The 1931 Westminster Elections in Northern Ireland

The Elections

The 1931 UK general election was held on 27 October 1931. It followed a period of political and economic crisis that saw the minority Labour government under MacDonald collapse in August and replaced by a National Government supported mainly by Conservatives and Liberals, with MacDonald remaining Prime Minister. Battling the challenges of the Great Depression and pressures for cuts in unemployment benefit, MacDonald’s cabinet had been irreconcilably divided and the Government was forced to resign. The coalition that replaced it included Labour, Conservative and Liberal members with the intended short-term goal of balancing the budget. However, the Labour Party officially rejected the new National Government and expelled MacDonald from the party. The Liberals were also divided with factions supporting of the National Government, those against, and those opposing the pro-tariff policies of the government.

In the election that followed, only the Conservatives under Baldwin had a unified platform. MacDonald led the National Labour faction, with Arthur Henderson leading the official Labour Party. For the Liberals, John Simon led the National Government faction, Herbert Samuel led the faction opposed to the National Government joint platform, and Lloyd George led the anti-tariff faction. The result was a landslide victory for the Conservatives, winning an outright majority with 470 seats. The official Labour Party lost 235, a reduction of 80% over their 1929 result.

In Northern Ireland only three constituencies were contested in the 1931 election. The Unionists comfortably overcame NILP opposition in East Belfast and defeated the Nationalist Party candidate in West Belfast. The Unionist Party had not contested the two-seat Fermanagh and Tyrone constituency in 1929 and despite a strong performance this time round, they were unable to unseat the Nationalist Party candidates. In all other constituencies the Unionist candidates were returned unopposed.

Westminster Election Map 1931
This map by Conal Kelly shows the winner in each constituency in 1931.

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 149,566 53.0% 11 MPs (Antrim (2 seats), Armagh, East Belfast, North Belfast, South Belfast, West Belfast, Down (2 Seats), Londonderry and Queens University.
Nationalist 123,053 43.6% 2 MPs (Fermanagh & Tyrone (2 seats))
NILP 9,410 3.3%

Previous Contests

This graph contrasts the 1931 election result with the Westminster elections of 1929, 1924, 1923, 1922, 1918 and 1910 (Dec). 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 December 1910, ten in 1922, nine in 1923, three in 1924 and four in 1929. In addition, Nationalists were unopposed in two seats in December 1910.



In Antrim (2 seats), Armagh, North Belfast, South Belfast, Down (2 Seats), Londonderry and Queens University Unionist candidates were returned unopposed.
Thomas Campbell, the successful Nationalist candidate for West Belfast, had previously stood unsuccessfully for the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) in South Monaghan at the 1918 general election.
Cahir Healy, the successful Nationalist candidate for Fermanagh and Tyrone, had previously been the MP between 1922-1924.
John Campbell, the unsuccessful candidate in East Belfast, was the first Northern Ireland Labour Party (NILP) candidate put forward for a Westminster election.
Only three of the MPs elected in 1929 were not returned to Westminster in this election.

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