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United Kingdom general election, 1997: Map


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

The UK general election, 1997 was held on 1 May 1997, more than five years after the previous election on 9 April 1992. The Labour Party won the general election in a landslide victory with 418 seats, the most seats the party has ever held. The Conservatives ended up with 165 seats, the fewest seats they have held since the 1906 General Election, and with no MPs for seats in Scotlandmarker or Walesmarker. This marked the beginning of what has become the longest spell in opposition for the Conservative Party since the 19th century, as well as the longest period of time in government ever for the Labour Party.

The British economy had been in recession at the time of the 1992 election, which the Conservatives had won, and although the recession had ended within a year, events such as Black Wednesday had tarnished the Tory government's reputation for economic management and Labour were leading the way in the polls a long time before the death of their leader John Smith in May 1994, after which Tony Blair became leader of the party. Added to this, disputes within government over European Union issues, and a variety of "sleaze" allegations had severely affected the government's popularity.


The election was fought under new boundaries, with a net increase of eight seats compared to the 1992 election. Changes listed here are from the notional 1992 result, had it been fought on the boundaries established in 1997. These notional results were used by all media organisations at the time.

Votes summary

Seats summary

Total votes cast: 31,286,284. All parties with more than 500 votes shown. Labour total includes New Labour and "Labour Time for Change" candidates; Conservative total includes candidates in Northern Ireland (excluded in some lists) and "Loyal Conservative" candidate.

Turnout: 71.2%

The Popular Unionist MP elected in 1992 died in 1995 and the party folded shortly afterwards.

There was no incumbent Speaker in the 1992 election.


Prime Minister John Major obtained a dissolution on Monday 17 March 1997 - so ensuring the formal campaign would be unusually long, at six weeks. It was stated at the time by Conservatives that a long campaign would expose Labour and allow the Conservative message to be heard. In fact the Conservative campaign was quickly blown off course when Major was accused of arranging an early dissolution to protect Neil Hamilton from a pending parliamentary report into his conduct: a report that Major had earlier guaranteed would be published before an election.

Labour also had their difficulties- in particular an argument about whether or not the party would privatise the air traffic control system, and over the party's relationship with the trade unions. Labour leader Tony Blair focused on a "New Labour" platform which turned away from previous Labour stalwart planks such as nationalisation; Blair said: "The presumption should be that economic activity is best left to the private sector."

By the middle of the campaign, the large number of Conservative candidates - including some serving ministers - who publicly repudiated the government policy on the European single currency had become a key issue. Labour were themselves cautious about this issue, but gained heavily from the symbolism of a deeply divided Conservative party.

In the final stages of the campaign, Labour concentrated heavily on projecting an image of Tony Blair as a dynamic and energetic young leader while the Conservatives were seen to indulge in infighting - with the then Chancellor of the Exchequer Kenneth Clarke describing the views of the Home Secretary, Michael Howard, on Europe as "paranoid nonsense".

Overall picture and background

Labour won a landslide victory with their largest parliamentary majority (179) to date, Professor Anthony King describing the election as being like "an asteroid hitting the planet and destroying practically all life on Earth". The Liberal Democrat vote fell, but in terms of seats, it was their best General Election since 1929 under David Lloyd George's leadership. The election was a heavy defeat for the Conservative Party, with the party having its lowest percentage share of the popular vote since 1832 under the Duke of Wellington's leadership, being wiped out in Scotlandmarker and Walesmarker. Several prominent members of the party also lost their seats, including:

The poor results for the Conservative Party led to infighting, with the One Nation, Tory Reform Group, and right wing Maastricht rebels blaming each other for the defeat. Party Chairman Brian Mawhinney said on the night of the election, that it was due to disillusionment with 18 years of Conservative rule. John Major resigned as party leader, saying "When the curtain falls, it is time to leave the stage".

Labour's victory was largely credited to the charisma of Tony Blair and a slick Labour public relations machine managed by Alastair Campbell. Between the 1992 election and the 1997 election there had also been major steps to modernise the party, including scrapping Clause IV that had committed the party to extending public ownership of Industry. Famously, in the early hours of 2 May 1997 a party was held at the Royal Festival Hallmarker, in which Blair stated triumphantly "A new dawn has broken, has it not?".

The Referendum Party, which sought a referendum on the United Kingdom's relationship with the European Union, came fourth in terms of votes with 800,000 votes mainly from former Conservative voters, but won no seats in parliament. The six parties with the next highest votes stood only in either Scotlandmarker, Northern Irelandmarker or Walesmarker; in order, they were the Scottish National Party, the Ulster Unionist Party, the Social Democratic and Labour Party, Plaid Cymru, Sinn Féin, and the Democratic Unionist Party.

In the previously safe seat of Tattonmarker, where incumbent Conservative MP Neil Hamilton was facing charges of having taken cash for questions, the Labour and Liberal Democrat Parties decided not to field candidates in order that an Independent candidate, Martin Bell would have a better chance of winning the seat, which he duly did with a comfortable margin.

The result declared for the constituency of Winchestermarker showed a margin of victory of just two votes for the Liberal Democrats. The defeated Conservative candidate mounted a successful legal challenge to the result on the grounds that errors by election officials (failures to stamp certain votes) had changed the result, the court ruled the result invalid and ordered a by-election on 20 November which was won by the Liberal Democrats with a much larger majority, causing much recrimination in the Conservative Party about the decision to challenge the original result in the first place.

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