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1880 United Kingdom general election

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1880 United Kingdom general election

← 1874 31 March – 27 April 1880 (1880-03-31 – 1880-04-27)[1] 1885 →

All 652 seats in the House of Commons
327 seats needed for a majority
  First party Second party Third party
Leader Spencer Cavendish Benjamin Disraeli William Shaw
Party Liberal Conservative Home Rule
Leader since January 1875 27 February 1868 May 1879
Leader's seat North East Lancashire House of Lords County Cork
Last election 242 seats, 52.0% 350 seats, 44.3% 60 seats, 3.7%
Seats won 352[a] 237 63
Seat change Increase110 Decrease113 Increase3
Popular vote 1,836,423 1,426,349 95,528
Percentage 54.7% 42.5% 2.8%
Swing Increase2.7% Decrease1.8% Decrease0.9%

Colours denote the winning party

Composition of the House of Commons after the election

Prime Minister before election

Earl of Beaconsfield

Prime Minister after the election

William Gladstone

The 1880 United Kingdom general election was a general election in the United Kingdom held from 31 March to 27 April 1880.

Its intense rhetoric was led by the Midlothian campaign of the Liberals, particularly the fierce oratory of Liberal leader William Gladstone.[2] He vehemently attacked the foreign policy of the government of Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield, as utterly immoral.

Liberals secured one of their largest-ever majorities, leaving the Conservatives a distant second. As a result of the campaign, the Liberal Commons leader, Lord Hartington and that in the Lords, Lord Granville, stood back in favour of Gladstone, who thus became Prime Minister a second time. It was the last general election in which any party other than the Conservatives won a majority of the votes (rather than a plurality).


A painting by Alfred George Palmer of election night outside Exeter Guildhall in the collection of the Royal Albert Memorial Museum (333/1997).

The Conservative government was doomed by the poor condition of the British economy and the vulnerability of its foreign policy to moralistic attacks by the Liberals. William Gladstone, appealing to moralistic evangelicals, led the attack on the foreign policy of Benjamin Disraeli (now known as Lord Beaconsfield) as immoral.[3] Historian Paul Smith paraphrases the rhetorical tone which focused on attacking "Beaconsfieldism" (in Smith's words) as a:

Sinister system of policy, which not merely involved the country in immoral, vainglorious and expensive external adventures, inimical to peace and to the rights of small peoples, but aimed at nothing less than the subversion of parliamentary government in favour of some simulacrum of the oriental despotism its creator was alleged to admire.[4]

Smith notes that there was indeed some substance to the allegations, but: "Most of this was partisan extravaganza, worthy of its target's own excursions against the Whigs."[5]

Crowds wait outside Leeds Town Hall to hear the result

Disraeli himself was now the Earl of Beaconsfield in the House of Lords, and custom did not allow peers to campaign; this denuded the Conservatives of other important figures such as the Marquess of Salisbury and Lord Cranbrook, and the party was unable to deal effectively with the rhetorical onslaught.[6] Although he had improved the organisation of the Conservative Party, Disraeli was firmly based in the rural gentry, and had little contact with or understanding of the urban middle class that was increasingly dominating his party.

Besides their trouble with foreign policy issues, it was even more important that the Conservatives were unable to effectively defend their economic record on the home front. The 1870s coincided with a long-term global depression caused by the collapse of the worldwide railway boom of the 1870s which previously had been so profitable to Britain. The stress was growing by the late 1870s; prices fell, profits fell, employment fell, and there was downward pressure on wage rates that caused much hardship among the industrial working class. The free trade system supported by both parties made Britain defenceless against the flood of cheap wheat from North America, which was exacerbated by the worst harvest of the century in Britain in 1879. The party in power got the blame, and Liberals repeatedly emphasised the growing budget deficit as a measure of bad stewardship. In the election itself, Disraeli's party lost heavily up and down the line, especially in Scotland and Ireland, and in the urban boroughs. His Conservative strength fell from 351 to 238, while the Liberals jumped from 250 to 353. Disraeli resigned on 21 April 1880.[7]


UK General Election 1880
Party Candidates Votes
Stood Elected Gained Unseated Net % of total % No. Net %
  Liberal 499 352[a] +132 -22 +110 53.99 54.66 1,836,423 +2.7
  Conservative 521 237 +20 -133 −113 36.35 42.46 1,426,351 −1.8
  Home Rule 81 63 +6 -3 +3 9.66 2.84 95,535 −0.9
  Independent 2 0 0 0 0 0 0.03 1,107 0

Voting summary

Popular vote
Home Rule

Seats summary

Parliamentary seats
Home Rule

Regional results


Great Britain

Largest party in each constituent country
Largest party in each constituent country
Party Seats Seats change Votes % % change
Liberal 334 Increase104 1,780,171 57.3 Increase1.9
Lib-Lab 3 Increase1
Conservative 214 Decrease105 1,326,744 42.7 Decrease1.9
Other 0 Same position 1,107 0.04 Increase0.04
Total 551 Same position 3,108,022 100


Party Seats Seats change Votes % % change
Liberal 251 Increase82 1,519,576 56.2 Increase2.4
Lib-Lab 3 Increase1
Conservative 197 Decrease83 1,205,990 43.7 Decrease2.5
Other 0 Same position 1,107 0.1 Increase0.1
Total 451 2,726,673 100


Party Seats Seats change Votes % % change
Liberal 52 Increase12 195,517 70.1 Increase1.7
Conservative 6 Decrease12 74,145 29.9 Decrease1.7
Total 58 269,662 100


Party Seats Seats change Votes % % change
Liberal 29 Increase10 50,403 58.8 Decrease2.1
Conservative 4 Decrease10 41,106 41.2 Increase2.1
Total 33 100,509 100


Party Seats Seats change Votes % % change
Home Rule 63 Increase3 95,535 37.5 Decrease2.1%
Irish Conservative 23 Decrease8 99,607 39.8 Decrease1.0%
Liberal 15 Increase5 56,252 22.7 Increase4.3%
Total 101 251,394 100


Party Seats Seats change Votes % % change
Conservative 7 5,503 49.2
Liberal 2 5,675 50.8
Total 9 11,178 100

See also



  1. ^ a b The seat and vote count figures for the Liberals given here include the Speaker of the House of Commons


  1. ^ "Data" (PDF), parliament.uk
  2. ^ Fitzsimons 1960, pp. 187–201.
  3. ^ Matthew 1997, pp. 293–312.
  4. ^ Smith 1996, pp. 198–99.
  5. ^ Smith 1996, p. 199.
  6. ^ Roberts, Andrew (2000). Salisbury: Victorian Titan. London: Phoenix. p. 238. ISBN 0-75381-091-3.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: date and year (link)
  7. ^ Smith 1996, pp. 202–3; Blake 1967, pp. 707–13, 717.

Sources and further reading