The 1923 Westminster Elections in Northern Ireland

The Elections

The general election of 6 December 1923 was held just twelve months after the previous contest. The Prime Minister Andrew Bonar Law, who had successfully led the Conservatives back to single-party government, was diagnosed with terminal throat cancer and resigned on 22 May 1923. Bonar Law, the first foreign born British Prime Minister, became the shortest serving PM of the twentieth century. King George V invited Stanley Baldwin, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to form a new government. The Conservatives were immediately faced with growing concern related to rising unemployment, largely as a result of cheaper imports impacting the manufacturing industries. Despite a comfortable majority and an election not due for four years, Baldwin felt honour-bound by his predecessor’s pledge to not raise tariffs without seeking a fresh mandate and as a result a new election was called.

Much of the election campaign focused on the topics of rising unemployment and tariff reform, an issue that also divided the Conservatives. When the votes were counted, the Conservatives had lost 86 seats along with their overall majority. At 258 seats they remained the largest party, followed by Labour on 191 seats and the Liberals on 158 seats. In the first session of the new Parliament, Baldwin’s government was defeated in a confidence motion and he immediately resigned. The responsibility then fell to Labour leader Ramsay MacDonald, who with the acquiescence of the Liberals, formed the first ever Labour government, albeit a minority one.

In Nothern Ireland, the Unionist government under Craig was continuing to bed-down the new state. The government faced economic headwinds with high levels of unemployment and the introduction of customs barriers by the Free State, impacting border communities. The Civil War in the South had ended in May of 1923 and while the return to law and order was welcomed, it also meant that the Boundary Commission would be established, something the Unionists vowed to resist.

The election produced an almost identical result to the 1922 contest. Twelve of the 13 sitting MPs were successfully returned. The only change was for the Queens University seat, where Sir William Whitla retired and was replaced by Unionist colleague Col. Thomas Sinclair. The Unionist Party faced opposition in only three constituencies; they were challenged by an Independent Unionist in North Belfast, an Independent Labour candidate in West Belfast, and by Nationalists in the two-seat Fermanagh and Tyrone. With the exception of the two Fermanagh and Tyrone seats, the Unionist Party won the other 11 seats.

Westminster Election Map 1923
This map by Conal Kelly shows the winner in each constituency in 1923.

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 117,161 48.4% 11 MPs (Antrim (2 seats), Armagh, East Belfast, North Belfast, South Belfast, West Belfast, Down (2 Seats), Londonderry and Queens University.
Nationalist 87,671 36.2% 2 MPs (Fermanagh & Tyrone (2 seats))
Indepenent Labour 22,225 9.2%
Independent Unionist 15,171 6.3%

Previous Contests

This graph contrasts the 1923 election result with the Westminster elections of 1922, 1918, 1910 (Dec), 1910 (Jan), 1906 and 1900. It is important to note that the comparison chart below can be somewhat misleading given the high number of seats that went uncontested during this period. The Unionist Party was unopposed in nine seats in 1900, six in 1906, eight in January 1910, nine in December 1910 and ten in 1922. Liberal Unionists went unchallenged in two seats in 1900. Nationalists were unopposed in three seats in 1900, three in 1906, one in January 1910 and two in December 1910.



In Antrim (2 seats), Armagh, East Belfast, South Belfast, Down (2 Seats), Londonderry and Queens University Unionist candidates were returned unopposed.
Col. Thomas Sinclair, the successful Unionist Party candidate in Queens University, was the only new member. All other MPs had been previously elected in 1922.

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, 10 October 2007.

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