The Swinging Sixties

My mother tells me that I watched England’s victory in 1966 but given that I was only two years old I don’t remember doing so. Ten years later the BBC screened a replay which I watched with my late father and enjoyed greatly. Over the weekend the same broadcaster revived its recording of the General Election night in 1964 and I was able to feed one of my other passions politics. The broadcast followed a similar one last week from 1959 and for amateur historians like me they are fascinating.

A lot changed in that five year period, MacMillan the victor in 59 was gone by 64 replaced by the aristocratic Sir Alec Douglas Home who renounced a peersage to become Prime Minister. The Opposition Leader also changed due to Hugh Gaitskell’s sudden passing in 1963, his successor Harold Wilson cultivated a youthful image very much in keeping with the times. The only constant was the Liberals where Jo Grimond led the party into a General Election for a second time. The drama of the night was heightened by the news that Soviet leader Nikita Kruschev had been deposed with nobody being quite sure why. The UK wide result turned out to be a close run thing with Labour squeaking home with a majority of just 4 seats. All these years later I ponder what might have happened had there been a hung parliament. Another talking point of the night was the Conservatives gaining Smethwick from Labour Shadow Foreign Secretary Patrick Gordon Walker on the back of an openly racist anti immigration campaign. Some Tories condemned it, others refused to comment. After the election Wilson quite rightly described the new MP for Smethwick as a parliamentary leper.

For Liberals despite the disappointment of not having the balance of power there was plenty to be pleased about. 361 candidates were in the field, an increase on the 216 in 1959 and the 110 in 1959. Eric Lubbock the victor at Orpington in the famous byelection two years previously held his seat against a strong Tory challenge and the overall number of Liberal MPs Increased from 6 to 9. No mean feat given the fact that the two seats in Bolton and Huddersfield were lost following the ending of an anti socialist pact with the Tories in those two towns. Nationally the overall Liberal vote increased and the party was very much on its way back to being a party that was able to give the majority of voters the opportunity to vote for us. Ten years later in 1974 there were 517 Liberal candidates polling nearly 20 percent of the vote across the country.

It has certainly been exciting being a Liberal activist in the 21st Century but I can’t help wondering what it was like back in the Swinging Sixties perhaps some of our older members would like to tell us.

Footnote – in 1964 the Conservatives held seats in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, Newcastle and Sheffield. Hard to imagine now!

* David is a member of Horsham and Crawley Liberal Democrats

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  • Adrian Wykes 20th May '20 - 10:50am

    In Cambridge our whole family just voted for David Lane who was a centre Keynesian liberal (later Chair of theCommission for Racial Equality). There wasno perceived need for the Liberal presence while Heath kept control of the Powellite little Englanders.

  • David: I very well remember the 1966 world cup final I was there and for all the England games leading up to that final. I have been very proud over the intervening years to have witnessed the best England team ever, of course I am not biased in any way.
    Our eldest daughter had been born just prior to the world cup so another wonderful memory.
    As for the Liberals at that time, of course the wonderful Jo Grimmond comes to mind, and also one of my earliest involvements in the local Liberal party was with a fund raising garden party in my home village. A friend and neighbour and myself were put in charge of the wine bar with disastrous results as both of us ending the evening rather the worse for wear, but it was lovely event on fine warm sunny evening. What happy memories!!

  • David, Oddly enough I watched the World Cup victory in the National Liberal Club in what passed for a TV lounge…..Vice-Chair of NLYL at the time. The cheers that rang out at the final whistle were less than decorous or Victorian.

    England included Ray Wilson who had played for many years at Huddersfield and I was really chuffed for him…. sadly he died just over two years ago……. and of course the PM, ‘Uncle’ Harold, came from Hudders too. Yes we lost Huddersfield West in ’64 (not by much) but gained Colne Valley in 1966. I knew Arthur Holt (Bolton West) quite well and always admired him….. he was a very brave POW in Burma on the death railway in the War. He was a thoroughly nice and decent man with a cutting sense of humour…. named by the Speaker once for telling the Tory MP for Cheadle he was ‘all p… and wind.’

    In ’64 I was lucky enough to be employed at Party HQ ….. could write a book about that…… but particularly remember being on late night telephone duty in Victoria Street when Lady Violet (Asquith’s daughter) rang up to complain about press coverage (no change there then). I had to listen to a 15 minute monologue which I promised to pass on to Pratap Chitnis the next morning. My only contribution was a regular “Yes, Lady Violet”.

  • In the 1959 election I remember seeing Liberal window posters. In Eastbourne the Liberals put up Gardner-Thorpe. In 1962 an activist gave me a Liberal window poster and I rushed home and put it in the window. My mother told me to take it down as voting was secret. However she voted Liberal in 1964. Three million voted Liberal she was pleased to tell me.
    As for the World Cup in 1966, I couldn’t bear to watch it in case England lost.

  • John Marriott 20th May '20 - 12:54pm

    I watched the World Cup Final in black and white (no TV colour for sports until, I believe, 1967 Wimbledon), sitting in my dad’s living room with a hold-all packed for a trip to Scandinavia, which was to end my time as a student, before I started my first teaching job that September. As soon as the final was over, I caught the bus to the Midland Station in Leicester for Nottingham, where I was to spend Saturday night with one of our small group for his dad to drive us to Immingham to meet up with the other two members and the Renault 4L that was destined to transport us to Bergen via Gothenburg and Oslo to attend a work camp building a retreat for a RC priest on an island in the middle of a lake nearby.

    If you ever get to see a recording of that final, note how Union jacks greatly outnumbered the Cross of St George. Oh, and try freeze framing that second Hurst goal in extra time. I am convinced that it did cross the line and, in any case, the way that ace poacher, Liverpool’s Roger Hunt, turned away instead of following it through, when he was the closest to the ball is good enough for me, even though the Germans always reckoned that the Russian, actually Georgian, (I think) linesman had it in for them! Mind you, I reckon that Ramsay’s 1970 side was a more complete one. Pity that they had to play West Germany at midday local time and Sir Alf hadn’t really got a handle on those new fangled substation laws and, by bringing off Bobby Charlton, released Kaiser Franz Beckenbauer to do his elegant stuff. Let’s also not forget the absent Gordon Banks either.

    Now the political stuff. Some people reckon that’s why Harold Wilson lost the 1970 GE although I’m sure that one of LDV’s resident gurus will tell me it was because of a worse than expected set of trade figures released at about the same time. Anyway, by July of that year my wife and I were winging our way to Canada as ‘landed immigrants’ so we missed all the fun of the Barber Boom and the quadrupling of house prices that greeted us upon our return in 1974, not forgetting the other quadrupling in the Autumn of 1973, namely of oil prices and the three day week.

  • @ John Marriott. Back in the summer of ’73 I queued up behind Harold Wilson in the Co-op in Hugh Town, Isles of Scilly, John. He bought half a dozen eggs and collected his Co-op stamps – but said nothing to me about Jumbo jets affecting the balance of payments so I don’t know about that one. Happy days, I didn’t see any security round him (despite the Troubles).

    He then set off back to his bungalow with his dog…… name of Paddy…. no political connection. Later in the holiday, though, he did show my Dad the photo of the 1926 thrice champions Huddersfield Town that he kept in his wallet, so he can’t have been all that bad. His wife Mary was a lovely person, always smiled and said hello to my twelve month old.

    Don’t know anything about Renault 4Ls. Had a Triumph Herald… though I really wanted a 6 cylinder 2 litre Triumph Vitesse Convertible….wouldn’t have been much good in the oil crisis.

  • I listened to the ’66 final on a transistor radio with schoolfriends coming back from a coach trip to the countryside. I started going to West Ham games regularly after that. First one was against Manchester United with Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters lined up against Bobby Charlton and George Best.
    I remember the election of February 1974 and the sense of unfairness about the election system and the Liberal representation versus vote share very well. I have been an advocate of proportional representation ever since.
    PS: Geoff Hurst’s 2nd goal did cross the line no matter what the Germans say, as sure as Maradonna’s hand of god goal in the 1986 world cup was a blatant handball.

  • I had just started at the University of York when the 1964 election happened. Of course, we couldn’t vote then until the age of 21. I wasn’t really politically active at that point, although a Liberal supporter. My housemates were both helping the Labour candidate, Alex Lyon, and I remember my embarrassment when he thanked me, in error, for helping his campaign.

    I later got to know and admire him a lot – he eventually did get elected as MP for York. He married the wonderful Clare Short who was elected as an MP on the day he lost his seat. I would have happily joined the Labour party if they had all been like those two.

    Oh, and I watched the 1966 World Cup Final with a German friend.

  • Tony Greaves 20th May '20 - 10:14pm

    The reason that David Raw watched the 1966 World Cup final in a “TV room” hidden in the basement of the National Líberal Club was that it coincided with a meeting being held there – I think of the Liberal Party Council. Quite a lot of us decamped to the TV Room to watch (perhaps the meeting was suspended for the afternoon?) rather changing the composition of the gathering. I was sitting with Heather Baxter (who may still have been working for David Raw in LPO at the time) and when Kenneth Wolstenholme’s pro-England rhetoric reached one of many over-the-top moments she said in a loud voice “Oh shut up Wolstenholme”. The fairly elderly Club Member sitting in front of us turned round and said: “Young lady, I’ll have you know that Kenneth Wolstenholme is a jolly fine chap. Used to be a member of this Club!”

  • John Marriott 20th May '20 - 10:54pm

    It’s slightly off piste; but sport can get in the way of many activities, including political. Back in the Autumn of 2003, we had a scheduled Lincolnshire Federation Meeting that I realised a few days before that would coincide with the final of the Rugby World Cup In Sydney, Australia between the hosts and the England XV. Well, as Federation Secretary at the time, I really had to be there. What should I as a life long rugby fan do? I called our Chairman, the late Jim Heppell, who graciously agreed to put the meeting off for a week. I felt rather guilty and selfish; but we won, so that made it feel much better.

  • @ Tony Greaves. Now you mention it, I’d quite forgotten about that Party Council meeting, Tony. Priorities.

    Funny you mention Ken Wolstenholme, because Dad knew him in the RAF and once got me his autograph in a match at Leeds. He was a very modest but very brave chap who got DFC and Bar as a pathfinder…. “a jolly fine chap”.

    Love to Heather, she’s a smashing lass.

  • Despite being 18 at the time I can’t remember anything about the 1966 World Cup, though I knew pretty much all the election results around that time. In 1970 I watched England’s defeat by Germany in the Junior Common Room at Fitzwilliam College in Cambridge, and immediately knew that Wilson had lost the forthcoming General Election as a result. We had no candidate in Cambridge so I went off to help the wonderful Richard Wainwright in Colne Valley, who sadly lost his seat.

  • What a lovely thread! I listened to the match while papering the bedroom walls of our new home in Bristol, making it ready for the birth of our second child — another daughter, as it turned out. I was not much interested in football, but a Final of anything versus ( I’m avoiding the word ‘against’) . . versus Germany was something not to miss! Apart from any personal notions, how should I meet colleagues and confess I had not followed every
    kick and whistle?

    As for politics, I first voted Liberal in 1959, and have done so ever since. My password in several contexts is Grimond. No-onehad a password for anything in 1966, I think. Alas, I am wavering now . . . . an alternative password for me would be Ashdown.

  • My parents always voted Liberal, but I don’t think they ever campaigned for us. I am making up for them now!
    In 1966 my Dad was working in Caracas, Venezuela and as luck would have it, we were at a wedding reception there when the final of the World Cup was on. You can imagine where all the men were, in front of the TV and not toasting the bride and groom.

  • Tony Greaves 21st May '20 - 11:26pm

    I think Kenneth Wolstenholme stood as a Liberal candidate somewhere in this early days. I am guessing Bristol or Somerset but that’s just a guess.

  • John Marriott 22nd May '20 - 9:25am

    In case anyone gets the wrong idea and think I am made of money and could travel half way round the world at the drop of a hat, let alone getting tickets at the last minute, when I wrote; “I really had to be there” to watch the 2003 Rugby World Cup Final, I of course meant in front of the telly! The game was live early Saturday morning our time, by the way at around about the time originally scheduled for our Federation meeting.

    So, unless anyone else has got any sporting memories to share, perhaps I could end by quoting those immortal words on that wonderful day from the man himself; “They think it’s all over. It is now”. Come to think of it, I suppose that’s how some may have felt after having report the party’s review of the 2019 General Election.

  • David Warren 22nd May '20 - 10:27am

    Really pleased that this post has generated so many comments.

    Thanks for sharing your memories guys. I live in hope of seeing another England World Cup win and a Liberal Prime Minister!

  • Rather we focussed on 2020 onwards than the past.
    All I can say is in 1955 I was at one of the several Grammar schools in Islington, which was the complete opposite of a middle class area, where Labour majorities were in the 30,000 region. The Labour loudspeaker van came past the school and of a class of 40, 39 of us rushed to the window and cheered, then to be shouted at by the Form Master to get back to your desks and be quiet. The Liberal perfomance identified the lowest total vote for the party. However overall it was a better performance per seat than we have managed in 2015, 17 and 19, because we only had 300 candidates.
    Did not really know much or anything about the Liberal Party yet once I started work at 16, became sympathetic to them, motivated by the great Jo Grimmond, and at the 59 election was pleased to see them get a good vote increase, did they not get over 7% altogether?. Just emphasises what a rag bag we have been during the second half of the last decade.

  • David Warren 22nd May '20 - 4:37pm

    @theakes I agree we need to focus on the future but the past is also important.

    I am particularly interested in the 1950s and 60s a period when we went from being a party on life support to one that was significant again.

    Clement Davies kept things ticking over but Grimond took the Liberal Party to the next level. We need to learn from that experience. Jo mapped out a clear philosophy and strategy that is sadly lacking now. Our new leader whoever it is needs inspire us the troops on the ground and the wider electorate too.

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