THE last December election was in 1923, and The Northern Echo’s polling day forecast predicted a “moderate northerly wind, becoming light and backing to west”.

With a turnout of 71 per cent, the weather appears not to have been a factor. Indeed, said the Echo, the chill December air was far more conducive to voting than the hottest ever election which had been June 1826 when it was 89.5 degrees in the shade, and the 15-year-old son of the Whig leader Earl Grey had died of heat stroke while out campaigning.

The only polling day fatality in 1923 was at Oakenshaw Colliery, near Brancepeth, where 72-year-old Samuel Smith had gone to register his vote but had met his death. He’d slipped on the steps of the polling station, which was in the council school, and struck his head so violently that he passed away – frustratingly, the paper doesn’t say whether or not he’d managed to cast his vote.

Elections were very different back then. “Companies of children marching through the streets, singing the praises of the respective candidates, were frequently encountered in Middlesbrough where public interest in the election has been roused to a high pitch,” said the Echo.

The most peculiar antics were in Sunderland where the Conservatives dragged two ponies of contrasting size through the streets to show how their policy of putting tariffs on goods coming into the country would benefit British producers. On the fat pony they had written “Protection” and on the feeble, emaciated nag they had written “free trade”.

Labour responded with a parade of donkeys, each having a large name tag on it: “unemployment”, “food taxes”, “high prices” and “national debt”. The lead donkey bore a placard which explained: “I am a beast of burden, so I carry this load; were I a man, I would vote Labour and get rid of it.”

You don’t get that sort of inventive, and incisive, political comment on a social media meme.

Perhaps the most interesting candidate was the youngest, 27-year-old Ursula Williams, who was on the Liberal ticket in Consett. She was anomalous as she couldn’t even vote for herself – women over 21 could stand for Parliament but only women over 30 were allowed to vote.

The media interest in her intensified once it became known that she wasn’t afraid to take on the male chauvinists of north-west Durham.

At one public meeting, she was heckled by a man who shouted at her: “What do you know?”

“Many things,” she retorted.

“How many ribs has a pig got?” fired back the man.

“I don’t know off-hand,” said Ursula, “but if the gentleman will step up on the platform, I will be glad to count them.”

She didn’t win the two horse race, but she did manage to dent the Labour majority.

The 1923 December election was called in fairly similar circumstances to the December 2019 one, just a year after the last election – at least we have gone two-and-a-half years since our last one. The Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin had, like Boris Johnson, just taken over as Conservative leader and wanted to his own mandate.

It backfired badly, as he lost 85 seats and in the resulting hung parliament Labour, under Ramsay MacDonald, formed its first ever government. Because it was a minority government, it lasted just 10 months and the people were back at the polls the following October. Do you fancy another go next year?