The 1950 Westminster Elections in Northern Ireland

The Elections

The 23 February 1950 general election was only the second held since the end of World War II. It followed the first full term served by a Labour Government. Under the leadership of Clement Attlee, Labour had pursued a very radical programme that included the establishment of the Welfare State, nationalisation of major industries and independence for India and Burma. The turnout was the largest in British history with some 84% of the electorate casting a ballot. The Labour Party even managed to increase their overall vote compared to 1945. However a 3% swing to the Conservatives along with the vagaries of the First-Past-The-Post system, saw their majority slashed to just five seats. The final result was 315 seats for Labour, 298 for the Conservatives (and Unionists) and nine for the Liberal Party. Such a narrow majority would prove unsustainable and a new election would be called within two years.

In Northern Ireland this was a relatively quiet period. A marked increase in living standards had been achieved thanks largely to the Labour Government reforms. On the constitutional front, Attleeís government had guaranteed Northern Irelandís position with the Government of Ireland Act (1949) following Eire becoming a republic in 1948. As a result the Unionist Government under Sir Basil Brooke never felt more secure. There was some concern within the government about creeping socialism but this failed to emerge in the 1949 Stormont elections or the general election.

The 1950 election in Northern Ireland was contested under new constituency boundaries established in 1949. The new boundaries resulted in 12 single seat constituencies. This was a significant departure from the previous county based constituencies that had been in effect since 1922. This election also saw the loss Northern Irelandís 13th MP when the Representation of the People Act eliminated the Queens University seat. The Unionist Party was the clear winner with over 62% of the vote and all but two seats. The Northern Ireland Labour Party came second in the popular vote with 12% but no representation. The Nationalist Party captured 11.6% of the vote and two seats.

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This map by Conal Kelly shows the winner in each constituency in 1950.

The Results

The details of each seat are on the relevant constituency page; the totals for the whole of Northern Ireland were as follows:
Party Votes % Share Seats Won
Unionist 352,334 62.8% 10 MPs (Armagh , East Belfast, Londonderry, North Antrim, North Belfast, North Down, South Antrim,
South Belfast, South Down and West Belfast)
NILP 67,816 12.1%
Nationalist 65,211 11.6% 2 MPs (Fermanagh & South Tyrone and Mid Ulster)
Irish Labour 52,715 9.4%
Republican 21,880 3.9%
Sinn Fein 1,482 0.3%

Previous Contests

This graph contrasts the 1950 election result with the Westminster elections of 1945, 1935, 1931, 1929, 1924 and 1923. It is important to note that the Unionist Party was unopposed in four constituencies in 1950, one in 1945, six in 1935, seven in 1931, two in 1929, three in 1924 and seven in 1923. The Unionist's share of the poll was therefore significantly less than it would have been if all seats were contested. In addition the Nationalists were unopposed in the two seat Fermanagh and Tyrone constituency in 1929.



In both Armagh and North Antrim Unionist candidates were returned unopposed.
The out-going MP for Queens University, Douglas Lloyd Savory, was returned for the new South Antrim constituency.
Of the 13 out-going members for Northern Ireland seven were returned.
Only one out-going MP was defeated at the polls, John Beattie (Irish Labour) in West Belfast.
The successful candidate for West Belfast Rev. James Godfrey MacManaway (Unionist) was subsequently disqualified and a new writ was issued. As a Church of Ireland clergyman, MacManaway was deemed ineligible to serve in the House of Commons.
The successful candidate for Fermanagh & South Tyrone Cahir Healy (Nationalist) had previously represented the constituency of Fermanagh & Tyrone from 1922-24 and 1931-35.

Other sites based at ARK: ORB (Online Research Bank) | CAIN (Conflict Archive on the INternet) | Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey

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Conal Kelly, 1 June 2007.

Disclaimer:© Nicholas Whyte 2005 Last Updated on Saturday, May 07, 2005 09:42:49