Parliamentary Chamber: House of Commons


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  House of Commons

Dates of elections / renewal (from/to):

  1 May 1997

Purpose of elections:

  Elections were held for all the seats in the House of Commons on the normal expiry of the members' term of office.

Background and outcome of elections:

  On 17 March 1997, Prime Minister John Major (Conservative Party) announced that general elections would take place on 1 May. Parliament was dissolved by the Queen on 8 April.

Prior to the month-long campaign, Mr. Major said that his party had overseen a "revolution in choice, opportunity, and living standards" and deserved the chance to continue in power. He moreover focused on the country's economic recovery under his administration since 1992, especially the plunging unemployment rate which had dropped to 6.5%. For its part, the main opposition Labour Party, led by Mr. Tony Blair, called for a "national renewal" marked by a new Government with different values and priorities. Since being chosen as Labour head in July 1994, Mr. Blair had realigned his party nearer to the political centre, largely ridding it of its socialist past and reducing its dependency on trade union financing. He characterised the Conservatives as "tired" after 18 years of uninterrupted (Thatcher-Major) rule.

Foreign policy and defence, Europe, education, tax. health, law and order, and constitutional reform were all debated by the main opponents, which included the Liberal Democrats. Of these issues, the country's relationship with the European Union (especially on monetary union), emerged as a key one, with the Conservatives somewhat divided on the question. Over the whole spectrum of issues, the Conservative and Labour platforms differed less than in the past given the latter's shift to the mainstream. Mr. Blair, waging a careful campaign, emphasised in particular the improvement of education and public health services while his party, referred to as "New Labour", endorsed low taxes and limited Government spending, similar to conservative policies. Altogether, 3,723 candidates were in the running for the expanded House's 659 seats (up from 651).

Despite the outgoing Government's positive economic record, the Conservatives' popularity had progressively declined and pre-election polls put them some 15 points behind Labour. This was borne out on election day, as the latter swept to a historic landslide victory, capturing a total of 418 Commons seats (a gain of 147) as the Conservatives lost over half their total, retaining only 165. For their part, the Liberal Democrats, led by Mr. Paddy Ashdown, strengthened their third-place standing by more than doubling their score to 46. The new House, with its most newcomers (247) in years, comprised a generally younger, more feminine, and religiously diverse membership.

On 2 May, Mr. Blair became, at 43, the youngest Prime Minister since the early 19th century; formation of his new Cabinet was completed by 7 May. Mr. Major resigned as leader of the Conservatives in the wake of the polling outcome.

Round no 1 (1 May 1997): Elections results  
Number of registered electors 43,784,559
Voters 31,349,744 (71.60 %)
Blank or invalid ballot papers 62,647
Valid votes 31,287,097

Round no 1: Distribution of votes  
Political Group Candidates Votes %
Labour Party 639 13,517,132 43.2
Conservative Party 648 9,602,857 30.7
Liberal Democrats 639 5,242,894 16.8
Ulster Unionist Party 16 258,349 0.8
Scottish National Party 72 621,540 2.0
Plaid Cymru 40 161,030 0.5
Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) 18 190,814 0.6
Sinn Fein 17 126,921 0.4
Democratic Unionist Party 9 107,348 0.3
United Kingdom Unionist Party 1 12,817 -
Others 1077 633,568 1.9

Round no 1: Distribution of seats  
Political Group Total
Labour Party 418
Conservative Party 165
Liberal Democrats 46
Ulster Unionist Party 10
Scottish National Party 6
Plaid Cymru 4
Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) 3
Sinn Fein 2
Democratic Unionist Party 2
United Kingdom Unionist Party 1
Others 2

  Eight seats added since last elections

Distribution of seats according to sex:  
Men: 539
Women: 120

Distribution of seats according to age:  
25-29 years 11
30-34 years 26
35-39 years 65
40-44 years 114
45-49 years 140
50-54 years 132
55-59 years 94
60-64 years 50
65-69 years 19
70-74 years 7
75-79 years 0
80-84 years 1

Distribution of seats according to profession:

Business 158
Education 123
Law 70
Political party employees 64
Journalists/publishers 51
Manual workers 39
Trade union officials 38
Civil service/local Government 16
Farmers/landowners 9
Medicine 9
Others 80
No information 2

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Copyright 1997 Inter-Parliamentary Union