United Kingdom by-election records

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This is an annotated list of notable records from Parliamentary by-elections in the United Kingdom. A by-election occurs when a Member of Parliament (MP) vacates a House of Commons seat (due to resignation, death, disqualification or expulsion) during the course of a parliament.

Contents

Scope of these records[edit]

Although the history of Parliament is much older, most of these records concern only the period since 1945. Earlier exceptional results are listed separately.

Parliaments of England, Scotland, Ireland and the various unions of these Kingdoms had been assembled since the medieval period, though these bodies only gradually evolved to be democratically elected by the populace and records are incomplete. England and Wales had numerous "rotten boroughs" with tiny and tightly controlled electorates until the Reform Act of 1832. The most recent significant expansions of the electoral franchise were the Representation of the People Act 1918 which allowed some women to vote for the first time and greatly expanded the franchise of men, overall more than doubling the size of the electorate, and the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928 which expanded the franchise of women to be equal to that of men.

Furthermore there are various additional factors complicating comparisons between earlier results and modern cases. Among the most significant aspects of historical elections which are no longer present are:

  • Frequent interventions and withdrawals of parties in different seats.
  • Frequent coalitions between parties, splits within parties and floor-crossing by members.
  • Uncontested elections and truces between parties, in particular during both World Wars.
  • Generally more significant competition from independent candidates and minor parties.
  • Multi-member seats and University seats (abolished 1950).
  • Higher frequency of by-elections, partly due to the practice of often uncontested Ministerial by-elections which ended in 1926.
  • Generally higher turnouts, although several wartime elections exhibited the lowest recorded turnouts.
  • Generally higher variation in size of constituency electorates.

Since 1945, the legal and general political situation regarding by-elections has been broadly stable, allowing for meaningful comparison of records.

These records include those from Northern Ireland, however the politics of Northern Ireland is mostly separate from that of Great Britain so comparisons can be problematic.

Glossary[edit]

For comparison purposes the following definitions have been adopted.

  • Gain - victory by a party that was not victorious at the immediate previous election
  • Loss - defeat of a party that was victorious at the immediate previous election
  • Hold - victory by a party that was victorious at the immediate previous election
  • Win - victory by a party. ambiguous term that could mean either a gain or a hold
  • Incumbent - the party that held the seat at the immediately previous election, irrespective of any intervening change of candidate or candidate's change of party
  • Third party - In England, since 1922, the "third party" has been the Liberal Party and its successor, the Liberal Democrats. Additionally, in Scotland and Wales the Scottish National Party (SNP) and Plaid Cymru are also considered to be third parties. Prior to 1922, the third party was the Labour Party.
  • Minor party - parties smaller than the third party
  • Uncontested - an election where only one candidate is put forward. No votes are actually cast and the candidate is by definition the victor.

Numerical records[edit]

For more information about what is meant by the term "swing", see Swing (politics)

Largest swings[edit]

Election Swing From To
1983 Bermondsey by-election 44.2 Labour Liberal
2014 Clacton by-election 44.11 Conservative UKIP
1973 Lincoln by-election 43.01 Labour Democratic Labour
1967 Hamilton by-election 37.9 Labour SNP
2012 Bradford West by-election 36.6 Labour Respect
1993 Christchurch by-election 35.4 Conservative Liberal Democrat
1988 Glasgow Govan by-election 33.1 Labour SNP
1979 Liverpool Edge Hill by-election 30.2 Labour Liberal
1994 Dudley West by-election 29.2 Conservative Labour
2003 Brent East by-election 28.9 Labour Liberal Democrat
1993 Newbury by-election 28.4 Conservative Liberal Democrat
2014 Rochester and Strood by-election 28.31 Conservative UKIP
2004 Birmingham Hodge Hill by-election 26.72 Labour Liberal Democrat
1994 Dagenham by-election 23.12 Conservative Labour
1996 South East Staffordshire by-election 22.1 Conservative Labour
1994 Barking by-election 22.02 Conservative Labour
2008 Glasgow East by-election 22.6 Labour SNP
1976 Walsall North by-election 22.6 Labour Conservative
2016 Richmond Park by-election 21.73 Conservative Liberal Democrat
1968 Dudley by-election 21.2 Labour Conservative
1977 Ashfield by-election 20.9 Labour Conservative

1 By-elections where the seat was held by the incumbent MP.
2 By-elections where the seat was held by the incumbent party.
3 By-elections contested by the incumbent MP, who failed to gain re-election.

Largest fall in percentage share of vote[edit]

A party's share of the vote at a general election is not always matched at subsequent by-elections, but given the five-year maximum term of a Parliament, reductions of 20% or more are unusual. Those of 25% or more are listed below:

Election Reduction in
% share
Party Result
1948 Glasgow Camlachie by-election 51.3 Ind. Labour Party Conservative gain
1983 Bermondsey by-election 37.5 Labour Liberal gain
1969 Birmingham Ladywood by-election 33.4 Labour Liberal gain
1993 Christchurch by-election 32.5 Conservative Liberal Democrat gain
1946 Glasgow Bridgeton by-election 32.1 Ind. Labour Party Ind. Labour Party hold
1958 Rochdale by-election 31.7 Conservative Labour gain
1994 Dudley West by-election 30.2 Conservative Labour gain
1995 North Down by-election 29.9 Conservative UK Unionist gain from Popular Unionist
1967 Hamilton by-election 29.7 Labour SNP gain
2004 Birmingham Hodge Hill by-election 29.6 Labour Labour hold
1961 Paisley by-election 29.5 Conservative Labour hold
2003 Brent East by-election 29.4 Labour Liberal Democrat gain
1993 Newbury by-election 29.0 Conservative Liberal Democrat gain
1968 Caerphilly by-election 28.7 Labour Labour hold
1999 Hamilton South by-election 28.7 Labour Labour hold
2014 Clacton by-election 28.4 Conservative UKIP gain
1962 West Lothian by-election 28.3 Conservative Labour hold
1979 Liverpool Edge Hill by-election 28.1 Labour Liberal gain
1958 Torrington by-election 27.7 Conservative Liberal gain
1968 Oldham West by-election 27.6 Labour Conservative gain
2009 Norwich North by-election 26.7 Labour Conservative gain
1933 Fulham East by-election 26.6 Conservative Labour gain
1948 Glasgow Gorbals by-election 25.5 Labour Labour hold
2019 Peterborough by-election 25.5 Conservative Labour hold
1962 West Derbyshire by-election 25.2 Conservative Conservative hold

In the 1934 Merthyr by-election the Independent Labour Party share dropped from 69.4% in the 1931 General Election to 9.8% (a record 59.6% loss) losing the seat to the Labour Party. However the 1931 election had no Labour Party candidate and the MP R. C. Wallhead had previously been elected as a Labour candidate in prior elections when the ILP was affiliated to Labour. Prior to his death, Wallhead joined the Labour Party, so this result could be classed as a Labour hold.

The 1919 East Antrim by-election saw the Irish Unionist party face its first Unionist opposition in the seat since 1906 (in the 1918 General Election the heavily unionist area gave the Irish Unionist 94.6% of the vote in a contest with a Sinn Féin candidate). An Independent Unionist candidate won the seat, with the Irish Unionist share dropping by 52.8%

Worst results for other parties:

Election Reduction in
% share
Party Result
1982 Belfast South by-election 22.4 UUP UUP hold
2014 Heywood and Middleton by-election 17.6 Liberal Democrat Labour hold
2009 Glasgow North East by-election 14.0 Socialist Labour Labour gain from Speaker
2017 Copeland by-election 9.0 UKIP Conservative gain from Labour
1963 Kinross and Western Perthshire by-election 7.7 SNP Conservative hold
1986 Newry and Armagh by-election 7.7 Sinn Féin SDLP gain from Ulster Unionist
1963 Swansea East by-election 5.3 Plaid Cymru Labour hold


Largest increase in percentage share of vote[edit]

Election Increase in Share Party Result
1986 East Londonderry by-election 56.0 UUP UUP hold
2012 Bradford West by-election 52.8 Respect Respect gain
1983 Bermondsey by-election 50.9 Liberal Liberal gain
1986 South Antrim by-election 48.4 UUP UUP hold
1986 East Antrim by-election 47.5 UUP UUP hold
1986 North Antrim by-election 43.2 DUP DUP hold
2016 Batley and Spen by-election 42.6 Labour Labour hold
1993 Christchurch by-election 38.6 Liberal Democrat Liberal Democrat gain
1988 Glasgow Govan by-election 38.4 SNP SNP gain
1979 Liverpool Edge Hill by-election 36.8 Liberal Liberal gain
2014 Heywood and Middleton by-election 36.1 UKIP Labour hold
1986 Belfast East by-election 35.7 DUP DUP hold
1986 Belfast North by-election 35.3 UUP UUP hold
1973 Glasgow Govan by-election 31.6 SNP SNP gain
1986 Lagan Valley by-election 31.5 UUP UUP hold
2016 Richmond Park by-election 30.3 Liberal Democrat Liberal Democrat gain
1981 Croydon North West by-election 29.5 Liberal Liberal gain
1968 Caerphilly by-election 29.3 Plaid Cymru Labour hold
2003 Brent East by-election 28.5 Liberal Democrat Liberal Democrat gain
1994 Dudley West by-election 28.0 Labour Labour gain
1987 Greenwich by-election 27.9 Social Democratic Social Democratic gain
1972 Merthyr Tydfil by-election 27.4 Plaid Cymru Labour gain
1966 Carmarthen by-election 27.4 Plaid Cymru Plaid Cymru gain
1991 Ribble Valley by-election 27.1 Liberal Democrat Liberal Democrat gain
1994 Monklands East by-election 26.9 SNP Labour hold
2004 Birmingham Hodge Hill by-election 26.1 Liberal Democrat Labour hold
2008 Glasgow East by-election 26.1 SNP SNP gain

Largest winning share of the vote[edit]

Candidate Party Election Votes % Share
Ian Paisley DUP 1986 North Antrim by-election 33,937 97.4
John Taylor UUP 1986 Strangford by-election 32,627 94.2
Clifford Forsythe UUP 1986 South Antrim by-election 30,087 94.1

In the mid-war 1940 Middleton and Prestwich by-election the other major parties did not put up candidates, intending for the Conservative Party to hold the seat unopposed . However an election was held because the British Union of Fascists put forward a candidate. The Conservative candidate Ernest Gates received 98.7% of the votes cast. The same situation also occurred in the 1940 Leeds North East by-election where the Conservatives received 97.1%.

Lowest winning share of the vote[edit]

Winning shares of the vote below 35%, since 1918:

Candidate Party Election Votes % Share
Henry Strauss Conservative 1946 Combined English Universities by-election 5,483 30.0
Lisa Forbes Labour 2019 Peterborough by-election 10,484 30.9
Mike Thornton Liberal Democrat 2013 Eastleigh by-election 13,342 32.1
Edward Campbell Conservative 1930 Bromley by-election 12,782 32.4
George Machin Labour 1973 Dundee East by-election 14,411 32.7
Roy Jenkins Social Democratic 1982 Glasgow Hillhead by-election 10,106 33.4
Guy Barnett Labour 1962 South Dorset by-election 13,783 33.5
James Carmichael Ind. Labour Party 1946 Glasgow Bridgeton by-election 6,351 34.3
Leah Manning Labour 1931 Islington East by-election 10,591 34.7
Kenneth Lindsay National Labour 1933 Kilmarnock by-election 12,577 34.8
Parmjit Singh Gill Liberal Democrat 2004 Leicester South by-election 10,274 34.9

The 1920 Stockport by-election, was held to elect two MPs. The winners' shares of the total vote were 25.6% and 25.1%. However, as each voter could cast two votes, the situation is not readily comparable to other by-elections in this period.

At the 1909 Sheffield Attercliffe by-election, the winning candidate took only 27.5% of the vote.

Lowest share of the vote[edit]

Major parties[edit]

Major parties winning 2% or less share of votes cast in a by-election, since 1918:

Candidate Party Election Votes % Share
Geoff Juby Liberal Democrat 2014 Rochester and Strood by-election 349 0.9
Roger Goodfellow Liberal 1948 Glasgow Camlachie by-election 312 1.2
John Scott Duckers Liberal 1924 Westminster Abbey by-election 291 1.3
Andrew Graham Liberal Democrat 2014 Clacton by-election 483 1.3
Hugh Annand Liberal Democrat 2013 South Shields by-election 352 1.4
Elizabeth Jones UKIP 2016 Tooting by-election 507 1.6
Robert McCreadie Social and Liberal Democrats 1989 Glasgow Central by-election 411 1.6
Patrick Davies Labour 1997 Winchester by-election 944 1.7
Ian Miller Liberal 1967 Glasgow Pollok by-election 735 1.9
Steve Billcliffe Labour 1993 Newbury by-election 1,151 2.0

The worst Conservative performance was in the 1995 North Down by-election, where they took 2.1% of the votes cast. The 'continuation' Social Democratic Party (SDP) took 0.4% of the vote at both the 1990 Upper Bann by-election and the Bootle by-election the following week.

Candidates winning fewer than ten votes[edit]

Since 1918:1
Votes Name Affiliation/Label Election
5 Bill Boaks Public Safety Democratic Monarchist White Resident 1982 Glasgow Hillhead by-election[1]
5 Smiley Smilie Independent 2016 Tooting by-election
5 Bobby Smith No description 2019 Peterborough by-election
5 Kailash Trivedi Independent Janata Party 1988 Kensington by-election[1]
7 John Connell Peace - stop ITN manipulation 1984 Chesterfield by-election
8 Esmond Bevan Systems Designer2 1983 Bermondsey by-election[1]
8 Tony Farnon Independent 2008 Haltemprice and Howden by-election
8 Norman Scarth Independent 2008 Haltemprice and Howden by-election
9 Bobby Smith Bring Back Elmo 2016 Tooting by-election
1 F. R. Lees, a Temperance Chartist, won no votes in the 1860 Ripon by-election, as his supporters mistakenly believed that he had withdrawn.
2 Bevan made a mistake when filling in his nomination paper and put his occupation ("Systems Designer") in the space labelled description, which was printed on the ballot paper then. He was an independent candidate.

Smallest majorities[edit]

All majorities of less than 1,000 since the Second World War. Bold entries indicate a new record.

Votes Election Result
57 1973 Berwick-upon-Tweed by-election Liberal gain
62 1967 Walthamstow West by-election Conservative gain
100 1986 West Derbyshire by-election Conservative hold
205 1965 Leyton by-election Conservative gain
219 1958 Torrington by-election Liberal gain
220 1962 Central Norfolk by-election Conservative hold
264 1977 Ashfield by-election Conservative gain
289 1982 Birmingham Northfield by-election Labour gain
293 1950 Dunbartonshire West by-election Labour hold
359 1946 Combined English Universities by-election Conservative gain
365 2008 Glasgow East by-election SNP gain
395 1948 Glasgow Camlachie by-election Conservative gain
430 1980 Southend East by-election Conservative hold
437 1950 Brighouse and Spenborough by-election Labour hold
452 1946 Heywood and Radcliffe by-election Labour hold
460 2004 Birmingham Hodge Hill by-election Labour hold
478 1969 Swindon by-election Conservative gain
517 1969 Paddington North by-election Labour hold
520 1977 Grimsby by-election Labour hold
552 1983 Penrith and The Border by-election Conservative hold
556 1999 Hamilton South by-election Labour hold
557 1967 Manchester Gorton by-election Labour hold
559 1985 Brecon and Radnor by-election Liberal gain
571 1973 Glasgow Govan by-election SNP gain
617 2014 Heywood and Middleton by-election Labour hold
633 2006 Bromley and Chislehurst by-election Conservative hold
641 1960 Bolton East by-election Conservative hold
657 1956 Taunton by-election Conservative hold
666 1960 Brighouse and Spenborough by-election Conservative gain
683 2019 Peterborough by-election Labour hold
704 1962 South Dorset by-election Labour gain
705 2000 Falkirk West by-election Labour hold
740 1968 Bassetlaw by-election Labour hold
799 1986 Newcastle-under-Lyme by-election Labour hold
806 1955 Mid Ulster by-election Sinn Féin hold
815 1988 Kensington by-election Conservative hold
822 2000 South Antrim by-election DUP gain
865 1955 South Norfolk by-election Conservative hold
913 1950 Belfast West by-election UUP hold
917 1962 South Northamptonshire by-election Conservative hold
946 1973 Ripon by-election Liberal gain
971 1963 Dumfriesshire by-election Conservative hold
973 1962 Blackpool North by-election Conservative hold

Still smaller majorities have been recorded since 1918. The majority in the 1921 Penrith and Cockermouth by-election, was only 31 votes, and in the 1924 Westminster Abbey by-election was 43 votes.[1] At the 1892 Cirencester by-election a majority of 3 for the Unionists was overturned on petition, where it was found that both candidates had an equal number of votes. A fresh by-election was called, which was won by the Liberals.

Turnout[edit]

Turnout is recorded as the percentage of valid votes from the total recorded vote.

Highest turnout[edit]

The highest turnouts since 1918.

By-election Year Turnout %
1969 Mid Ulster by-election 1969 91.5%
1955 Mid Ulster by-election 1955 89.7%
1928 Ashton-under-Lyne by-election 1928 89.1%[1]
August 1981 Fermanagh and South Tyrone by-election 1981 88.6%
1956 Mid Ulster by-election 1956 88.4%
1923 Tiverton by-election 1923 88.1%[1]
1926 Darlington by-election 1926 87.6%[1]
1957 Carmarthen by-election 1957 87.4%[1]
April 1981 Fermanagh and South Tyrone by-election 1981 86.9%
1925 Stockport by-election 1925 85.7%[1]
1950 Brighouse and Spenborough by-election 1950 85.4%[1]

Turnout increased from general election[edit]

It is highly unusual for a by-election to attract a higher turnout in a seat than the previous general election.

By-election Turnout % Turnout %
at general election
Increase %
1936 Ross and Cromarty by-election 65.2 50.8 14.4
1958 Torrington by-election 80.6 69.2 11.4
1938 Bridgwater by-election 82.3 72.7 9.6
1938 Oxford by-election 76.3 67.3 9.0
1928 Carmarthen by-election 76.6 67.9 8.7
1928 St Ives by-election 77.4 69.1 8.3
1969 Mid Ulster by-election 91.5 83.9 7.6
1958 East Aberdeenshire by-election 65.9 59.8 6.1
1926 Kingston-upon-Hull Central by-election 82.8 77.1 5.7
1927 Bosworth by-election 84.6 80.8 3.8
1927 Leith by-election 73.9 70.5 3.4
1932 Cardiganshire by-election 70.4 67.5 2.9
1929 North Lanarkshire by-election 82.3 79.9 2.4
1957 Carmarthen by-election 87.4 85.1 2.3
1948 Paisley by-election 76.0 73.9 2.1
1967 Rhondda West by-election 82.2 80.3 1.9
1948 Croydon North by-election 74.8 73.2 1.6
August 1981 Fermanagh and South Tyrone by-election 88.6 87.1 1.5
1926 Darlington by-election 87.6 86.1 1.5
1928 Linlithgowshire by-election 81.5 80.0 1.5
1973 Berwick-upon-Tweed by-election 75.0 73.7 1.3
1970 South Ayrshire by-election 76.3 75.1 1.2
1955 Mid Ulster by-election 89.7 88.6 1.1
1948 Wigan by-election 81.4 80.4 1.0
1986 Newry and Armagh by-election 76.9 76.0 0.9
1928 Ashton-under-Lyne by-election 89.1 88.3 0.8
1977 Great Grimsby by-election 70.2 69.4 0.8
1938 Ipswich by-election 82.8 82.1 0.7
1982 Glasgow Hillhead by-election 76.4 75.7 0.7
1938 Walsall by-election 75.9 75.2 0.7
1958 Argyll by-election 67.1 66.6 0.5
1926 Smethwick by-election 78.6 78.2 0.4
1967 Hamilton by-election 73.7 73.3 0.4
1971 Macclesfield by-election 76.6 76.4 0.2

Lowest turnout[edit]

During the Second World War the electoral register was not kept up to date despite significant population movements, especially in the London area (which contains all three constituencies listed below). Consequently, only those eligible to vote in the constituency at the outbreak of war were eligible to vote in the by-elections and many voters were physically unable to as they were located elsewhere; in addition the major parties did not compete against each other. The lowest turnout in peacetime since 1918 was 18.2% at the 2012 Manchester Central by-election.[2] The lowest turnouts since 1918 have been:

Turnouts of less than 30% since 1945 (bold indicates a new post-war record)

By-election Turnout %
2012 Manchester Central by-election 18.2%
1999 Leeds Central by-election 19.6%
1958 Shoreditch and Finsbury by-election 24.9%
1999 Wigan by-election 25.0%
2000 Tottenham by-election 25.4%
2012 Cardiff South and Penarth by-election 25.7%
2016 Batley and Spen by-election 25.8%
1974 Newham South by-election 25.9%
2012 Middlesbrough by-election 26.0%
2012 Croydon North by-election 26.5%
2000 West Bromwich West by-election 27.6%
2011 Feltham and Heston by-election 28.8%
2000 Preston by-election 29.6%
1999 Kensington and Chelsea by-election 29.7%

Most candidates[edit]

Under current UK electoral law there is no upper or lower limit for candidature numbers, with the only required stipulation being the valid nomination of ten electors from the constituency. By-elections often attract "fringe" or novelty candidates, single-issue candidates, or independents. As with nominations in a general election, candidates must pay a £500 deposit, which is only refunded if the candidate wins 5% of the votes cast.

All by-elections with more than ten candidates are listed. Elections are listed in alphabetical order. Those that created a new record number appear in bold.

In 2017, the countermanded poll in Manchester Gorton had 11 candidates.

Year Number of candidates Election
2008 26 Haltemprice and Howden
1993 19 Newbury
1999 18 Kensington and Chelsea
1984 17 Chesterfield
1983 16 Bermondsey
2003 Brent East
1988 15 Kensington
2019 Peterborough
1993 14 Christchurch
2012 Corby
2013 Eastleigh
2004 Hartlepool
2018 Lewisham East
1990 Mid Staffordshire
2016 Tooting
1989 Vauxhall
2016 Witney
2009 13 Glasgow North East
2014 Rochester and Strood
1996 South East Staffordshire
2012 12 Croydon North
1981 Croydon North West
2003 Ealing Southall
1999 Hamilton South
2008 Henley
2012 Manchester Central
2009 Norwich North
1997 Wirral South
2006 11 Bromley and Chislehurst
1986 Hammersmith and Fulham
1978 Lambeth Central
2004 Leicester South
2014 Newark
2019 Newport West
2012 Rotherham
2007 Sedgefield
1990 Upper Bann
1997 Uxbridge
1989 Vale of Glamorgan
1981 Warrington
2016 10 Batley and Spen
1977 Birmingham Ladywood
1990 Bradford North
1977 City of London and Westminster South
2008 Crewe and Nantwich
1994 Dudley West
1996 Hemsworth
1995 Littleborough and Saddleworth
2005 Livingston
2002 Ogmore
2010 Oldham East and Saddleworth
2016 Sleaford and North Hykeham
2017 Stoke-on-Trent Central

Fewest candidates[edit]

Year Number of candidates Election
1954 1 (uncontested) Armagh[3]
1953 North Down[3]
1952 Antrim North[3]
1951 Londonderry[3]
1946 Hemsworth1[3]
1986 2 Eight of the Northern Ireland by-elections2
1981 Fermanagh and South Tyrone
1971 Widnes1
1986 3 Ryedale
*1 The most recent mainland UK example
*2 Four of the eight straight fights were between the Unionist incumbent and a "paper candidate" using the name "Peter Barry", the name of the then Irish Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Candidate records[edit]

Durable by-election candidates[edit]

Major parties[edit]

Former Labour cabinet minister Tony Benn contested no fewer than four by-elections during his career, topping the poll on each occasion: Bristol South East in 1950, 1961 and 1963, and Chesterfield in 1984. His first and last by-election victories were 33 years and 3 months apart.

Former cabinet minister and European Commissioner Roy Jenkins fought two different by-elections for the Social Democratic Party only eight months apart. He narrowly failed in the 1981 Warrington by-election before winning the 1982 Glasgow Hillhead by-election. He had been first elected as a Labour MP almost 34 years previously in the 1948 Southwark Central by-election.

Former Speaker of the House of Commons, Betty Boothroyd finally secured election at her third by-election attempt at the 1973 West Bromwich by-election. She had previously failed in the 1957 Leicester South East by-election and the 1968 Nelson and Colne by-election as well as the General Elections of 1959 and 1970.

John Bickley of UKIP contested three by-elections (all in Greater Manchester) within two years - Wythenshawe and Sale East in February 2014, Heywood and Middleton in October 2014 and Oldham West and Royton in December 2015. He was defeated on each occasion, coming closest in Heywood and Middleton where he lost by less than 700 votes. Bickley also contested Heywood and Middleton at the 2015 general election, making a total of four parliamentary elections contested in less than 24 months.

Minor parties and independents[edit]

Perennial fringe candidates include such personalities as Bill Boaks, whose highest vote was at the 1982 Beaconsfield by-election with 99 votes. Screaming Lord Sutch was for most of his career the leader of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party. His highest vote total was 1,114 at the 1994 Rotherham by-election. Lindi St Clair of the Corrective Party contested eleven by-elections without success, her highest total being 216 votes as 'Lady Whiplash' at the 1990 Eastbourne by-election. Sutch's successor as leader of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party, Alan "Howling Laud" Hope, has also contested eleven by-elections.[4]

John Cartwright of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party has contested three by-elections without success, his most successful total being 188 at the 2007 Ealing Southall by-election. Under various ballot paper descriptions, David Bishop of the Church of the Militant Elvis label has stood at five by-elections, getting 99 votes at the 2012 Corby by-election, an increase over his previous high of ninety-three at 2011 Feltham and Heston by-election.

Pre-1945[edit]

Arthur Henderson was distinguished in being successful in no fewer than five by-elections in different seats, in Barnard Castle, Widnes, Newcastle upon Tyne East, Burnley, and Clay Cross.

Joseph Gibbins is the only person in modern times to gain the same seat twice in two different by-elections. He triumphed for Labour in the 1924 Liverpool West Toxteth by-election and the 1935 Liverpool West Toxteth by-election.

William O'Brien won four by-elections, in Mallow in 1883, North East Cork in 1887 and then Cork City in 1904 and 1914. On these last two occasions, he was re-elected having resigned the seat.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill contested five by-elections in his long career:-

John Wilkes won the 1757 Aylesbury by-election, and was then elected in the Middlesex by-elections of February, March and April 1769, on each occasion being subsequently expelled from the House of Commons.

Former MPs making a comeback at a by-election[edit]

Election MP Party notes
2012 Bradford West by-election1 George Galloway Respect returns after failing to win a seat in the 2010 general election
2000 South Antrim by-election1 William McCrea DUP returns after losing his Mid Ulster seat in the 1997 general election.
1999 Kensington and Chelsea by-election Michael Portillo Conservative returns after losing his Enfield Southgate seat at the 1997 general election.
1997 Beckenham by-election Jacqui Lait Conservative returns after losing her Hastings and Rye seat at the 1997 general election.
1988 Epping Forest by-election Steve Norris Conservative returns after losing his Oxford East seat at the 1987 general election.
1988 Glasgow Govan by-election1 Jim Sillars SNP He had first sat as a Labour MP (later as Scottish Labour) for South Ayrshire between 1970 and 1979.
1984 Chesterfield by-election Tony Benn Labour returns after losing his redrawn Bristol East seat at the 1983 general election.
1982 Beaconsfield by-election Tim Smith Conservative returns after losing his Ashfield seat in the 1979 general election.
1982 Glasgow Hillhead by-election2: Roy Jenkins Social Democratic returns after a spell as European Commissioner, then co-founding the Social Democratic Party (SDP). He had first sat as a Labour MP for Southwark Central from 1948–50 and Birmingham Stechford from 1950-77.
1981 Crosby by-election1 Shirley Williams Social Democratic returns as the first-elected SDP MP. She had first sat as a Labour MP for Hitchin 1964-74 and for Hertford and Stevenage 1974-79
1981 Warrington by-election Douglas Hoyle Labour returns after losing his Nelson and Colne seat in the 1979 general election.
1980 Southend East by-election Teddy Taylor Conservative returns after losing his Glasgow Cathcart seat at the 1979 general election
1979 South West Hertfordshire by-election Richard Page Conservative returns after losing his Workington seat in the 1979 general election
1979 Knutsford by-election Jock Bruce-Gardyne Conservative returns after losing his South Angus seat at the October 1974 general election.
1979 Clitheroe by-election David Waddington Conservative returns after losing his Nelson and Colne seat at the October 1974 general election.
1978 Glasgow Garscadden by-election Donald Dewar Labour returns after losing his Aberdeen South seat in the 1970 general election.
1977 Saffron Walden by-election Alan Haselhurst Conservative returns after losing his Middleton and Prestwich seat in the February 1974 general election.
1974 Newham South by-election Nigel Spearing Labour returns after losing his Acton seat in the February 1974 general election.
1972 Merthyr Tydfil by-election2 Edward Rowlands Labour returns after losing his Cardiff North seat in the 1970 general election.
1971 Greenwich by-election Guy Barnett Labour returns after losing his South Dorset seat in the 1964 general election.
1971 Southampton Itchen by-election Bob Mitchell Labour returns after losing his Southampton Test seat in the 1970 general election.
1970 St Marylebone by-election Kenneth Baker Conservative returns after losing his Acton seat in the 1970 general election.
1969 Chichester by-election Christopher Chataway Conservative returns after losing his Lewisham North seat in the 1966 general election.
1969 Brighton Pavilion by-election Julian Amery Conservative returns after losing his Preston North seat in the 1966 general election.
1968 New Forest by-election Patrick McNair-Wilson Conservative returns after losing his Lewisham West seat in the 1966 general election.
1968 Warwick and Leamington by-election Dudley Smith Conservative returns after losing his Brentford and Chiswick seat in the 1966 general election.
1967 West Derbyshire by-election James Scott-Hopkins Conservative returns after losing his Cornwall North seat in the 1966 general election.
1967 Brierley Hill by-election Fergus Montgomery Conservative returns after losing his Newcastle upon Tyne East seat in the 1964 general election.
1967 Honiton by-election Peter Emery Conservative returns after losing his Reading seat in the 1966 general election.
1965 Saffron Walden by-election Peter Kirk Conservative returns after losing his Gravesend seat in the 1964 general election.
1965 Salisbury by-election Michael Hamilton Conservative returns after losing his Wellingborough seat in the 1964 general election.
1965 East Grinstead by-election Geoffrey Johnson-Smith Conservative returns after losing his Holborn and St. Pancras South seat in the 1964 general election.
1965 Altrincham and Sale by-election Anthony Barber Conservative returns after losing his Doncaster seat in the 1964 general election.
1963 St Marylebone by-election Quintin Hogg Conservative returns after disclaiming his peerage. He had previously sat for Oxford 1938-1950.
1963 Kinross and Western Perthshire by-election Sir Alec Douglas-Home Conservative returns after disclaiming his peerage. He had previously sat for Lanark 1931-45 and 1950-51.
1963 Bristol South East by-election Tony Benn Labour returns after disclaiming his peerage. He had been disqualified after the death of his father in 1960, and his election in a 1961 by-election had been adjudged undue on petition.
1962 Middlesbrough East by-election Arthur Bottomley Labour returns after losing his Rochester and Chatham seat in the 1959 general election.
1960 Ebbw Vale by-election Michael Foot Labour returns after losing his Plymouth Devonport seat in the 1955 general election.
1956 Newport by-election Frank Soskice Labour returns after his Sheffield Neepsend seat was abolished at the 1955 general election.
1950 Sheffield Neepsend by-election Frank Soskice Labour returns after his Birkenhead East seat was abolished at the 1950 general election.
1913 Houghton-le-Spring by-election1 Thomas Edward Wing Liberal returns after losing his Grimsby seat at the December 1910 general election.
1911 Bootle by-election Bonar Law Conservative returns after failing to win Manchester North-West in the December 1910 general election.
1908 Dundee by-election Winston Churchill Liberal returns after losing his Manchester North West seat in a 1908 by-election, upon his appointment to the Board of Trade.
1906 Dulwich by-election Bonar Law Conservative returns after losing his Glasgow Blackfriars and Hutchesontown seat in the 1906 general election.
February 1906 City of London by-election Arthur Balfour Conservative returns after losing his Manchester East seat in the 1906 general election.

Notes:

1 by-election gain lost at the subsequent General Election

2 by-election gain held at the subsequent General Election

Former MPs failing in a by-election[edit]

Re-election of Ministers[edit]

Until the Re-election of Ministers Acts 1919 and 1926 there were many cases of members having to seek re-election on appointment to ministerial office. In eight instances they were unsuccessful:

Shortest-serving by-election victors[edit]

Note this list covers completed service only; it excludes any current MPs.

Since 1945[edit]

Notes

  • 1 died
  • 2 defeated at next general election
  • 3 disqualified (Beattie was never elected. He was awarded the seat on the disqualification of his predecessor, only to be found to be disqualified himself)
  • 4 retired at next general election (seat abolished by redistribution and failed to secure alternative seat)
  • 5 retired at next general election due to personal difficulties
  • a returned to Parliament at a subsequent election
  • b had served previously as an MP

Pre-1945[edit]

Youngest by-election victors[edit]

Babies of the House elected at by-elections[edit]

See Baby of the House of Commons

Oldest by-election victors[edit]

Debuts in Parliament:

Comebacks to Parliament:

In defence of a previously held seat:

First women by-election victors[edit]

The first woman to be elected in a by-election was Nancy Astor, who succeeded her husband at the 1919 Plymouth Sutton by-election, becoming the first woman to take her seat in the House of Commons.

The first woman to gain a seat in a by-election was Susan Lawrence who won the 1926 East Ham North by-election, although she had previously sat for the same seat between 1923-4.1

The first woman to gain a seat ab initio in a by-election was Jennie Lee who won the 1929 North Lanarkshire by-election, at the same time becoming the first woman Baby of the House of Commons.

Note 1 Mabel Philipson succeeded her husband at the 1923 Berwick-upon-Tweed by-election. He had been elected as a National Liberal Party candidate. She won as a Conservative so this could arguably be classed as the first gain by a woman.

First ethnic minority by-election victors[edit]

Whilst the first ethnic minority Members of Parliament were elected at General Elections as early as the 1890s, it would be almost 100 years before one was returned at a by-election.

The first ethnic minority candidate to be elected in a by-election was Ashok Kumar who gained the 1991 Langbaurgh by-election for Labour.

The first by-election in which all three major-party candidates were from the ethnic minorities was the 2007 Ealing Southall by-election, held by Labour.

First by-election victors from specific religions[edit]

When the UK Parliament was established in 1801, non-Anglicans were prevented from taking their seats as MPs under the Test Act 1672. However, Methodists took communion at Anglican churches until 1795, and some continued to do so, and many Presbyterians were prepared to accept Anglican communion, thus ensuring that members of these creeds were represented in the Parliament.[7] Some Unitarians were also elected.

The first by-election victor (and first ever MP) to be an adherent of the Eastern Orthodox Church was The Honourable Frederick North who was elected in 1792 for Banbury (to succeed his father who had entered the House of Lords), having converted to the faith the previous year.

The first Roman Catholic by-election victor in the UK Parliament was Daniel O'Connell in the 1828 Clare by-election. He was not permitted to take his seat until the following year.

The first atheist by-election victor was Charles Bradlaugh, at the 1881 Northampton by-election. As an atheist, Bradlaugh was not allowed to swear the Oath of Allegiance, and the by-election was re-run in 1882 and 1884. Both were also won by Bradlaugh, who eventually was able to take his seat after the 1885 general election.[8]

Physically disabled by-election victors[edit]

Most physically disabled MPs in the history of the parliament entered in the intakes of general elections. Those known to have been disabled when entering parliament at by-elections are rarer and include:

By-elections losers awarded seats on disqualification of winner[edit]

Two or more former MPs contest by-election[edit]

1 Conservative MPs David Davis and Walter Sweeney

Frequency and duration records[edit]

Longest period without a by-election[edit]

All periods of over a year between by-elections are listed:

  • 20 November 1997 - 10 June 1999: 567 days
  • 7 November 1991 - 6 May 1993: 546 days
  • 12 March 1987 - 14 July 1988: 489 days
  • 14 February 2002 - 18 June 2003: 489 days
  • 23 February 2017 - 3 May 2018: 434 days
  • 12 November 2009 - 13 January 2011: 427 days
  • 23 May 1974 - 26 June 1975: 399 days
  • 18 June 2003 - 15 July 2004: 393 days
  • 29 June 2006 - 19 July 2007: 385 days
1992, 1998 and 2010 are the only calendar years in history without a single by-election. Since 1992 and 2010 were nonetheless general election years, 1998 stands as the only year in British history without any parliamentary election.

Longest period between a vacancy arising and a by-election writ being moved[edit]

Longest period without a seat changing hands[edit]

The longest period without a seat changing hands in a by-election was the five years between the Conservative victories in the 1948 Glasgow Camlachie by-election and the 1953 Sunderland South by-election.

During the short Parliaments of 1910, 1950-1 and 1974 no seats changed hands in a by-election.

Longest period between by-election gains for a party[edit]

The Liberal Party endured 29 years without a single by-election gain between the 1929 Holland and Boston by-election and the 1958 Torrington by-election. It did not win a single by-election in the thirteen years between holding the 1945 Middlesbrough West by-election and gaining Torrington.

Until the 2008 Crewe and Nantwich by-election, the opposition Conservative Party had not gained a seat in almost 26 years, the last being the 1982 Mitcham and Morden by-election, which occurred during the unique circumstances of the Falklands War and the sitting Labour MP defecting to the Social Democratic Party and seeking re-election under his new party label. The Conservatives' last gain while in Opposition was 30 years previously at the 1978 Ilford North by-election.

Labour's longest lean stretch was almost 18 years, between gaining the 1939 Brecon and Radnor by-election and the 1957 Lewisham North by-election.1

As of 20 July 2019, the most recent gains for each currently active party were:

Party Date Time since By-election
Conservative 23 February 2017 2 years, 4 months and 27 days Copeland (gained from Labour)
Liberal Democrat 1 December 2016 2 years, 7 months and 19 days Richmond Park (gained from Conservative)
UKIP 20 November 2014 4 years and 8 months Rochester and Strood (gained from Conservative)2
Labour 15 November 2012 6 years, 8 months and 5 days Corby (gained from Conservative)
SNP 24 July 2008 10 years, 11 months and 26 days Glasgow East (gained from Labour)
DUP 27 April 2000 19 years, 2 months and 23 days South Antrim (gained from UUP)
SDLP 23 January 1986 33 years, 5 months and 27 days Newry and Armagh (gained from UUP)
Plaid Cymru 14 July 1966 53 years and 6 days Carmarthen (gained from Labour)
UUP 6 June 1946 73 years, 1 month and 14 days Down (gained from Independent)3
Sinn Féin 20 June 1918 101 years and 1 month East Cavan (gained from Irish Parliamentary Party)4

Note 1 The Labour Party were the official opposition in the Parliament elected in 1935, but after the major parties agreed an electoral truce on the outbreak of war in 1939, they did not contest any Conservative or Liberal seats for the remainder of the Parliament, a period of six years, and were members of the wartime coalition government between May 1940 and May 1945.
2 Notional gain: incumbent Conservative stood as UKIP. No UKIP candidate has ever defeated an incumbent of a different party
3 The UUP were also declared winners of the 1955 Mid Ulster by-election after the Sinn Féin candidate was disqualified, but the UUP candidate was also disqualified shortly after.
4 Sinn Féin have not gained a seat at a by-election since 1918. However, the Anti H-Block party, an Irish Republican group that merged into Sinn Féin, gained Fermanagh and South Tyrone in the April 1981 by-election (38 years, 3 months and 11 days ago).

Longest period between by-election holds for a party[edit]

The Conservatives did not successfully defend a single by-election in the eight years between their holds of the 1989 Richmond (Yorks) by-election and the 1997 Uxbridge by-election, losing a record 15 consecutive seats where they were the incumbents. By the time of the by-election in Uxbridge, the victor in Richmond, William Hague, had become leader of the Conservative Party.

Labour's worst run was in losing 4 by-elections on the trot, which has occurred three times since 1945:

Longest period between by-election losses for a party[edit]

Between the 1988 Glasgow Govan by-election and the 2003 Brent East by-election, Labour successfully defended every seat it held at by-elections, for a total of 30 holds (not counting Falkirk West and West Bromwich West, represented by a Labour MP turned independent and a Labour speaker respectively). The span of 14 years, 10 months and 8 days is the longest period without a by-election defeat for either of the two main parties. The Conservatives did not lose a seat between the 2000 Romsey by-election and the 2012 Corby by-election, a span of 12 years, 6 months and 12 days. However, they only defended 3 seats in that time. In terms of total number, their longest run of by-election holds was 51, between the 1945 Chelmsford by-election and the 1957 Lewisham North by-election, a span of 11 years, 9 months and 21 days.

Since their formation, the Liberal Democrats have held every Lib Dem seat contested at a by-election, of which there have been 3. Including their successor parties, their most recent by-election loss was the 1982 Mitcham and Morden by-election, lost by the SDP 37 years, 1 month and 17 days ago. The SDP candidate had however defected from Labour – the last seat lost by either party that had been won at a previous election was the 1957 Carmarthen by-election, lost by the Liberals 62 years, 4 months and 22 days ago. Since 1982, the Liberal Democrats and predecessors together have defended 4; since 1957 they have defended 5 seats.

By-elections in seats held by minor and nationalist parties are rare, and so most have never lost a seat – the DUP and Plaid Cymru have defended but never lost a seat at a by-election, Sinn Féin have only lost seats by disqualification, and the UUP have never lost more than one seat in a row. No by-election has ever been called in an SDLP or SNP held seat.

As of 20 July 2019, the most recent losses for each currently active party were:

Party Date Time since By-election
Labour 23 February 2017 2 years, 4 months and 27 days Copeland (lost to Conservatives)
Conservative 1 December 2016 2 years, 7 months and 19 days Richmond Park (lost to Liberal Democrats)1
UUP 27 April 2000 19 years, 2 months and 23 days South Antrim (lost to DUP)

Notes:
1 The incumbent Conservative stood as an independent. The most recent loss with an official Conservative candidate was Corby on 15 November 2012, 6 years, 8 months and 5 days ago

Longest period without an opposition gain[edit]

For a period of 11 years, until the 2008 Crewe and Nantwich by-election, the principal opposition Conservative Party failed to register a by-election gain against the incumbent Labour Government. This is the longest period of such failure since records began, and more than twice the previous record of the five years it took the then Labour opposition to gain the 1957 Lewisham North by-election.

Apart from the brief parliaments of 1910, 1950-1 and 1974, the parliaments of 1951-5 and 1997-2001 are the only occasions when the Government did not lose a by-election.

Most by-elections in one day[edit]

The largest number of by-elections held on a single day occurred on 23 January 1986 when 15 simultaneous contests were held in Northern Ireland. The elections had been engineered by the incumbent Unionist parties as a protest against the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985. They intended the results to be interpreted as a referendum on the treaty. The elections were boycotted by the main Nationalist parties except in four seats where they had a reasonable prospect of victory. In the event, the Social Democratic and Labour Party gained one seat, Newry and Armagh, from the Ulster Unionist Party.

Apart from the above example, it is common for UK mainland parties to schedule several by-elections on the same day. Motivations include attempting to divide opponents' resources and getting bad news (expected losses) out of the way. Since 1945, the largest number of simultaneous mainland by-elections has been 6, held on 16 November 1960. On four occasions, 5 by-elections have been held on the same day, most recently on 9 June 1994. Groupings of two or three are very common.

Before November 2012, the last day on which three by-elections had been held was 23 November 2000. In November 2012 there were two such groupings of three (15 November and 29 November). The last time there were six by-elections in one calendar month was in June 1994.

Most by-election losses in one day[edit]

The largest number of by-elections lost on a single day is three, when the Labour party lost Acton, Dudley and Meriden on 28 March 1968, all to the Conservatives.

Occasions since 1945 when two seats have fallen are:

Seats with more than one by-election in a single Parliament[edit]

Other seats with by-elections less than five years apart[edit]

By-election days[edit]

British Parliamentary elections are invariably held on a Thursday. The last by-election not held on a Thursday was the 1978 Hamilton by-election, held on Wednesday 31 May due to a World Cup opening match on the Thursday evening.

Due to an administrative oversight, the 1973 Manchester Exchange by-election was held on Wednesday 27 June 1973. Prior to that, the last by-elections not held on a Thursday were the 1965 Saffron Walden by-election held on Tuesday 23 March, and the 1965 Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles by-election held the following day.

Until the mid-1960s, it was common to hold by-elections on any day of the week (other than Sunday).

Countermanded Poll[edit]

Very occasionally, a scheduled by-election may be overtaken by the calling of a general election and the dissolution of Parliament, in which case the poll is countermanded by the Returning Officer. There have been only three occasions since 1918: a by-election was scheduled to take place in Warwick and Leamington on 21 November 1923, but was cancelled by a dissolution of Parliament on 16 November. A by-election was scheduled to poll between 13–17 October 1924 in London University but was cancelled by a dissolution of Parliament on 9 October. In 2017 the 2017 Manchester Gorton by-election was cancelled by a Motion in the House of Commons following the calling of the 2017 United Kingdom general election.[9]

Seats Left Vacant[edit]

Occasionally seats are left vacant for a substantial period.

No by-election writ was moved for any seat held by Sinn Féin after the 1918 general election. Four Sinn Féin candidates were elected in two different seats and would have had to decline one of them if they had wanted to take their seats. They were Éamon de Valera (East Clare and East Mayo), Arthur Griffith (East Cavan and North West Tyrone), Eoin MacNeill (Londonderry City and National University of Ireland) and Liam Mellowes (East Galway and North Meath).

By the end of the Parliament, the following Sinn Féin MPs had died without being replaced: Pierce McCan (East Tipperary) of influenza on 6 March 1919, Terence MacSwiney (Mid Cork) following a hunger strike in Brixton prison on 25 October 1920, Frank Lawless (North County Dublin) as a result of a riding injury on 16 April 1922, Joseph McGuinness (Longford) on 31 May 1922, Cathal Brugha (Waterford) in action during the Irish Civil War on 7 July 1922, Harry Boland (South Roscommon) shot while being arrested on 2 August 1922, Arthur Griffith (East Cavan and North West Tyrone) on 12 August 1922, and Michael Collins (South Cork assassinated on 22 August 1922). In each case their seats were abolished in 1922 as a result of the establishment of the Irish Free State.

Other than these cases the longest time a seat has been left vacant with no by-election held is when Dennis Vosper was elevated to the Peerage on 20 April 1964, and no writ was moved by the time Parliament was dissolved on 25 September 1964.

Causes of by-elections[edit]

By-elections prompted by assassination[edit]

By-elections prompted by accidental death[edit]

By-elections prompted by suicide[edit]

By-elections prompted by posthumous election of MP[edit]

By-elections prompted by scandal[edit]

By-elections prompted to provide seat for seat-less personality[edit]

By-elections prompted by party splits or disputes[edit]

By-elections resulting from Members seeking re-election over a single issue[edit]

By-elections to ratify a change of party[edit]

By-elections are ostensibly to vote for a 'person', not a 'party', meaning that a member switching parties mid-term is not cause for a by-election. However, some members do seek re-election under their new party as a point of principle.

By-elections triggered when member leaves on principle[edit]

By-elections prompted by Member's desire to contest another seat[edit]

By-elections caused by the previous result being declared void[edit]

By-elections prompted by disqualification of the sitting Member[edit]

By-elections prompted by expulsion from the House[edit]

By-elections prompted by lunacy[edit]

By-elections prompted by bankruptcy[edit]

By-elections prompted for miscellaneous reasons[edit]

  • 1916 Widnes by-election: William Hall Walker resigned to permit him to donate his thoroughbred racing stock to create a National Stud in an "arms-length" transaction. He was returned unopposed at the by-election.

By-elections prompted by death of member on wartime active service[edit]

Second World War[edit]

Notes: The above list is of those members either mentioned as having died on War Service in a written Commons answer from Prime Minister Winston Churchill on 19 January 1945, or who appear in the House of Commons Book of Remembrance unveiled in 1949.
a Mentioned in the written Commons answer, but does not appear in the House of Commons Book of Remembrance.
b Not mentioned in the written Commons answer, but does appear in the House of Commons Book of Remembrance.
NB:- The above list does not include the names of three members whose deaths on active service were overtaken by the 1945 general election. For a complete list see Records of members of parliament of the United Kingdom#Second World War

First World War[edit]

Miscellaneous records[edit]

Incumbents fall directly from first place to third place[edit]

1 Bruce Douglas-Mann had been re-elected as Labour MP for the seat in the 1979 general election. In 1981, along with several other MPs, he defected to the newly formed Social Democratic Party. Against his new colleagues' advice, he honoured a pledge to face his electors under his new party colours and precipitated a by-election. He came second in the by-election which was won by the Conservatives. The new Labour candidate finished third.
2 the Liberal MP, Lt-Commander the Hon. Joseph Montague Kenworthy, defected to Labour and sought re-election under his new colours. He was successful, and the new Liberal candidate lost his deposit.

Incumbent Government gains seats[edit]

These records show the rare occasions when the Government won a seat they had not won at the previous General election.

Conservative[edit]

1 Seat awarded by Election Court to Conservative runner-up because Labour victor deemed ineligible.
2 An arguable gain; Stockport was a two-member seat; in the 1918 general election it was won by two supporters of the Coalition Government, one a Liberal and one a Labour member. After a death and a resignation, a by-election was held for both seats. The seats were again won by two Coalition Government supporters, but this time a Conservative and a Liberal, while a Labour candidate who did not support the government was unsuccessful.
3 National Liberal elected in 1922 election had his election declared void (electoral fraud). Resulting by-election was a gain for the Conservatives.

Labour[edit]

1 Uncontested gain from Irish Nationalist.
2 Liberal MP defected to Labour and was re-elected as Labour at a by-election the Liberals did not contest.

Labour won both the 2000 West Bromwich West by-election and 2009 Glasgow North East by-election, regarded as a gain from the contest at the United Kingdom general elections in 1997 and 2005 respectively as those seats had been contested by the then Speakers of the House of Commons, although prior to assuming the Speakership they had both been elected as Labour MPs in safe seats.

Liberal[edit]

Principal Opposition loses seats[edit]

These records show the rare occasions when the official Opposition failed to hold on to a seat they had won at the previous General election.

Conservative[edit]

1A confused situation, where the victorious Empire Free Trade Crusade candidate was effectively a right-wing unofficial Conservative, who subsequently took the whip and was re-elected as official Conservative candidate.

Labour[edit]

1seat awarded by Election Court to Conservative runner-up because Labour victor Viscount Stansgate was deemed ineligible.
2Sir Owen Thomas had been elected as Independent Labour, took the whip for a while, before reverting to Independent Labour.

By-election holds overturned at next general election[edit]

By-elections usually see the high-water mark of any challenge to the incumbents. On rare occasions a party has failed to overturn an incumbent in the by-election yet has gone on to gain the seat at the subsequent general election.

By-election victors had not contested previous general election[edit]

It is unusual for a political party which has not contested a seat at a general election to take it at a subsequent by-election. Many of the parties which have done so were founded after the general election. Independent candidates are not included.

Notes:

1 Alliance partner the Liberal party had contested the seat.
2 the victor was the sitting MP, who had left the Labour party.

Victory from third or lower place[edit]

Incumbent party did not contest[edit]

Losers had been unopposed at previous election[edit]

Notes:

1 the Nationalists did not contest the by-election
2 the Speaker had originally been a Liberal MP.

Major party did not run[edit]

Great Britain[edit]

The Conservatives declined to run a candidate in the 2016 Richmond Park by-election, instead backing Conservative incumbent Zac Goldsmith, who was designated as an Independent.

The Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, UKIP, and Green Party declined to run candidates in the 2016 Batley and Spen by-election, due to the circumstances regarding the killing of the previous MP, Jo Cox.

Neither the Liberal Democrat nor the Labour Party stood candidates in the 2008 Haltemprice and Howden by-election. The by-election was a single-issue election in regards to government security policy, in which the Liberal Democrats supported the Conservative candidate.

The Conservative Party did not run a candidate in the 1963 Bristol South East by-election, the 1957 Carmarthen by-election, the 1948 Paisley by-election or the 1946 Ogmore by-election.

The Labour Party did not run in the 1945 City of London by-election, the 1945 Kensington South by-election or the 1946 Combined English Universities by-election.

Prior to 2008, the last by-election without an official Liberal Democrat, Liberal or SDP candidate had been the 1994 Newham North East by-election; the Lib Dems nominated a candidate, but he joined the Labour Party before the election. No official Liberal candidate was nominated for the 1980 Glasgow Central by-election, whilst no Liberal stood in either the 1973 Westhoughton by-election or the 1973 West Bromwich by-election, both held on 24 May 1973.

The last Scottish by-elections without official Scottish National Party candidates were the Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles by-election, 1965 and the 1964 Rutherglen by-election.

Plaid Cymru did not stand a candidate for the 2019 Brecon and Radnorshire by-election, chosing instead to endorse the Liberal Democrat candidate in a "Stop Brexit" alliance. Prior to that, the last Welsh by-elections without official Welsh Nationalist candidates were the 1950 Abertillery by-election, the 1946 Pontypool by-election and the 1945 Monmouth by-election.

Northern Ireland[edit]

The more fluid nature of politics in Northern Ireland makes it harder to define all major parties. In addition many by-elections have not been contested by parties holding other seats in the House of Commons, whether due to agreements with other parties, poor organisation in the constituency or the particular circumstances on the by-election. However, for the period since 1981 (which saw the first by-elections in twelve years, during which time several major political realignments had occurred) the main parties are usually considered to be the Democratic Unionist Party, Sinn Féin, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and the Ulster Unionist Party.

At the 2013 Mid Ulster by-election. a single "unity" candidate was backed by the withdrawal of the Democratic Unionist Party, Ulster Conservatives and Unionists and Traditional Unionist Voice. Prior to Mid Ulster in 2013, the most recent examples of by-elections without official Democratic Unionist candidates were the 1995 North Down by-election and the 1990 Upper Bann by-election. They also did not stand in the twelve seats held by other Unionist parties in the 15 by-elections in 1986.

The last by-election without official candidates from either Sinn Féin or the SDLP was the 1995 North Down by-election. Both parties also declined to stand in the eleven Unionist majority seats in the 15 by-elections in 1986. The SDLP also did not contest either the April or August 1981 by-elections in Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

The last by-elections without official Ulster Unionist candidates prior to Mid Ulster in 2013 were North Antrim, East Belfast, Mid Ulster and North Down in the 15 by-elections in 1986.

The main British parties have generally not stood in seats in Northern Ireland. The by-election exceptions are the 1990 Upper Bann by-election (Conservatives and continuing SDP) and the 1995 North Down by-election (Conservatives). Prior to the 1970s the Ulster Unionists were effectively the local Conservatives, whilst the Liberals contested some but not all seats. The SDLP has traditionally seen itself as a "sister party" to the British Labour party, and its MPs usually accept the Labour whip in Parliament.

Victories by minor parties[edit]

Victories by independent and minor party candidates since 1945. For a complete list, see the list of UK minor party and independent MPs elected.

Minor parties other strong performance[edit]

Parties without representation in the House of Commons which saved their deposit:

Party By-election Candidate Votes Percentage Position Notes
Alliance 1986 Belfast East by-election Oliver Napier 5,917 17.4 2 Party historically represented at Westminster
Alliance 1986 Belfast North by-election Paul Maguire 5,072 16.7 2 Party historically represented at Westminster
Alliance 1982 Belfast South by-election David Cook 11,726 26.9 2 Party historically represented at Westminster
Alliance 1986 Belfast South by-election David Cook 7,635 25.0 2 Party historically represented at Westminster
Alliance 1986 East Antrim by-election Seán Neeson 5,405 15.1 2 Party historically represented at Westminster
Alliance 1986 North Down by-election John Cushnahan 8,066 20.8 2 Party historically represented at Westminster
Alliance 1995 North Down by-election Oliver Napier 6,970 25.4 3 Party historically represented at Westminster
Alliance 2000 South Antrim by-election David Ford 2,031 6.6 5 Party represented in the Northern Ireland Assembly and historically at Westminster
All Party Alliance 1968 Oldham West by-election John Creasey 3,389 13.2 3
Brexit Party 2019 Peterborough by-election Mike Greene 9,801 28.9 2 Party represented in the European Parliament
BNP 1994 Dagenham by-election John Tyndall 1,511 7.0 4
BNP 2011 Barnsley Central by-election Enis Dalton 1,463 6.0 4 Party represented in the European Parliament
BNP 2007 Sedgefield by-election Andrew Spence 2,494 8.9 4
BNP 2012 Rotherham by-election Marlene Guest 1,804 8.5 3 Party represented in the European Parliament
English Democrat 2008 Haltemprice and Howden by-election Joanne Robinson 1,714 7.2 3
Green 2008 Haltemprice and Howden by-election Shan Oakes 1,758 7.4 2 Party represented in the European Parliament and subsequently at Westminster
Green 2009 Norwich North by-election Rupert Read 3,350 9.7 5 Party represented in the European Parliament and subsequently at Westminster
Green 1989 Vauxhall by-election Henry Bewley 1,767 6.1 4 Party represented in the House of Lords
Independent 2013 Mid Ulster by-election Nigel Lutton 12,781 34.4 2 DUP, UUP and TUV did not stand candidates and supported Lutton's candidacy[12][13]
Independent 1946 Combined English Universities by-election Mary Stocks 5,124 28.0 2
Independent 1946 Combined English Universities by-election Ernest Simon 4,028 22.0 3
Independent 1986 East Londonderry by-election Peter Barry 2,001 6.1 2 Fictitious paper candidate running as "For the Anglo-Irish Agreement"
Independent 2013 South Shields by-election Ahmed Khan 1,331 5.4 4
Independent 2011 Barnsley Central by-election Tony Devoy 1,266 5.2 5
Independent 1999 Hamilton South by-election Stephen Mungall 1,075 5.5 5
Independent 2007 Sedgefield by-election Paul Gittins 1,885 6.7 5
Independent 1986 South Antrim by-election Peter Barry 1,870 5.9 2 Fictitious paper candidate running as "For the Anglo-Irish Agreement"
Independent 1986 Strangford by-election Peter Barry 1,993 5.8 2 Fictitious paper candidate running as "For the Anglo-Irish Agreement"
Independent Labour 1946 Combined English Universities by-election S. Wormald 3,414 18.7 4
Independent Labour 1991 Liverpool Walton by-election Lesley Mahmood 2,613 6.5 3
Independent Unionist 1946 Down by-election J. Hastings-Little 16,895 17.1 3
Independent Unionist 1995 North Down by-election Alan Chambers 2,170 7.9 4
Anti-Partition 1948 Armagh by-election James O'Reilly 16,284 40.3 2 Party later represented at Westminster
Irish Labour 1950 Belfast West by-election Jack Beattie 30,833 49.2 2 Party previously and later represented at Westminster
Lincolnshire Independent 2016 Sleaford and North Hykeham by-election Marianne Overton 2,892 8.8 5
National Fellowship 1963 Bristol South East by-election Edward Martell 4,834 19.0 2
National Front 1973 West Bromwich by-election Martin Webster 4,789 16.0 3
NI Labour 1959 Belfast East by-election James Gardner 14,264 42.2 2 Party represented in the Parliament of Northern Ireland and previously at Westminster
NI Labour 1952 Belfast South by-election Samuel Napier 7,655 24.9 2 Party previously represented at Westminster
NI Labour 1963 Belfast South by-election Norman Searight 7,209 25.8 2 Party represented in the Parliament of Northern Ireland and previously at Westminster
NI Labour 1946 Down by-election Desmond Donnelly 28,846 29.3 2 Party represented in the Parliament of Northern Ireland and previously at Westminster
Peace 2012 Middlesbrough by-election Imdad Hussain 1,060 6.3 5
Plaid Cymru 1946 Aberdare by-election Wynne Samuel 7,090 20.0 2 Party later represented at Westminster
Plaid Cymru 1954 Aberdare by-election Gwynfor Evans 5,671 16.0 2 Party later represented at Westminster
Plaid Cymru 1972 Merthyr Tydfil by-election Emrys Roberts 11,852 37.0 2 Party previously and later represented at Westminster
Plaid Cymru 1946 Ogmore by-election T. R. Morgan 5,685 29.4 2 Party later represented at Westminster
People Before Profit 2011 Belfast West by-election Gerry Carroll 1,751 7.6 3 Two members elected to the Dáil in 2011
Respect 2004 Birmingham Hodge Hill by-election John Rees 1,282 6.3 4 George Galloway MP was a party member, but was usually considered Independent Labour in Parliament at the time
Respect 2004 Leicester South by-election Yvonne Ridley 3,724 12.7 4 George Galloway MP was a party member, but was usually considered Independent Labour in Parliament at the time
SDLP 2018 West Tyrone by-election Daniel McCrossan 6,254 17.9 3 Party represented in the Northern Ireland Assembly and historically at Westminster
SNP 1946 Glasgow Bridgeton by-election M. Wood 2,575 13.9 4 Party previously and later represented at Westminster
SNP 1961 Glasgow Bridgeton by-election Ian MacDonald 3,549 18.7 3 Party previously and later represented at Westminster
SNP 1967 Glasgow Pollok by-election George Leslie 10,884 29.2 3 Party previously and later represented at Westminster
SNP 1970 South Ayrshire by-election Sam Purdie 7,785 19.9 3 Party previously and later represented at Westminster
SNP 1962 West Lothian by-election William Wolfe 9,750 23.3 2 Party previously and later represented at Westminster
Scottish Socialist 2000 Falkirk West by-election Iain Hunter 989 5.1 4 Party represented in the Scottish Parliament
Scottish Socialist 2000 Glasgow Anniesland by-election Charlie McCarthy 1,441 7.2 5 Party represented in the Scottish Parliament
Scottish Socialist 1999 Hamilton South by-election Shareen Blackall 1,847 9.5 3 Party represented in the Scottish Parliament
SDP 1991 Neath by-election John Warman 1,826 5.3 5 Party of same name which was dissolved in 1990 was represented in Parliament
Socialist Alliance 2000 Preston by-election Terry Cartwright 1,210 5.7 4
Socialist Alliance 2000 Tottenham by-election Weyman Bennett 885 5.4 4
Socialist Labour 1996 Barnsley East by-election Ken Capstick 949 5.3 4
Socialist Labour 1996 Hemsworth by-election Brenda Nixon 1,193 5.4 4
Socialist Labour 2002 Ogmore by-election Christopher Herriot 1,152 6.3 5
UKIP 2004 Hartlepool by-election Stephen Allison 2,347 10.2 3 Party represented in the European Parliament
UKIP 2006 Bromley and Chislehurst by-election Nigel Farage 2,347 8.1 3 Party represented in the European Parliament
UKIP 2009 Norwich North by-election Glenn Tingle 4,068 11.8 4 Party represented in the European Parliament
UKIP 2011 Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election Paul Nuttall 2,029 5.8 4 Party represented in the European Parliament
UKIP 2011 Barnsley Central by-election Jane Collins 2,953 12.2 2 Party represented in the European Parliament
UKIP 2011 Feltham and Heston by-election Andrew Charalambous 1,276 5.5 4 Party represented in the European Parliament
UKIP 2012 Cardiff South and Penarth by-election Simon Zeigler 1,179 6.1 5 Party represented in the European Parliament
UKIP 2012 Corby by-election Margot Parker 5,108 14.3 3 Party represented in the European Parliament
UKIP 2012 Rotherham by-election Jane Collins 4,648 21.8 2 Party represented in the European Parliament
UKIP 2012 Middlesbrough by-election Richard Elvin 1,990 11.8 2 Party represented in the European Parliament
UKIP 2012 Croydon North by-election Winston McKenzie 1,400 5.7 3 Party represented in the European Parliament
UKIP 2013 Eastleigh by-election Diane James 11,571 27.8 2 Party represented in the European Parliament
UKIP 2013 South Shields by-election Richard Elvin 5,988 24.2 2 Party represented in the European Parliament
UKIP 2014 Wythenshawe and Sale East by-election John Bickley 4,301 18.0 2 Party represented in the European Parliament
UKIP 2014 Newark by-election Roger Helmer 10,028 25.9 2 Party represented in the European Parliament
UKIP 2014 Heywood and Middleton by-election John Bickley 11,016 38.7 2 Party represented in the European Parliament, and also represented in the House of Commons following the Clacton by-election the same day.
UUP 2018 West Tyrone by-election Chris Smyth 2,909 8.3 4 Party represented in the Northern Ireland Assembly and historically at Westminster
Workers' Party 1986 Belfast North by-election Seamus Lynch 3,563 11.8 3
Workers' Party 1986 Lagan Valley by-election John Lowry 3,328 9.3 2
Workers' Party 1986 Upper Bann by-election Tom French 6,978 19.2 2

Miscellaneous notable results[edit]

It is unusual for one of the major parties to finish outside of the top three in England and Wales (or outside of the top four in Scotland). It is also unusual for the principal opposition party to suffer a significant reverse in its share of the vote or ranking.

  • The 2016 Richmond Park by-election was the first Liberal Democrat gain since 2010, showing tentative signs of recovery for the party. It also gave them a female MP for the first time in the 56th parliament. In addition it was the first occasion in more than a century of Labour losing their deposit in a London by-election.
  • The 2014 Clacton by-election saw the election of the first UKIP MP on the largest swing ever against the Conservative Party. It was also the first time that a party had gained a seat not having contested the previous election since the 1973 Isle of Ely by-election. The Liberal Democrat's 1.4% of the vote was their worst result in an English seat since 1924.
  • The 2013 Eastleigh by-election delivered several records. It was the first time in an English seat that both Labour and Conservative finished outside of the top two. For the first time, UKIP came close to winning a seat. It was the closest three-cornered English by-election since the 1921 Penistone by-election, and, aside from the 1946 Combined English Universities by-election, it was won with the lowest winning share of the vote since 1918. Aside from the contrived example of the 1989 Richmond (Yorks) by-election it was also the first time Labour had finished fourth in a by-election while in Opposition.
  • At the 2012 Rotherham by-election, the Conservative party fell from second to fifth place (equalling its previous lowest position in a by-election in mainland Britain) while the Liberal Democrats fell from third place to eighth, the lowest ranking ever achieved by a major party in a by-election. This followed the 2011 Barnsley Central by-election, where the Liberal Democrats took sixth place, dropping from second at the 2010 general election. The Rotherham by-election was also the first recorded by-election result to have women in the top four places.
  • At the 2006 Blaenau Gwent by-election, held on the same day as Bromley and Chislehurst, the Conservative Party's fifth-place ranking equalled the worst-place achieved by a major party in England or Wales, a feat the Conservatives had first achieved in the same seat in the 2005 general election. The Blaenau victor, Dai Davies was the first independent to hold a seat previously occupied by an independent since Sir C.V.F. Townshend held The Wrekin in 1920.
  • In the 1999 Hamilton South by-election, and 2009 Glasgow North East by-election the Liberal Democrats came sixth in both cases, equalling the worst ever placing by a major party in the UK. In 1999 the party had 634 votes while in Glasgow the party gained 474 votes.
  • At the 1976 Walsall North by-election, the Liberal Party could take only fifth place. Beaten by an independent and a minor party candidate, at the time, this was the worst placing for any major party in an English by-election since at least 1945.
  • At the 2008 Henley by-election the Labour Party finished in fifth place, the worst ranking for the party in its history, and a record low for any government in a UK mainland constituency. The lowest ever for an incumbent government was the 1990 Upper Bann by-election when the Conservatives came sixth, although they had not previously contested the seat.
  • The drop in the Conservative share of the vote, 11.1%, at the 2006 Bromley and Chislehurst by-election was their worst result in a Conservative-held seat while in opposition since 19301. At the same by-election, the Labour Party's fall from second to fourth place was the first time the party had suffered such a reverse in an English seat.
  • The Conservative Party fell from second to fourth place in the 2004 Hartlepool by-election and fell from third to fourth place in the 1991 Liverpool Walton by-election. At the time their worst ranking in an English by-election since at least 1945 was the drop from third place to fourth place in the 1974 Newham South by-election, whilst the also dropped to fourth place in the 1983 Bermondsey by-election.
  • The Labour party fell from second to fourth place in the 2000 Ceredigion by-election.
  • At the Bootle by-election, 1990 the "continuing" SDP finished seventh out of eight candidates, behind the Monster Raving Loony Party, in a seat parts of which had once been in adjoining Crosby, scene of the party's greatest triumph only eight years previously.
  • The Labour Party achieved fourth place in the 1989 Richmond (Yorks) by-election although this was contrived somewhat by the Social and Liberal Democrats and Social Democratic Party parties running separate candidates.
  • The last time the Liberals lost a by-election they were defending was at the 1957 Carmarthen by-election, defeated by the former Liberal MP turned Labour candidate, Lady Megan Lloyd-George. The Liberal parliamentary contingent was thus reduced to five MPs, its lowest ever level.

Notes 1Excluding the 1931 Westminster St George's by-election and the 1930 Paddington South by-election, which were essentially intra-Conservative contests, the previous worst result was, ironically, the 1930 Bromley by-election

By-elections having national significance[edit]

Firsts and lasts[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher, British electoral facts, 1832-2006 (Parliamentary Research Services)
  2. ^ "Labour holds in Cardiff and Manchester but turnout is low". Channel 4 News. Retrieved 16 November 2012.
  3. ^ a b c d e Craig, F. W. S. (1968). British Parliamentary Election Statistics 1918-1968. Glasgow: Political Reference Publications. p. 38. ISBN 0900178000.
  4. ^ South Shields by-election UK Polling Report
  5. ^ Roy Jenkins Churchill (Macmillan, 2001), page 325 ISBN 0-333-78290-9
  6. ^ Since the Reform Act 1832; of those whose age can be verified.
  7. ^ Chris Pond, Parliament and Religious Disabilities Archived September 28, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ John M. Clarke (November 1993). "Charles Bradlaugh". Necropolis News. Retrieved 20 April 2017.
  9. ^ "Manchester Gorton by-election cancellation confirmed". BBC News. BBC. Retrieved 20 April 2017.
  10. ^ A verdict of accidental death was recorded at the inquest. Clitherow was a Medical Doctor and had taken seven barbitone tablets, described by the pathologist as a "bold dose". See The Times, 19 June 1947, p. 2.
  11. ^ "Baronetage". Leighrayment.com. Retrieved 2016-10-01.
  12. ^ [1][permanent dead link]
  13. ^ Purdy, Martina. "Mid Ulster by-election: Lutton chosen as unionist candidate - BBC News". Bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 2016-10-01.

Further reading[edit]