Will you be up for Corbyn? Your guide to the biggest shocks in General Election history

When people look to disprove the pollsters and commentators, they will often point to recent phenomena of Brexit, Trump, and Corbyn.

But history is littered with great political shocks, dumbfounding the pollsters, commentators, financial markets and betting firms.

Here are a just a few:



One year into a new parliament, Stanley Baldwin went to the polls to gain a stronge mandate for his protectionist policies, to ensure he could impose extra tariffs on imported goods.

If successful, this would strengthen his grip on the leadership.

It was pitched as the ‘free trade versus protectionism’ election and the result saw the Liberals winning more than 100 seats. The Tories were the largest party but they lost their majority.

Baldwin was defeated in a vote of no confidence the following January, which allowed Ramsay MacDonald to form the first ever Labour government.

MAY 1945


Winston Churchill was probably the most popular British prime minister of all time. In May 1945 his approval rating in the opinion polls, stood at 83 per cent.

Commentators predicted that he would lead the Conservatives to victory, in the first post-war general election.

The Tory campaign focussed on Churchill, as a man who could be trusted against the dark prospect of Labour Socialism.

In his opening broadcast to the Nation, on 4 June, he warned that the introduction of Attlee’s Socialism into Britain would require ‘… some form of Gestapo, no doubt very humanely directed in the first instance’. The comparison of Nazism to Labour plans for a strong welfare state, did not fool the voters.

Labour won by a landslide, winning 393 seats and an overall majority of 183 in the House of Commons.

JUNE 1970


Commentators still argue that this was the greatest election shock of all time. Harold Wilson’s Labour government had been consistently ahead in the opinion polls, with the bookies offering odds of 1-20 on a Labour victory.

Wilson, watched in disbelief as the first results came in and showed a swing to the Tories. The result confounded all opinion polls which had predicted a comfortable win for Labour.

The Conservatives won 330 seats, giving them a majority of 30. Labour won 287 seats.

Poor economic figures released just before the election seemed to have tipped the balance decisively towards Heath.  Pundits were so surprised, they even blamed Labour’s defeat on England’s World Cup exit to West Germany a few days before the election.

Indeed, it had been at the forefront of every cabinet minister’s mind. Even Tony Benn noted ‘Brazil have beaten England in the World Cup. The effect of this cannot altogether be excluded’


I have written about Feb 1974 in detail here. What happened the last time the Tories called a snap election? They lost

The ‘crisis’ election took place amid the backdrop of industrial unrest and the Three-day Week.

PM Heath called an early election asking the question, “Who governs Britain?’ The answer he received was ‘Not you!’.

APRIL 1992


The 1992 general election saw the Tories, who had been in power for 13 years, try and defend their management of the longest recession for 50 years, against a backdrop of rising unemployment.

If you were lucky enough to have a job, interest rates had hit 10 per cent and house prices had collapsed.

Labour were confident of victory, and were neck and neck in the opinion polls throughout. As polling day approached, Labour edged fractionally ahead.

As the Nation debated the minutia of a hung parliament, the only question  would be who was the largest party.

The result was one that nobody, not even the Tories, had expected. . Even the exit polls suggested a hung parliament

The Tories received 42.8 per cent of the vote with Labour on 35.2 per cent. They returned with a majority of 21.

Kinnock blamed ‘the Conservative-supporting press’ who ‘have enabled the Conservative Party to win yet again’.

May 2015


In the shock result, which had not been predicted by a single opinion poll, Cameron returned to Downing Street, this time with a majority of 12.

In scenes reminiscent of 1992, no one could quite believe what had happened.

Speaking to Conservative activists, he hailed a great victory.

I’m not an old man but I remember casting a vote in ’87 and that was a great victory. I remember working just have you been working in ’92 and that was an amazing victory. I remember 2010 achieving that dream of getting Labour out and the Tories back in and that was amazing. But I think this is the sweetest victory of all.’

The shock result called into question the pollster’s ability to predict the outcome. In the aftermath many pundits promised to never let the polls dominate our election narrative again.

Perhaps it will take a Corbyn victory tonight to really change our reliance on polls…



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