United Kingdom general election, 2010

United Kingdom general election, 2010[1]

2005 ←
6 May 2010 (2010-05-06)
Members elected
→ Next

All 650 seats in the House of Commons.
  First party Second party Third party
Leader David Cameron Gordon Brown Nick Clegg
Leader since 6 December 2005 24 June 2007 18 December 2007
Leader's seat Witney Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath Sheffield Hallam
Last election 198 seats, 32.4% 355 seats, 35.2% 62 seats, 22.1%
Seats before 210 349 62
Seats won 306^ 258 57
Seat change 97* 91* 5*
Popular vote 10,703,754 8,609,527 6,836,824
Percentage 36.1% 29.0% 23.0%
Swing 3.7% 6.2% 1.0%

Colours denote the winning party, as shown in the main table of results ^ Figure does not include the speaker * Indicates boundary change - so this is a nominal figure

Prime Minister before election
Gordon Brown
Subsequent Prime Minister
David Cameron
[[Conservative Party (UK)

The United Kingdom general election of 2010 was held on Thursday 6 May 2010 to elect members to the House of Commons. The election took place in 650 constituencies[2] across the United Kingdom under the first-past-the-post system. None of the parties achieved the 326 seats needed for an overall majority. The Conservative Party, led by David Cameron, won the largest number of votes and seats but still fell twenty seats short. This resulted in a hung parliament where no party was able to command a majority in the House of Commons. This was only the second general election since World War II to return a hung parliament, the first being the February 1974 election. However unlike then, this time the potential for a hung parliament had been widely considered and therefore the country was better prepared for the constitutional process that would follow such a result.[3] The coalition government that was subsequently formed was the first coalition in UK history to eventuate directly from an election outcome.

Coalition talks began immediately between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats and lasted for five days. There was an aborted attempt to put together a Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition (although other smaller parties would have been required to make up the ten seats they lacked for a majority). To facilitate this Gordon Brown announced on the evening of Monday 10 May that he would resign as Labour Party leader. On Tuesday 11 May, Brown announced his resignation[4] as Prime Minister, marking the end of 13 years of Labour government.[4] This was accepted by Queen Elizabeth II, who then invited David Cameron to form a government and become Prime Minister. Just after midnight on 12 May, the Liberal Democrats emerged from a meeting of their Parliamentary party and Federal Executive to announce that the coalition deal had been "approved overwhelmingly",[5][6] sealing a stable coalition government of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

None of the three main party leaders had previously led a general election campaign, a situation which had not occurred since the 1979 election. During the campaign, the three main party leaders engaged in a series of televised debates, the first such debates in a British general election campaign. The Liberal Democrats achieved a breakthrough in opinion polls after the first debate in which their leader Nick Clegg was widely seen as the strongest performer. However, on polling day their share of the vote increased by only 1% over the previous general election, and they suffered a net loss of five seats. Still, this was the Liberal Democrats' largest popular vote since the party's creation, and they found themselves in a pivotal role in the formation of the new government. The share of votes for parties other than Labour or the Conservatives was 35% and was the largest since the 1918 general election. In terms of votes it was the most "three-cornered" election since 1923, and in terms of seats since 1929. The Green Party of England and Wales won its first ever seat in the Commons, and the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland gained its first representation since 1974. The result in one constituency, Oldham East and Saddleworth, was subsequently declared void on petition due to illegal practices during the campaign, the first such instance since 1910.

The election was broadcast live on the BBC and presented by David Dimbleby, Nick Robinson, Jeremy Paxman, Jeremy Vine, Emily Maitlis and Fiona Bruce.


The Prime Minister Gordon Brown went to Buckingham Palace on 6 April and asked the Queen to dissolve Parliament on 12 April, confirming in a live press conference in Downing Street, as had long been speculated, that the election would be held on 6 May,[7] five years since the previous election on 5 May 2005. The election took place on 6 May in 649 constituencies across the United Kingdom, under the first-past-the-post system, for seats in the House of Commons. Voting in the Thirsk and Malton constituency[2] was postponed for three weeks because of the death of a candidate.

The governing Labour Party had campaigned to secure a fourth consecutive term in office and to restore support lost since 1997.[8] The Conservative Party sought to gain a dominant position in UK politics after losses in the 1990s, and to replace Labour as the governing party. The LibDems hoped to make gains from both sides and hoped to hold the balance of power in a hung parliament. Since the televised debates between the three leaders, their poll ratings had risen to the point where many considered the possibility of a Liberal Democrat role in Government.[9] Polls just before election day saw a slight swing from the Liberal Democrats back to Labour and Conservatives, with the majority of final polls falling within one point of Conservatives 36%, Labour 28%, Liberal Democrats 27%.[10][11] However, record numbers of undecided voters raised uncertainty about the outcome.[12][13] The Scottish National Party, encouraged by their victory in the 2007 Scottish parliament elections, set themselves a target of 20 MPs and were hoping to find themselves in a balance of power position.[14] Equally, Plaid Cymru sought gains in Wales. Smaller parties who have had successes at local elections and the 2009 European elections (UK Independence Party, Green Party, British National Party) looked to extend their representation to seats in the House of Commons. The Democratic Unionist Party looked to maintain, if not extend, their number of seats, having been the fourth largest party in the House of Commons.

The key dates were:

Monday 12 April Dissolution of Parliament (the 54th) and campaigning officially began
Tuesday 20 April Last day to file nomination papers, to register to vote, and to request a postal vote[15]
Thursday 6 May Polling day
Tuesday 11 May David Cameron became Prime Minister through a coalition with the Liberal Democrats.
Tuesday 18 May New Parliament (the 55th) assembled
Tuesday 25 May State Opening of Parliament
Thursday 27 May Voting took place in the delayed poll in the constituency of Thirsk and Malton[16]=""citation news" >. Malton & Pickering Mercury. 28 April 2010. http://www.maltonmercury.co.uk/news/Election-delayed-after-the-death.6260395.jp. Retrieved 29 April 2010. " "thirsk"=""thirsk"" "note"=""note""/>

MPs declining re-election

This election had an unusually high number of MPs choosing not to seek re-election with more standing down than did so at the 1945 election (which on account of the extraordinary wartime circumstances came ten years after the preceding election).[17] This has been attributed to the expenses scandal and the fact that redundancy-style payments for departing MPs may be scrapped after the election.[18]

In all, 148 MPs (100 Labour, 35 Conservatives, 7 Liberal Democrats, 2 Independents, 1 Independent Conservative and 1 member each from Plaid Cymru, the DUP, and the SDLP) decided not to contest the election. Alex Salmond did not stand for re-election in order to focus on the role of First Minister of Scotland but the SNP retained the seat with a different candidate.

Boundary changes

Each of the four national Boundary Commissions is required by the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986 (as amended by the Boundary Commissions Act 1992) to conduct a general review of all the constituencies in its part of the United Kingdom every eight to twelve years to ensure the size and composition of constituencies are as fair as possible. Based on the Rallings and Thrasher studies using ward by ward data from local elections and the 2005 general election, the new boundaries used in 2010 would have returned nine fewer Labour MPs had they been in place at the previous election; given that there are to be four more seats in the next parliament this notionally reduces Labour's majority from 66 to 48.[19]

Pursuant to Boundary Commission for England recommendations, the number of seats in England increased by four, and numerous changes were made to the existing constituency boundaries.[20]

Northern Ireland continued to elect 18 MPs, but minor changes were made to the eastern constituencies in accordance with the Northern Ireland Boundary Commission's recommendations.[21] For the first time, these changes include the splitting of an electoral ward between two constituencies.

Following the recommendations of the Boundary Commission for Wales, the total number of seats is to remain at 40, although new seats have been recommended by radical redrawing of boundaries in Clwyd and Gwynedd: Arfon and Dwyfor Meirionnydd replace Caernarfon and Meirionnydd Nant Conwy respectively; Aberconwy replaces Conwy. Currently Welsh constituencies have electorates on average around 14,000 smaller than their counterparts in England.[22]

Scotland saw its most recent large-scale review completed in 2004, so its 59 constituencies remained the same as at the 2005 general election.

Notional UK General Election 2005 on new 2010 boundaries
Party Seats Gains Losses Net Gain/Loss Seats % Votes % Votes +/-
  349 -7 53.69 35.2 9,552,436
  210 +12 32.31 32.4 8,784,915
  62 9.53 22.1 5,985,454
  2 -1 0.31 0.6 174,838
  Others 27 4.15 9.7 2,650,867
  Total 650 27,148,510