1964 United Kingdom general election

1964 United Kingdom general election

← 195915 October 19641966 →

All 630 seats in the House of Commons
316 seats needed for a majority
Turnout77.1%, Decrease1.7%
 First partySecond partyThird party
 Premier Wilson gaf persconferentie na bespreking in Den Haag , Wilson (kop), Bestanddeelnr 920-1165 (cropped).jpgAlec Douglas-Home (c1963).jpgJo Grimond.jpg
LeaderHarold WilsonSir Alec Douglas-HomeJo Grimond
PartyLabourConservativeLiberal
Leader since14 February 196318 October 19635 November 1956
Leader's seatHuytonKinross & Western PerthshireOrkney & Shetland
Last election258 seats, 43.8%365 seats, 49.4%6 seats, 5.9%
Seats won3173049
Seat changeIncrease59Decrease61Increase3
Popular vote12,205,80812,002,6423,099,283
Percentage44.1%43.4%11.2%
SwingIncrease0.2%Decrease6.0%Increase5.3%

UK General Election, 1964.svg
Colours denote the winning party—as shown in § Results

Prime Minister before election

Sir Alec Douglas-Home
Conservative

Appointed Prime Minister

Harold Wilson
Labour

The 1964 United Kingdom general election was held on 15 October 1964, five years after the previous election, and thirteen years after the Conservative Party, first led by Winston Churchill, had entered power. It resulted in the Conservatives, now led by its fourth leader, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, narrowly losing the election to the Labour Party, led by Harold Wilson, with Labour having an overall majority of four seats. It resulted in Labour ending its thirteen years in the political wilderness and led to Wilson to become, at the time, the youngest Prime Minister in more than 150 years (a distinction later taken by John Major in 1990, Tony Blair in 1997 and David Cameron in 2010).

Background

Both major parties had changed leadership in 1963; after the sudden death of Hugh Gaitskell early in the year, Labour chose Harold Wilson (who was then thought of as being on the party's centre-left), while Sir Alec Douglas-Home (then the Earl of Home) had taken over as Conservative leader and Prime Minister in the autumn after Harold Macmillan announced his resignation. Douglas-Home shortly afterwards disclaimed his title under the Peerage Act 1963 in order to lead the party from the Commons.

Macmillan had led the Conservative government since January 1957. Despite initial popularity and a resounding election victory in 1959, he had become increasingly unpopular in the early-1960s, and while it was for a while thought likely that the Conservatives would win the scheduled 1964 general election, albeit with a reduced majority, the emergence of the Profumo affair in March 1963 and Macmillan's handling of the matter all but destroyed the credibility of his government. While he survived a vote of no confidence in June 1963, polling indicated that the Conservatives would lose the next election heavily if Macmillan remained in power, which, along with health issues, caused Macmillan to announce his resignation in the autumn of 1963.

Douglas-Home faced a difficult task in rebuilding the party's popularity with just a year elapsing between taking office and having to face a general election. Wilson had begun to try to tie the Labour Party to the growing confidence of Britain in the 1960s, asserting that the "white heat of revolution" would sweep away "restrictive practices ... on both sides of industry". The Liberal Party enjoyed a resurgence after a virtual wipeout in the 1950s, and doubled its share of the vote, primarily at the expense of the Conservatives. Although Labour did not increase its vote share significantly, the fall in support for the Conservatives led to Wilson securing an overall majority of four seats.[1] This proved to be unworkable, and Wilson called a snap election in 1966.