Theme of the week – First political memories

I was inspired to write this post by a conversation I had this week. My friend was talking about his earliest political memories in a house where Tony Blair was reviled. He first became aware of politics around the time of the Iraq war. He had never really been properly exposed to the Tories in his formative years and doesn’t have the same antipathy to them as I do.

It made me think about my first political memories and the impact they have on me now. I remember being taken along with my parents when they went to vote in one of the 1974 elections. I was also very aware of what was going on in the White House with the unprecedented resignation of a US President.

The first Government I was aware of was the Labour one of Harold Wilson and then Jim Callaghan. I knew that the economy went to hell in a hand cart at that time. I also remember being really frightened by tv pictures of these massive trade union meetings where everyone voted to go on strike. In a crowd like that, you daren’t not conform to expectations.

At around the same time, Alex Haley’s “Roots” was broadcast. I watched, horrified that human beings could keep other human beings as slaves and treat them with such barbaric cruelty. At around the same time, I also watched the Doctor wrestle with whether to stop the Daleks ever being formed. Alex Wilcock has always said that Doctor Who made him a liberal and I had a similar experience, fascinated by someone who travelled around space and time treating people well, encouraging respect and co-operation.

As the 70s ended in economic chaos, it seemed to a naive 11 year old that this new government led by Margaret Thatcher might be a good thing. My parents were and still are ConservativesFortunately, it didn’t take me long to realise that my optimism was misplaced. The different and hopeful message of the SDP, collaborating with the Liberals, excited me. Although I joined the SDP, more because their average age was closer to mine in Caithness, my heart was always more with the awkward Liberals who wouldn’t be constrained by conformity.

My reason for sharing this with you is to ask you to tell us how your earliest memories of politics and culture shaped you. It would be really good if you could send us articles on this to publish over the next week.  Send your pieces of up to 500 words to [email protected]. I just thought it might be nice to do something a bit different to stressing about the psychodrama that is Brexit for a wee while.


* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • David Warren 18th Nov '18 - 3:03pm

    Blimey Caron your memories are really similar to mine.

    In the 1974 elections I took a keen interest and remember the Liberal surge that happened that year.

    My parents voted for the party, speaking glowingly about Jo Grimond.

    They put a poster in the window and the election was discussed at school.

    Most of my classmates came from homes that voted Tory, hardly surprising in our sleepy little Oxfordshire village.

    In 1975 I was chosen to speak in a school debate on the Common Market referendum.

    Amazing to think we are still arguing about Europe all these years later!

    Can’t put my finger on why I have always been what a lot of people call a ‘political animal’ but my interest started as a ten year old and has never faded.

  • paul barker 18th Nov '18 - 3:55pm

    I remember hugging my Mum with us both in floods of tears over the murder of JFK but I dont know how much idea of who he was I actually had. The problem with really old memories is that they get rubbed away & replaced by memories of memories. That was a very intense few days as a few hours later I watched the 1st episode of Dr Who – An Unearthly Child. I can remember the feeling of having my mind messed with as we got the first glimpse of The Tardis interior.

  • Ed Shepherd 18th Nov '18 - 4:53pm

    The seventies were a time of rising living standards. Education and healthcare were free at the point of delivery. Laws against racial and sex discrimination were passed. Consumer protection laws were strengthened. Millions of people had jobs with permanent contracts, trade union recognition and salary related pensions. People could claim state pension as early as the age of 60. Consumer credit was rare. Local authorities could provide good quality housing. It seems to have been downhill ever since.

  • David Evershed 18th Nov '18 - 5:16pm

    In 1961 I was presing my parents to vote for the Liberal candidate in Worcester, Robert Glenton.

    I was very much influenced by Liberal policies for individual freedoms, free markets and and free trade. However, as a schoolboy, I was also influenced that Robert Glenton was the motoring correspondent of the Sunday Express.

    Glenton lost by 3,500 votes to Peter Walker.

  • John Chandler 18th Nov '18 - 5:57pm

    For me, the 1987 general election. I was in primary school, and the teacher selected me to be a candidate for a pretend election in our class. The other kids were concentrating on school or general children things, while I seem to recall standing on a broadly social democratic manifesto (I’d read up on what the real parties were offering and picked the bits I liked). I remember being glued to the election results, and being allowed to stay up late to see some of the coverage. Nowadays, I get to watch it all the way through.

    I’ve been fascinated by politics ever since, and remember being very excited when I got to vote in my first election (1997).

  • Yeovil Yokel 18th Nov '18 - 6:26pm

    First political memory is from the 1970 General Election, of my Dad waking me up with a cup of tea before getting ready for school and saying “We’ve won” (i.e. the Tories under Ted Heath). I followed my parents in voting Tory at my first GE in 1979 which brought She Who Shall Not Be Named to power, and I have spent the last 39 years supporting the Libs/SDP/LD’s to try and expiate my sense of guilt.

  • You know that clip of Jeremy Thorpe vaulting over a hedge while out canvassing? My earliest ‘political’ memory was of seeing that on TV one day and absolutely loving it. It was probably a news report sometime around Rinkagate, mid-late 70s, but I didn’t pick up on any of that (perhaps my parents quickly switched channels!) But I do distinctly remember that image of a grown man being so silly and playful.
    Then I vaguely remember the 1979 election (I was 7). The heavily Labour South Ayrshire constituency was for once quite interesting because the sitting Labour MP (Jim Sillars) had defected to start a new party and was challenging the official Labour candodate (George Foulkes). I remember an aunt trying to force me to take a Jim Sillars sticker, and other family members saying I shouldn’t take it because he was a ‘traitor’. I didn’t know much about the politics of it but I do remember instinctively recoiling from the idea that I ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ wear a particular sticker because someone else said so. I asked my parents about it – they were Labour voters but not very political – and my mother in particular was very good about telling me I should make my own mind up and not worry about what anyone else thought.
    The Miners strike was huge in Ayrshire, and by then I was 12 and again there was this sense that you just *had* to be for the miners, not allowed to ask questions or think for yourself. I’m not saying I was for Thatcherism (definitely not!) but I just felt that this ‘automatic’ thing was just wrong, and I was horrified at some of Scargill’s tactics. Kids whose Dad had gone back to work were being bullied at school, and a blind eye was turned to it – which I also felt was wrong.
    The mid-80s by elections fascinated me. Brecon, Portsmouth, Ryedale… The ‘mould-breaking’ thing about the Alliance impressed me, and I was very motivated too by the unfairness of the electoral system and how both Labour and Tories defended it.
    My constituency was still heavily Labour with no Alliance activity within miles, but I now instinctively disliked Labour for their complacency and I hated Thatcherism. By contrast I liked the idea of two parties working together, and I liked both Steel and Owen, and in particular I loved David Penhaligon and was really upset when he died. By 1987 I was 16 and old enough to want to actually join the party, so I did.

  • Mick Taylor 18th Nov '18 - 8:48pm

    My first political memory is of my mum haranguing people on buses who wouldn’t pay black bus conductors.
    The second was being taken canvassing for the first time. Our first door was the local postman, who turned out to be a fervent supporter of the communist party and wanted to argue about politics. I owe my love a debate and argument to him. The second or third door I knocked on by myself was answered by a scantily clad young lady, who invited me to come in, an offer I declined. Still this first day of canvassing gave me the taste for it which has lasted to this day.
    The third was being driven round Orpington in 1962 by my mother with the objective of removing as many posters supporting the Conservative candidate as possible and placing them in the back of her car for future disposal. I ran across snowy field to do my mother’s bidding and I remember the following Guy Fawkes bonfire went very well!

  • John Marriott 18th Nov '18 - 9:41pm

    Considering that my paternal grandfather was an early socialist (I still have a letter written to him by his local MP, James Ramsay MacDonald, thanking him for holding a fund raising event to which he had been invited at his local chapel) I ought to have been involved in politics at an early age. This, however, was not so. During my time at Cambridge (1962-1966) I never attended any debates at the Union nor joined any political clubs, being too busy playing rugby for the University first and second teams as well as doing a bit of study.

    I have to confess that, during my first teaching post I actually joined the Newark and District Conservative Club, mainly because the beer was cheap and voted for the first time ever for the Tory candidate, one David Cargill, in the 1970 General Election just before my wife and I emigrated to Canada. Mr Cargill lost to Labour’s Ted Bishop before later joining the SDP.

    It was on the Canadian prairies, all those miles away that I first really got interested in
    politics. I had dabbled in Union affairs (NAS) before I had left England and got involved with the Alberta Teachers’ Association, when working in Edmonton. Reading about the Heath government’s attempts at growth from airmail copies of the British newspapers in Edmonton City Library made me realise that things were ratcheting up in the old country.

    Following three years in Canada and a year teaching in West Germany, I returned to the U.K. just after the three day week and in time to vote in the second 1974 General Election. While in Yorkshire I renewed my interest in what was now the NAS/UWT, becoming a Union rep on the Todmorden Trades Council. Before we moved to Lincoln in 1977 I had started to do some leaflet deliveries from a colleague, who was standing for the Liberal Party in a local election and met David (later Lord) Shutt.

    I finally took the plunge and joined the Liberal Party in Lincoln following a PPB by David Steele in 1979. I got actively involved in the 1983 General Election supporting the SDP candidate and again in 1987, the year in which I first stood successfully for election as a local councillor, a position I was to hold, first as an ‘Alliance’ and later as a Lib Dem councillor, on various bodies for the next thirty years.


  • Richard Underhill 18th Nov '18 - 9:46pm

    David Raw 18th Nov ’18 – 5:27pm

  • Being denied a vote in the 1964 election; I was 20 years and 9 months old.

    BTW….I would’ve voted Labour as I saw the Liberal party (6? rural seats) as an irrelevance.
    Strange how after a steady rise under Jo, Jeremy, David, Paddy (even against the Blair ‘landslide’ of 1997) and Charles, one ill managed stint in government has brought us back to around the level of influence of that October so many years ago.

  • Miner’s strike for me

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