The 1945 Westminster Elections in Northern Ireland

The Elections

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.

Westminster Election Map 1945
This map by Conal Kelly shows the winner in each constituency in 1945.

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 394,373 54.6% 9 MPs (Antrim (2 seats), Armagh, East Belfast, North Belfast, South Belfast, Down (1 of 2 seats), Londonderry and Queens University.
Nationalist 148,078 20.5% 2 MPs (Fermanagh & Tyrone (2 seats))
Independent Unionist 68,895 9.5% 1 MP (Down (1 of 2 seats))
NILP 65,459 9.1%
Independent Labour 30,787 4.3% 1 MP West Belfast
Commonwealth Labour 14,096 2.0%
Independent 728 0.1%

Previous Contests

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.

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