https://archives.blog.parliament.uk/2019/03/12/rock-the-vote-election-70/

ROCK THE VOTE- ELECTION 70

To be a young person in sixties Britain was not a bad gig. Good times rolled as plentiful employment meant disposable income was there to be spent on wonderful clothes & even better records. Personal freedoms were attained that were different from their parent’s generation, as personified with the eradication of the short-back and sides and the presence of the pixie cut. But with power comes responsibility as the Government passed the 1969 Representation of the People lowering the voting age to eighteen and the following year we would see if the nations’ youth could really rock the vote.

 

The Representation of the People Act, 1969, HL/PO/PU/1/1969/c15

 

Get Back to Where You Once Belonged
No 1 Record- April 19th 1969- The Beatles- Get Back

As the sixties progressed our esteemed Parliamentarians looked on in bewilderment as British society changed from monochrome to glorious technicolour. Their own ‘baby-boomer’ children sought to make a stand against preconceptions as they endeavoured to create a new zeitgeist. In this moment of existential crisis, the government formed a Committee which recommended the age of majority to be lowered from 21 to 18. As Parliament debated lowering the voting age, Paris was under siege by rioting, originating from student protest. Though there had been incidents of disobedience on UK university campuses it was a tame affair in comparison to our European cousins. However, Quentin Hogg MP argued that the vote would be somewhat wasted on such an immature body of people, but the Act that became known as the Sixth Reform Act was passed in April 1969.

Tom King MP, 1976, PUD/F/4631

I Was Born Under a Wandering Star
No 1 Record- March 14th 1970- Lee Marvin- Wandering Star

In March 1970 the nation’s media descended on the sleepy market town of Bridgwater for a historic by-election where the Somerset youth would play an integral part in proceedings. This was the first election after the passing of the 1969 Representation of the People Act. At the centre of the press attention was a teenage typist, Trudy Sellick, who turned eighteen on polling day and was adopted by the Daily Mirror as their duffel-coated electoral mascot. Her fellow contemporaries were not forgotten as DJ Tony Blackburn sent a message on his Radio One breakfast show reiterating to them the significance of this rite of passage. Lost in this hullabaloo were the aspiring candidates who had to accept second billing on this auspicious occasion. The Conservatives successfully held the seat and the victor, 36-year-old Tom King was greeted by a large crowd of supporters on the town hall steps after the result was announced, before being paraded down the high-street on the shoulders of some local farmers. It was the beginning of an accomplished career in politics for King, who would become a mainstay in Margaret Thatcher’s cabinets.

 

Edward Heath, 1970, PUD/18/66

In the Summer Time when the Weather Is Hot
No 1 Record- June 18th 1970- Mungo Jerry- In the Summertime

As the seasonal heatwave continued many of those of a younger persuasion could be found in the pub drowning their sorrows as England crashed out of the World Cup. But they quickly had to dust themselves down as they were soon to be emboldened with the civic duty to help decide who should govern the country. Harold Wilson’s Labour Government were hot favourites to retain power and little hope was given to Edward Heath’s Conservatives. Yet again, the tabloid photographers turned the enfranchisement process into a fashion parade by endlessly profiling pretty girls standing next to the iconic polling station sign in their summer dresses. The BBC coverage also embraced this free-wheeling approach with young adolescents being vox-popped at a London discotheque & an Oxford University ball in the wee small hours. To great surprise, the underdog Conservatives won the election leaving much head-scratching regarding how this could have happened.

Was it down to the youth vote?

Probably not, The Economist noted that the electorate swelled to just under 40 million because of the young voters. However, due to a myriad of reasons a great number did not register. Some through lack of diligence or in the case of our student population logistical problems regarding dual addresses which led to the National Union of Students apologizing after the event for an ineffectual registration campaign. Though the Conservative manifesto spoke of ‘A Better Tomorrow’ neither leading parties made great overtures to align themselves with the youth vote which may have been a cause for the disappointing voter turn-out.

Who were the winners in this exercise of democratic liberty?
Edward Heath would have a rather testing time over the next four years so let’s say our friends in Fleet Street.

Leave a comment