Westminster Elections in Northern Ireland
The 1945 UK general election was held on 5 July 1945. General
elections had been suspended during the Second World War and so this was the first national contest
in almost ten years. The war in Europe was at an end with VE Day just two months previous. Churchill,
who had succeeded Chamberlain as Prime Minister in 1940, was viewed as highly popular and it was
widely predicted that he would lead the Conservatives to a comfortable victory.
The result came as a shock with an unexpected landslide
victory for Clement Attlee's Labour Party. A swing of 10.7% to the Labour Party saw the Conservatives
reduced to 197 seats, a net loss of 189. Continued divisions between the Liberal and National Liberal
factions saw a combined loss of 31 seats including those of both leaders. Labour with 393 seats would
go on to form their first majority government.
Northern Ireland emerged from the war years having faced a
number of significant challenges. James Craig, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and the first
Prime Minister of Northern Ireland had died in November 1940. His successor, John Andrews, proved an
unpopular choice within the party and he was subsequently replaced as by Sir Basil Brooke in April 1943.
During the war, conscription had not been extended to Northern Ireland despite the strong support of the
Northern Ireland Government. German air-raids in April and May 1941 left almost 1,000 dead and whole
districts of Belfast devastated. There had also been intense concern around the British Government’s
negotiations with De Valera, offering Unity in exchange for the South’s abandonment of neutrality.
The 1945 Westminster election came less than a month after the
Northern Ireland general election. The Unionist Party had seen significant losses and a notable labour
surge, with over 120,000 votes going to a fragmented range of left-wing candidates. There was significant
concern that this could be repeated in the Westminster contest. In the end, the Unionist Party hegemony
was only slightly shaken, with the party returning nine MPs; their lowest tally since the creation of
Northern Ireland. The Nationalist Party retained their two seats in Fermanagh
and Tyrone and West Belfast fell to Independent Labour candidate Jack
Beattie. One of the incumbents for Down, Rev. James Little, was
returned as an Independent Unionist, having been first elected in the 1939
by-election under the Ulster Unionist Party banner.
This map by Conal Kelly shows
the winner in each constituency in 1945.
The details of each seat are
on the relevant constituency page; the totals for the whole of Northern Ireland were as follows:
This graph contrasts the 1945 election result
with the Westminster elections of 1935, 1931,
1929, 1924, 1923 and
1922. 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 ten seats in 1922, nine in 1923, three in 1924, four in 1929, nine in 1931 and seven in 1935. The Unionist share of the poll would have been considerably higher had all seats been contested.
In Armagh, the Unionist Party candidate was returned unopposed. All
other seats were contested. Henry Holmes, the unsuccessful NILP candidate for Antrim,
would later leave the NILP and join the Unionist Party in 1949. He would be
elected for Belfast Shankill in both the 1953 and 1958 Northern Ireland general
elections. Harry Midgley, the unsuccessful CWLP candidate for South Belfast,
had stood unsuccessfully in West Belfast for the 1923 and
1924 Westminster elections under the NILP banner. He founded
the Commonwealth Labour Party in 1942 but would later disbanded it and join the Unionist
Party in 1947. Rev. James Little, the successful Independent Unionist candidate in
Down, had been elected as a Unionist in a 1939 by-election. Following a selection
row with the party, he opted to run as an Independent Unionist instead. Sir Walter Dorling Smiles, the successful Unionist Party candidate in
Down, had previously been the Conservative MP for Blackburn from 1931 to 1945.
The Queens University constituency had an actual electoral contest for
the first time since 1918. The winner was Unionist Party candidate, Prof. Douglas
Savory. Noreen Cooper the unsuccessful Unionist candidate for Fermanagh and
Tyrone, was the first woman to contest a Westminster seat since the founding of
Northern Ireland. Jack Beattie, the successful NILP candidate for West Belfast, had
been expelled from the party in 1934. He was readmitted in 1942 before resigning again
the following year. He later joined the Irish Labour Party in 1949. Hugh Corvin, the unsuccessful Independent Republican candidate for West
Belfast, had previously contested the 1924 Westminster elections as a Sinn Fein
candidate in North Belfast.
Only five of the 13 MPs elected in 1935 were returned to Westminster in this election.