The sixties

I just visited an amazing exhibition in Montreal at La Musee de Beaux Arts, entitled ‘Revolution’, all about the sixties, when I was a teenager. The revolution in question was the change in art, ideas, politics, power, dress, music etc etc that occurred in the late 1960s, which culminated in the 1968 student riots, Expo ’67 in Montreal and Woodstock.

Many people today, especially young people it seems, criticise the sixties as a time of fantasy, forgetting what life had been like before the so-called swinging sixties. Before the sixties, (male) homosexuality was illegal, women were second class citizens, treated as appendages of their husbands especially in regard to finance, people were hanged for murder, computers and the internet were non-existent, books, plays and films were rigorously censored and non-white people were subject to overt harassment and discrimination. Who can forget the prosecution of the publishers of Lady Chatterly’s Lover – the book the prosecutor said you would not want your wives or servants to read! Or the shocking Tory campaign in Smethick in 1964, when the Labour MP Patrick Gordon-Walker lost his seat to a campaign of ‘If you want a ******* for a neighbour, vote Labour’.

During the sixties, homosexual acts between consenting adults in private were made legal, the Race Relations Act outlawed much discrimination based on colour or race, hanging was abolished, abortion was legalised up to 28 weeks and the voting age was reduced to 18.

The sixties saw an unprecedented revolution in fashion in which the UK through designers like Mary Quant and the Carnaby Street shops changed clothing forever from the somewhat staid post war styles to the modern ever changing fashions of today. The Women’s Liberation Movement started demanding equal rights for women and the end of patriarchy, which, in Britain, eventually led to the Sexual Discrimination Act and the Equal Pay Act in 1975.

In politics there were worldwide protests against the Vietnam War (a forerunner of the movement against war in the Middle East), student protests in 1968 were brutally attacked by the French and other police and John Lennon and Yoko Ono spent a week in bed for world peace.

The hippies movement flourished with rural communes in the USA practising free love and possession sharing and Hari Krishna acolytes chanting and banging drums in the streets. And of course at the end of the sixties Britain applied to join the then Common Market being admitted in 1972.

Bill Gates and others started the computer revolution and this has advanced in leaps and bounds to the world wide web, twitter, Facebook and so much else in the following years.

Of course the sixties were not perfect and for Liberals much remains to be done, but the sixties were a time of hope, of a positively changing world and society.

Now following he rise of the hard right, Brexit and Trump many of these gains are being put at risk as reactionary forces try to roll back the world the the 50s or earlier, denying women abortions, feeding racial and sexual assaults and trying to roll back environmental and other protections and human rights in favour of the unregulated free market.

Brexit risks not only the immediate economic consequences of tariff barriers and loss of markets, but a fundamental shift back to earlier times that most people had thought were gone for ever.

* Dr Michael Taylor has been a party member since 1964. He is currently active in the Calderdale Party.

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  • Lorenzo Cherin 21st Jul '17 - 12:29pm

    As someone born in the year Britain won the world cup , 1966, and on the date of the same birthday , September 7th, as Sir Henry Campbell Bannerman, Liberal leader who led the party to the greatest victory it had ,and one of the greatest governments, ever in Britain, I like things positive for our party and country !

    I do not think there can be any doubt that the decade was one of the most exciting, in this country especially , and in the US. It was indeed the swinging sixties.

    When I look at the culture, the mainstream , for me more than the underground, of music, film, and television, I grew up after and was born into, it is little wonder I , as one in the at times frustrating field of the arts , and indeed , politics too, think so highly of that era.

    The cultural landscape has talent yet, but its soil is very poor compared to then.

    The political landscape is faring little better , upheaval less than then over the years , now becoming uprooting of a worrying sort of real unsettlement.

    I think we need the optimism and hope , excitement and inspiration , whether of the daring of Kennedy and King , and the decency too, of Gaitskell and Grimond.

    We are in a cultural and political vacuum.

  • I have just found this dated 2060:

    “We now consider the 2020s – the second roaring 20s after the 1920s. It is odd for example now to think that cannabis only became legal in th 20s when we now know that so much more harm is done by alcohol – although contoversy still reigns over the government’s guidelines.

    The booming global economy of the 20s was fuelled in large part by massive better health education in the developing countries. Malaria is among the killer disease rife then but unknown now. Britain was one of the first countries to comit to the 0.7% of GDP going in aid. Now secondary education levels in Africa match that of western countries and they are fast catching up on university education.

    It is odd now to consider that only 40% of people went to university then when participation rates now are over 80%. And you used to have to pay! The 20s saw a massive increase as people realised that many jobs that people used to have were going to go. Delivery driving used to be a job. Probably seems as old fashioned now as being a groom did to those then. I guess we now take driverless cars for granted but their use was in doubt for a while after a big motorway pile up involving them. Some see the labour lib dem coalition of the mid 20s as a turning point. It agreed to abolish fees for university. The downfall of labour was agreeing a referendum on Britain’s re- entry into the EU. Of course as we now know we went back in. And with the EU now going beyond Russia to the east it seems odd that we ever decided to be outside.

    Of course some things in Britain never change as we hang on to the house of lords and first past the post. Some have questioned the lib dems dropping their commitment to PR when they replaced labour as the main alternative to the tories. But they said there was no appetite for it among the British public. Will they have to reconsider their position after the greens got 30 MPs?

    Many of course of the technological changes now started in the 20s, the driverless cars, robots and AI. Although much was primitive. Internet speeds we would now consider super slow were branded then as super fast. Personalised DNA based medicine has seen those dramatic increases in life expectancy. Politically the 20s did see some change to embrace this – the start of the citizen’s basic income – although only at a miserly £500 to start with. So “roaring”? Maybe. Will these 60s be swinging? Who knows?’

  • A good summary, Mick. I hope some of the modern day young fogeys in the party take it in. For many of us the sixties was a time of idealism when we really believed we could change the world………. and why not ?

    I remember sitting on a wall outside the South African Embassy all night in Trafalgar Square chatting to dear old Eric Lubbock about all this as we and thousands demonstrated to save Nelson Mandela from execution. I remember Asquith’s daughter, Lady Violet, speaking on the same platform as Barbara Castle at an Anti-apartheid rally in Trafalgar Square demanding a boycott of South African goods. (n.b. Lorenzo, Lady V. actually attended C.B.’s birthday parties when she lived next door).

    For all their now known faults we also had inspirational figures like the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King. Their deaths, the invasion of Czechoslovakia and the Vietnam War were hammer blows at the time – but for many of us it didn’t dim our ambition for a better more just and generous world epitomised by the music of Pete Seeger and Joan Baez.

    I hope the modern generation can feel the passion that we did. The Liberal revival was all part of it. I hope now that we have a leader from our generation we can start to build the passion up again. Liberalism is, and ought to be, eternal. There are always dragons of greed and poverty to slay. It’s still there waiting to be tapped (Bernie Sanders did it in the US) and, dare I say it, Corbyn J. seems to understand it. It’s within Vince’s remit to try. As Bob Dylan sang, echoing the Book of Numbers, ‘May you be forever young’.

  • Phil Beesley 21st Jul '17 - 4:12pm

    A female friend told me about her 1960s. Living in Wick, her perception of the time was derived from magazines about London fashion. As a teen she bought and wore short skirts from mail order catalogues — up in Wick, nobody advised her that Carnaby Street wasn’t real life.

    What if what we think is cobblers?

    We have a popular perception about “baby boomers”, the generation who are “sucking our wealth away”. Let’s get it quite straight. Some baby boomers had a nice time, getting rich, but many are working out how to pay for care of their mums and dads. Who don’t have cash in the bank.

    Don’t forget kids. Do not forget how stupid kids can be.

  • How much of change in society is a consequence of the actions of those of us – a tiny minority in any community – who are politically active? Like Michael, and for a similar period of time, I have spent my life campaigning for the liberal values I believe in, and have seen massive positive changes since the sixties. But there are many areas in which we failed too: some we campaigned on, like co-ownership of industry, negative income tax, and proportional representation; but by and large we made no impact in shaping a debate on the economic structure of our country. We could have campaigned on the idea of a Sovereign Wealth Fund which would have used the tax proceeds from North Sea oil for the long-term benefit of our nation, rather than as Thatcher used them to bribe the electorate into voting for her. Tuition fees and adult social care might not be the problems that they are now had that happened. And although the Liberal Party was always staunchly anti-monopoly the Liberal Democrats have never faced up to the contradictions inherent in our support for globalisation, and the inevitability that globalisation strengthens monopoly capitalism.

  • Tony Greaves 21st Jul '17 - 9:31pm

    Don’t forget that the Young Liberals were the leading party political youth movement in the Sixties.

  • Little Jackie Paper 21st Jul '17 - 10:47pm

    Phil Beesley – I think that there is a problem in that a lot of people (young and old) do seem to have a rather over-romantic view of what life was like in the immediate past. I suspect that if I were to ask my dad whether 45 years on a production line was wonderful he would not think so! There never was a golden age and a lot of people might want to remember that.

    On the other hand however if the young today do feel as if they have a raw deal I’d sympathise. Whist my Dad did not have a gilded life it’s hard to overlook that he did his time in a very benign period.

    He left school at 15 and walked straight into one of the several local production lines where he got wages, security and purpose. By 1972 on a SINGLE production line wage he was paying a mortgage, driving a car and raising a family. Yes, of course he worked hard – but labour is what has become devalued for today’s young. Try leaving school at 15 now and looking for a secure job on the production lines.

    My Dad had an environment of mass employment, job security (buttressed by trade unions), low house prices, cheap oil and so on. None of that is available to the young now. We also perhaps should not duck that my Dad was not competing for jobs with three quarters of Europe.

    And this is before we get to pensions and mortgages eroded by house price hyperinflation.

    So yes, of course those now old worked hard and it likely didn’t feel like it was easy. But they had the advantages of an environment the young now can only dream of. It’s not always clear to me that those now older quite recognise what the environment the young now face is like.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 22nd Jul '17 - 12:17am

    David ,

    a lovely post

    We have much that bonds us

    I a couple of decades after you or more, marched that route to free Mandela

    I met Joan Baez a little while ago, to ask her to consider accepting a song I have written from the musical I am creating, she gave me details to get in touch, was a delight and, in keeping with that generation, loved it as I started chatting by telling her I think she looks gorgeous, what a look she gave as she thanked me ! She shares my wife’s birthday !

  • Lorenzo Cherin 22nd Jul '17 - 12:39am

    Extra edition

    David , unity between threads, Princess Kate, I alluded to a couple of times in our running gag, I mean , discussion, on the monarchy , also shares the same birthday as my wife!!!

    When is yours , are you a Leo, you said it is next month didn’t you ?

  • Little Jackie Paper – a very insightful comment as always. Generally capitalism extracts more from labour than is tolerable. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries labour responded by becoming organised and demanding better working conditions and a greater share of the wealth it was generating. The great strength of capitalism, and the reason socialism never works, is its flexibility. Orwell said that in the 1920s the reason Britain didn’t have a revolution was the radio and football pools. Today perhaps it is social media and the national lottery, and the seduction of an abundance of consumer goods. But for a significant proportion of our countrymen and women working conditions are again bordering on being intolerable: zero hours contracts, minimum wage as standard, tick-box culture, line management, targets, both partners in a relationship having to work to afford somewhere to live, and so on. And in the absence of an opportunity for collective organisation people revolted last year as an inchoate response
    by voting Leave, and this year by voting for Corbyn. There was a time when Liberals would have recognised what was happening in society and been able to articulate the grievances of the oppressed, but we deluded ourselves by interpreting what was happening as racism and per se anti-Europeanism, both of which were only partly true.

  • Tony Hill
    “The Liberal Democrats have never faced up to the contradictions inherent in our support for globalisation, and the inevitability that globalisation strengthens monopoly capitalism”
    Globalisation has strengthen East Asia as an economic powerhouse and lifted millions from poverty there.
    Britain needs to expand hi-tech industry to avoid decline.

  • Simon Banks 22nd Jul '17 - 5:25pm

    I have an interest. I was young in the 60s. It was a time of great hope and much liberalisation of social attitudes and laws on personal behaviour. It was also a time when green issues were not considered real politics and when the hope rested on the assumption that the economy would continue to grow, resources would continue to be available and there would be more and more money to spend on education and health.

    My generation is now the (crumbling) bedrock of UKIP and the less crumbling bedrock of Brexit. While it’s true that many 60s radicals became Blairites or rightists, the youth revolution of the 60s was a revolution of an elite which didn’t pay enough attention to most of the people in their age-group, who were not university students. NLYL as a mass movement undoubtedly tried, but it proved not enough.

  • David Evershed 23rd Jul '17 - 11:26am

    At Nottingham University in the 1960s a few sociology students were having sit-ins in the Senate building and getting lots of publicity whilst the majority of us engineering and science students were quietly getting on with our studies and research. One of the well known outcomes from that time at Nottingham was the invention of the MRI scanner.

    I often wonder what contribution the rebellious sociology students made to society.

  • jayne Mansfield 23rd Jul '17 - 1:44pm

    @ David Evershed,
    My husband and I have every reason to be grateful to those who invented the MRI scan.

    Perhaps the sociology students were studying researching and providing data for what came to be known as the ‘Inverse Care Law’, a term coined in 1971. This was, and according to the Kings Fund, still remains, all too commonplace .

    The data from gathered from such research gave us the information that we needed to tackle health inequalities. Such data is still important when assessing the need to find and adopt new ways of tackling health inequalities stemming from poor life chances. ( We do).

  • jayne Mansfield 23rd Jul '17 - 1:52pm

    Inverse Care Law. The Kings fund 2001.

    Available on the internet.

  • Nick Collins 23rd Jul '17 - 5:47pm

    Cricket alert: England’s women win the World Cup at Lord’s by nine runs.

    And by the way, Lorenzo, Britain did not win the football World Cup in 1966; England did.

  • @ Nick Collins Quite right about England winning the World Cup in 1966, Nick ……….. (I watched it on TV in the National Liberal Club)…………. but as my current neighbours constantly remind me in my adopted country, in 1967 Scotland beat England 3-2 at Wembley to become undisputed champions of the World. I reply by pointing out there were two former Huddersfield Town players on the pitch, Denis Law and Ray Wilson.

    Great cricket at Lords today and fantastic bowling by Anya Shrubsole.

    @ Simon Banks “NLYL as a mass movement undoubtedly tried, but it proved not enough”. And some of us aren’t dead yet and we’re still trying despite the infusion of some of Thatcher’s children into the party in recent years. May you be forever young, Simon.

  • “Bill Gates and others started the computer revolution”
    Clearly memory getting a little befuddled.

    Gates founded Microsoft in 1975 at the age of 19. The modern “computer revolution” didn’t really begin until the mid-1970’s when the microprocessor, first launched in 1971, had advanced sufficiently to be used as the basis for a simple microcomputer, such as the Apple I and others, the IBM PC came a few years later.

  • Phil Beesley 24th Jul '17 - 1:24pm

    @Little Jackie Paper: “My Dad had an environment of mass employment, job security (buttressed by trade unions), low house prices, cheap oil and so on.”

    My parents were raising me and my sisters at the same time. Mass employment turned into mass unemployment at the end of the 1970s and was made much worse under Thatcher. Job security was better, even post-Thatcher, than today. Low house prices can be associated with negative equity and households losing all of the capital they’d saved over a lifetime. Remember cheap oil, expensive oil and the re-issue of WWII petrol coupons as a precautionary measure in the 1970s? We also endured brown wall paper, prog rock and some shockingly racist TV programmes.

    My primary concern about “baby boomers” is that a generation (or two) carries the blame for current disadvantage. Blame.

    Let’s consider home owner occupation. The boom in home ownership started in the early 1960s (i.e. pre-baby boomer owners), really taking off in the 1980s and continuing until about 2000. I’ve not found great stats on baby boomer home ownership, but it looks like 50% (but never 60%) “owned” their home at some time during their life. Some were potential beneficiaries of house price fluctuation, general inflation, council house sales, more relaxed mortgage rules from mutual lenders, and cash-outs when mutual lenders became commercial ones. I don’t think it is fair to knock people for the fortunate happenings during some dreadful times.

    Half of baby boomers were never remotely rich and live in rented homes. Many recent beneficiaries of house price inflation were born after the post WWII baby boom. Don’t overly criticise baby boomers or successors — they’re the bank of mum and dad, the people who pay for nan’s care home.
    A helpful chart:

  • Mick Taylor 24th Jul '17 - 2:47pm

    Jack paper. Employment in the fifties and sixties may not have been glamorous or free of danger, but people had jobs and enjoyed continual rises in living standards, reducing working hours, better benefits and in many cases pension schemes. Thatcher destroyed all that. Now even many in our party don’t accept the need for real progressive taxation to reduce inequality, end the appalling and obscene divide between the mega rich and ourselves. (Pre Thatcher even the Tories supported it).
    As I said the sixties were not perfect but in many ways they were better than the selfish, grasping society we gave today

  • @ Mick Taylor. Agree with every word of that.

    You’re right and I fear for the future of the party when you say, “Now even many in our party don’t accept the need for real progressive taxation to reduce inequality, end the appalling and obscene divide between the mega rich and ourselves.”

    If that’s the way the party does go – then I’m afraid I won’t be going with it.

    Have you read Jo Vellacott’s book on Catherine Marshall “From Liberal to Labour with Women’s Suffrage, Second Edition Paperback – 13 Jan 2017” ? Marshall was a Quaker and an ardent Liberal suffragist who was secretary of the Non Conscription fellowship during WW1.

    Some profound stuff about what went wrong in those days which gives much modern food for thought.

  • Phil Beesley 24th Jul '17 - 3:06pm

    @Mick Taylor: “Now even many in our party don’t accept the need for real progressive taxation to reduce inequality, end the appalling and obscene divide between the mega rich and ourselves.”

    Perhaps they might understand better if they knew how closely poor people live with them.

  • ^ Michael (21st July). That’s a superb post! And thank you for cheering me up!

    My retrospective summation of what we now call ‘the sixties’ – and in which I was too young to partake – is one of great ambivalence. On the one hand we had the dawning of ecological consciousness – the sense of us all sharing the same blue world – courtsey of the space age and increased telecommunications.
    But along with it came individulaistic libertarianism and identity politics – at first from `black power` man-hating radical feminism and so on, all of which then fed directly into the winner takes all mentality of the `Eighties`.

    Ecological consciousness has greatly enriched Liberal and Centre-left thinking; identitiy politics has distorted it.

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