The 1924 Myth – (it happened again in 1951, when the Tories took power)

There is growing myth that 1924 was the last time in UK politics that the largest party after a General Election did not form the next government. In 1924 we had the first ever Labour Prime Minister in history, Ramsay Macdonald, who led a UK government despite having just 191 MP’s to the Conservatives’ 258. If I am correct then the statement that SLAB (Scottish Labour Accountancy Branch) have been peddling, that this was the last time the largest party did not form the UK Govt is factually wrong.

The same thing happened in 1951 when the Tories took power. It’s not apparently obvious though, if you look at Wikipedia to see who won.

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 13.19.30

Clearly from the above graphic the Conservative party won. Wrong! This table attributes seats won in Scotland by the Unionist Party (Scotland) to the Conservative Party of England and Wales. The Scottish Tories were a separate entity up until 1965.

In the 1951 General Election the Scottish Tories won 35 out of the 72 seats in Scotland at that time.

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 13.29.19

Some simple arithmetic then:

302 – 35 seats = 267 seats

This is compared to the 295 seats that Labour had.

Thus Labour were the biggest party, as they had 28 more seats the Conservative Party of England and Wales.

So the only reason the Tories formed Govt in 1951 is because they could form a working majority, even though they were not the largest single party. A repetition of what happened in 1924, but this time it was the Tories who capitalised on being able to form a working majority.

I am open to correction on this one, but it looks clear cut to me.

Something else that should be mentioned is that Ulster Unionist MP’s were added to the overall majority shown in the results for the Conservatives. I’ve been unable to see how many seats they took, but this reduces further the actual seats that the Conservative Party of England and Wales took, further reinforcing the point that in 1951 it was NOT the largest party that formed Govt.

PS: I can’t take all the credit for this, as I acted upon information I saw in the comments section of Wings to look into this.


6 thoughts on “The 1924 Myth – (it happened again in 1951, when the Tories took power)

  1. The reality is not quite as simple. The ‘Conservative’ government was supported by 321 MPs, a majority of 17. This total was made up of the following:-

    264 Conservatives,
    29 Scottish Unionists,
    9 Ulster Unionists,
    2 Conservative & National Liberal,
    7 National Liberal & Conservative,
    2 Conservative & Liberal,
    7 Liberal & Conservative, and
    1 National Liberal

    These parties were part of an electoral alliance – they did not stand against each other – and, crucially, they all took the Conservative Party whip in the House of Commons, making them, effectively, one party. To compare, the Labour Party has long included Cooperative Party MPs amongst its numbers: 31 in the Commons that was dissolved today.


    • Cool thank you for the information. Complicated indeed.

      They were still all separate parties though, not branch offices. Is that correct from the information you supplied? So even if they all followed the Conservative party whip once in power, does it still not reinforce the point that on this occasion, just like in 1924 the largest single party did not form the government?

      To compare it to today for example. The Scottish Labour party is just a branch office of the wider UK Labour party. It’s not a separate and distinct entity, where-as the Unionist Party (Scotland) was a separate entity, until it’s merger in 1965 with the Conservative Party of England and Wales.

      So yes these Conservative “parties” all followed the same political ideology and even the same whip in the Commons, but they were all still separate parties in a coalition, an electoral-alliance.


  2. I wouldn’t waste my time looking too much into this. It will always be possible to argue over the semantics. As the earlier commenter says, they were in an actual electoral alliance and didn’t stand against each other. Once Labour have actually given up on Scotland and stopped standing candidates here it will be a different story.

    The crucial point to make whenever Jim Murphy comes up with his 1924 pish is this:
    The fact it hasn’t happened since 1924 does not mean that it can’t happen.
    The fact that it DID happen in 1924 proves that it CAN happen.

    Arguing over semantics to make it 1951 instead of 1924 is just a waste of the opportunities we have to make that point and show how ridiculously false is the impression Jim Murphy is trying to give.


    • 100% agree with you that the main point is and has to continue to be:

      “The fact it hasn’t happened since 1924 does not mean that it can’t happen.
      The fact that it DID happen in 1924 proves that it CAN happen.”

      Just didn’t want the lie of repetition to completely sink in and let Labour get away with the 1924 line. After all, you say something enough and it becomes a fact in most peoples minds, whether true or not!

      I would just have loved to see the expression on Curran’s or Smugurph’ys face, if and when they answered their own question, just like Big Bad Jim did with Gary Robertson the other morning on the radio, with 1924 and the journalist turns round and tells them, it was 1951 and it was a Tory alliance that stopped Labour. Boom!

      Further destroying his/her/their credibility, as we can show its happened more than once. Even if it won’t/can’t happen in the broadcast media, due the complexity of the argument, the wider community could use it, if they were in a deeper conversation over the topic.

      It would allow the statement to adapt to:

      “”The fact it hasn’t happened since 1951 does not mean that it can’t happen.
      The fact that it DID happen in 1924 and 1951 proves that it CAN happen.”

      But as you say, it can overcomplicate the discussion, when the argument can be won by the original statement.

      Cheers for replying.


  3. Pingback: A Public Service Announcement to Labour Voters in Inverclyde | A Wilderness of Peace
  4. Pingback: Lies And The Lying Liars Who Tell Them | A Wilderness of Peace

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