7 most successful third-party UK election performances since 1945

PM and Deputy PM outside Number 10

Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP are currently the third largest party in terms of seats. Here are Britain’s seven best third-party general election performances.

7thSDP-Liberal Alliance (1983)

After the election of Michael Foot as Labour leader, the party split with the Gang of Four on the right of the party quitting to form the Social Democratic Party. Numerous MPs defected to the group over the years, and the party came in third place at the 1983 election winning 23 seats in an alliance with the Liberals.

In the run up to the election, polling suggested the Alliance could supplant Labour as Britain’s second party. In the end, they won 25.4% of the vote just behind Labour’s 27.6%. The split in the left contributed to Margaret Thatcher’s colossal landslide.

6th – SNP (2017)

In 2015, the SNP won a massive victory, but this year their share of the vote fell causing them to lose twenty-one seats across the country to the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats. The election took place on the back of Nicola Sturgeon’s call for a second referendum in the wake of last year’s EU referendum. The SNP’s performance was great relative to other third-party performances which do not make it on to this list, but the result was certainly disappointing for the party.

Nicola Sturgeon

5th – Liberal Democrats (1997)

In the run-up to the 1997 election, one speculation was that the Liberal Democrats could help Labour in the event of a hung parliament or even a slim majority. In the end, Labour won the largest post-war majority, causing John Major’s Conservatives to win less than two hundred seats.

At the same time, the Paddy Ashdown’s Liberal Democrats surged, winning 46 seats – more than double the 20 they had secured in 1992.

4th – Liberal Democrats (2001)

Four years later, the electoral map changed ever so slightly. Labour lost a couple of seats off its massive majority, and the Liberal Democrats made some gains – five to be precise – taking their total to 51 seats.

Tony Blair EU

3rd – SNP (2015)

Two years ago, the Scottish National Party surged to success following defeat in the independence referendum the previous September. The party surged in the polls in the lead up to the vote, and ended up taking 50% of the vote and all but three seats available in Scotland, putting them on 56 seats. The result was truly spectacular, and led to the Liberal Democrats being replaced as the UK’s third party in terms of number of seats won.

Alex Salmond MSP

2nd Liberal Democrats (2010)

At the 2010 general election, Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats increased their number of votes by one million, but actually lost seats, ending up with 57 in total. The election’s resultant hung parliament led to the formation of a coalition between David Cameron’s Conservatives and the Lib Dems. Five years later, the Liberal Democrats suffered a stunning defeat, going from 57 seats to just eight.

1st – Liberal Democrats (2005)

In 2005, Tony Blair’s New Labour lost almost fifty seats, but clung on to power with a moderately sized majority. Michael Howard led the Conservatives to a respectable second place, but the Liberal Democrats’ Charles Kennedy took his party from 51 seats to 62 – the highest won by any third party in the elections after World War Two.

The country’s most recent election returned Britain to a solid two-party system, begging the question, which third party will next try to crack the system?