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Hung parliaments: a short history

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 05 April 2010

From the Lib-Lab pact of 1977 to Ramsey MacDonald's 1924 minority Labour government, the United Kingdom is no stranger to hung parliaments.

Ted Heath's pre-election party political broadcast, 1974 (Getty)

In April 1992 John Major’s Conservatives won the general election with a majority of 21. But by February 1997 the Tories had lost their majority as the result of by-election defeats, deaths, political defections and the withdrawal of the whip to nine Eurosceptic MPs.

The general election was announced on 18 March, to be held on 1 May.

The October 1974 general election had given Labour an overall majority of three and a majority of 42 over the Conservatives.

By 1977 Labour had regularly to draw on Liberal support in order to govern. Discussions between Labour and the Liberal party in March produced the Lib-Lab pact, based on agreement on a series of issues.

Liberal leader David Steel announced the end of the pact in May 1978, saying it had achieved its objective of providing political stability.

Read more from Channel 4 News on hung parliaments
- Hung parliament in the balance in 2010
- Brown could lose and still be PM
- Minority governments, coalitions and pacts
- What’s so bad about a hung parliament?

In the February election, Edward Heath’s incumbent Conservative government lost its overall majority, polling 297 seats to Labour’s 301. Over the weekend following the election, Heath tried unsuccessfully to negotiate an agreement with Jeremy Thorpe’s Liberal party.

Heath resigned on the Monday and was replaced as prime minister by Labour’s Harold Wilson, who governed with a minority government until October of that year.

Labour, having secured 289 seats against the Conservatives 260, ruled for two years in a minority government with the Liberals. In 1931 the economic crisis then prompted the formation of a government of national unity until 1935.

Labour’s Ramsay MacDonald takes office at the head of a Labour-Liberal minority government (Labour won 191 seats in the December 1923 general election, the Liberals 151, and the Conservatives 258), which functioned until it lost a confidence vote in October 1924.

Liberal minority government supported by Irish Nationalist and Labour MPs (until 1915)

Conservative/Liberal Unionist coalition (until 1905)

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