What happened at the last December election in 1923?

The UK is gearing up for its first December general election since 1923 after MPs finally backed Boris Johnson’s call for an early poll.

The House of Commons approved legislation by a margin of 438 votes to 20 to hold a snap vote in the hope of breaking the Brexit deadlock. Once the bill is approved by the House of Lords, it is expected to become law by the end of the week.

Here’s a look back to the last pre-Christmas election, on 6 December 1923

A “chill wind blew for the Tories” 96 years ago, when Stanley Baldwin, “a bit like Boris Johnson, decided that he needed his own mandate as prime minister”, says The Times.

Baldwin inherited a majority after the resignation of Andrew Bonar Law, who led the Conservatives to victory in November 1922 but became seriously ill with throat cancer. Baldwin wanted a renewed mandate for his policy of protectionist tariffs amid high unemployment.

“It certainly wasn’t Brexit but it had echoes of the political and economic turbulence that contributed to the vote to leave the EU in 2016,” says the Times.

“Despite the political wisdom that winter elections suppress turnout, December 1923 was mild and numbers held up. The result, however, did not go well for Mr Baldwin.”

The Conservatives lost 86 seats to the Liberals and Labour, resulting in a hung parliament, but stayed in power for six weeks. Then the opposition voted down the King’s Speech and the government fell, paving the way for Britain’s first Labour prime minister: Ramsay MacDonald.

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Author Lewis Baston calls it one of the “strangest and most fascinating general elections in history”.

Writing for ConservativeHome, he says: “Although the Liberal success in 1923 produced the most three-party parliament we have ever had, it was ironically dependent on the incompleteness of three party politics in the country.”

The Scotsman says the 1923 vote “spelled catastrophe for the Conservatives” and questions whether it needed to be called at all.

The newspaper notes that William Thomas Morgan, writing in the American Political Science Review in 1924, said: “Not only were the results of the British national election of last December momentous for the British people themselves, but it may be doubted whether any other election in the country’s history ever excited as much interest in foreign lands [owing to the British government’s protectionist plans].” 

The Scotsman says: “The same could well be said of the General Election in Brexit Britain 2019.”


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