The 1951 Westminster Elections in Northern Ireland

The Elections

The general election of 25 October 1951 was held only 20 months after the previous one. The Labour Government under Clement Attlee had a wafer-thin majority of five seats and was gambling on being returned with a stronger mandate. Despite an impressive first term the Labour government looked increasingly fatigued and appeared to be running out of new ideas. Distracted by a series of overseas crises, the government's foreign policy also appeared to be faltering. This was further compounded by a costly war on the Korean peninsula in support of the US. To cap it all off the government also suffered the embarrassment of the defection of diplomats Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean to the Soviet Union in May 1951.

In the end despite polling nearly 14 million votes (a record at the time) and increasing their share of the poll to 48.8%, Labour lost to the Conservatives. Winston Churchill was back in power with a workable majority of 17.

In Northern Ireland the election came during a relatively quiet period. The strength of the Unionist Party was once again proven at the polls with the capture of nine of the twelve available seats. The Unionists lost West Belfast in the closest contest of the election with John Beattie (Irish Labour) regaining the seat he lost in 1950 with a 25 vote majority. The Unionist Party received 59.4% of the vote slightly down on their 1950 tally but this can be largely attributed to four seats going uncontested. This common practice between the wars would not be repeated again in a general election.

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This map by Conal Kelly shows the winner in each constituency in 1951.

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 274,928 59.4% 9 MPs (Armagh , East Belfast, Londonderry, North Antrim, North Belfast, North Down, South Antrim,
South Belfast and South Down)
Nationalist 65,811 14.2% 2 MPs (Fermanagh & South Tyrone and Mid Ulster)
NILP 62,324 13.5%
Irish Labour 33,174 7.2% 1 MP (West Belfast)
Independent Nationalist 26,976 5.8%

Previous Contests

This graph contrasts the 1951 election result with the Westminster elections of 1950, 1945, 1935, 1931, 1929 and 1924. It is important to note that the Unionist Party was unopposed in two constituencies in 1951, four in 1950, one in 1945, six in 1935, seven in 1931, two in 1929 and three in 1924. 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 Armagh, North Antrim, South Antrim and Londonderry Unionist candidates were returned unopposed.
John Beattie (Irish Labour) the winner in West Belfast also represented the constituency from 1943-50 but under the banner Independent Labour.

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