Armstrong was educated at Wolsingham Grammar School and City of Leeds Teacher Training College, and ultimately became a headmaster. He served as a councillor on Sunderland Borough Council and chaired its education committee.
Defeated by the Conservative incumbent in Sunderland South in the 1955 and 1959 General Elections, Armstrong was Member of Parliament (MP) for North West Durham from 1964 until his retirement in 1987. His daughter, Hilary Armstrong, was his successor.
Armstrong served as a parliamentary private secretary (PPS) from 1965, and a Labour whip, and junior minister for Education and Science (1974–1975) and the Environment (1975–1979). After Labour lost the 1979 general election, he served as a Deputy Speaker.
After his retirement, Armstrong acted as political adviser to the BBC's production of the political drama House of Cards.
- The Times Guide to the House of Commons, Times Newspapers Ltd, 1987
- Whitaker's Almanack 1997
- Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by Ernest Armstrong
|Parliament of the United Kingdom|
| Member of Parliament for North West Durham
1964 – 1987
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