 30,833 49.2 2 Party previously and later represented at Westminster
National Fellowship Bristol South East by-election, 1963 Edward Martell 4,834 19.0 2
West Bromwich by-election, 1973 Martin Webster 4,789 16.0 3
Belfast East by-election, 1959 James Gardner 14,264 42.2 2 Party represented in the Parliament of Northern Ireland and previously at Westminster
Belfast South by-election, 1952 Samuel Napier 7,655 24.9 2 Party previously represented at Westminster
Belfast South by-election, 1963 Norman Searight 7,209 25.8 2 Party represented in the Parliament of Northern Ireland and previously at Westminster
Down by-election, 1946 Desmond Donnelly 28,846 29.3 2 Party represented in the Parliament of Northern Ireland and previously at Westminster
Aberdare by-election, 1946 Wynne Samuel 7,090 20.0 2 Party later represented at Westminster
Aberdare by-election, 1954 Gwynfor Evans 5,671 16.0 2 Party later represented at Westminster
Merthyr Tydfil by-election, 1972 Emrys Roberts 11,852 37.0 2 Party previously and later represented at Westminster
Ogmore by-election, 1946 T. R. Morgan 5,685 29.4 2 Party later represented at Westminster
Birmingham Hodge Hill by-election, 2004 John Rees 1,282 6.3 4 George Galloway MP was a party member, but was usually considered Independent Labour in Parliament at the time
Leicester South by-election, 2004 Yvonne Ridley 3,724 12.7 4 George Galloway MP was a party member, but was usually considered Independent Labour in Parliament at the time
Glasgow Bridgeton by-election, 1946 M. Wood 2,575 13.9 4 Party previously and later represented at Westminster
Glasgow Bridgeton by-election, 1961 Ian MacDonald 3,549 18.7 3 Party previously and later represented at Westminster
Glasgow Pollok by-election, 1967 George Leslie 10,884 29.2 3 Party previously and later represented at Westminster
South Ayrshire by-election, 1970 Sam Purdie 7,785 19.9 3 Party previously and later represented at Westminster
West Lothian by-election, 1962 William Wolfe 9,750 23.3 2 Party previously and later represented at Westminster
Falkirk West by-election, 2000 Iain Hunter 989 5.1 4 Party represented in the Scottish Parliament
Glasgow Anniesland by-election, 2000 Charlie McCarthy 1,441 7.2 5 Party represented in the Scottish Parliament
Hamilton South by-election, 1999 Shareen Blackall 1,847 9.5 3 Party represented in the Scottish Parliament
Neath by-election, 1991 John Warman 1,826 5.3 5 Party of same name which was dissolved in 1990 was represented in Parliament
Preston by-election, 2000 Terry Cartwright 1,210 5.7 4
Tottenham by-election, 2000 Weyman Bennett 885 5.4 4
Barnsley East by-election, 1996 Ken Capstick 949 5.3 4
Hemsworth by-election, 1996 Brenda Nixon 1,193 5.4 4
Ogmore by-election, 2002 Christopher Herriot 1,152 6.3 5
Bromley and Chislehurst by-election, 2006 Nigel Farage 2,347 8.1 3 Party represented in the European Parliament and later at Westminster
Hartlepool by-election, 2004 Stephen Allison 2,347 10.2 3 Party represented in the European Parliament and later at Westminster
Belfast North by-election, 1986 Seamus Lynch 3,563 11.8 3
Lagan Valley by-election, 1986 John Lowry 3,328 9.3 2
Upper Bann by-election, 1986 Tom French 6,978 19.2 2
Norwich North by-election, 2009 Glenn Tingle 4,068 11.8 4
Norwich North by-election, 2009 Rupert Read 3,350 9.7 5

Miscellaneous notable results

It is unusual for one of the major parties to finish outside of the top three in England and Wales (or outside of the top four in Scotland). It is also unusual for the principle Opposition party to suffer a significant reverse in its share of the vote or ranking.
  • At the Henley by-election, 2008 the Labour Party finished in fifth place, the worst ranking for the party in its history, and a record low for any government in a UK mainland constituency. The lowest ever for an incumbent government was the Upper Bann by-election, 1990 when the Conservatives came sixth, although they had not previously contested the seat.

  • The drop in the Conservative share of the vote, 11.1%, at the Bromley and Chislehurst by-election, 2006 was their worst result in a Conservative-held seat while in opposition since 19301. At the same by-election, the Labour Party's fall from second to fourth place was the first time the party had suffered such a reverse in an English seat.

  • At the Blaenau Gwent by-election, 2006, held on the same day as Bromley, the Conservative Party's fifth-place ranking equalled the worst-place achieved by a major party in England or Wales, a feat the Conservatives had first achieved in the same seat in the 2005 General Election. The Blaenau victor, Dai Davies was the first independent to hold a seat previously occupied by an independent since Sir C.V.F. Townshend held The Wrekinmarker in 1920.

  • The Conservative party fell from second place to fourth place in the Bermondsey by-election, 1983, the first time they had suffered such a reverse since at least 1945.

  • At the Walsall North by-election, 1976, the Liberal Party could take only fifth place. Beaten by an independent and a minor party candidate, this was the worst placing for any major party in an English by-election since at least 1945.

  • The Conservative party fell from third place to fourth place in the Newham South by-election, 1974, at the time their worst ranking in an English by-election since at least 1945.

  • The last time time the Liberals lost a by-election they were defending was at the Carmarthen by-election, 1957, defeated by the former Liberal MP turned Labour candidate, Lady Megan Lloyd-George. The Liberal parliamentary contingent was thus reduced to five MPs, its lowest ever level.

Notes1Excluding the Westminster, St.George's by-election, 1931 and the Paddington South by-election, 1930, which were essentially intra-Conservative contests, the previous worst result was, ironically, the Bromley by-election, 1930

By-elections having national significance

Firsts and lasts

See also


  1. Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher, British electoral facts, 1832-2006 (Parliamentary Research Services)
  2. Roy Jenkins Churchill (Macmillan, 2001), page 325 ISBN 0-333-78290-9
  3. Since the Reform Act 1832; of those whose age can be verified.
  4. Chris Pond, Parliament and Religious Disabilities
  5. A verdict of accidental death was recorded at the inquest. Clitherow was a Medical Doctor and had taken seven barbitone tablets, described by the pathologist as a "bold dose". See The Times, 19 June 1947, p. 2.

  • Who's Who of British MPs: Volume IV, 1945-1979 by Michael Stenton and Stephen Lees (Harvester, Brighton, 1979) ISBN 0-85527-335-6
  • British Political Facts 1900-1994 by David Butler and Gareth Butler (St. Martin's Press, New York, 1994) ISBN 0-312-12147-4

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