Wellington and the 1970 General Election

23 June 2020

On 18 June 1970, a General Election was held in the United Kingdom. Legislation passed the year before had lowered the voting age from 21 to 18, meaning that this was the first election in which senior Wellington students might be able to vote.

Even before this, many students had taken a keen interest in politics. In the 19th century the Debating Society frequently discussed political issues of the day, and during the 20th century several mock elections had been held at College. Students would stand as candidates for the various parties and run campaigns with rallies and speeches, before a poll decided the winner. Such an election was held in 1970, with candidates including a Celtic Nationalist and a European Federalist, as well as Conservative and Liberal. As the Wellingtonian noted, any representation left of centre was sadly lacking.

Students also engaged vigorously with the real election, as the Wellingtonian for July 1970 shows. Articles and poems reveal their views on a range of issues still startlingly relevant today, including the economy, Ireland, race and immigration, and the UK’s relationship with Europe.

The spirit of the 1960s was still strong too, with a leader article arguing that the difference in mindset between the older and younger generations was the world’s greatest dividing or unifying factor. ‘Youth is a far stronger bond than nationality or religion now’, asserted its author. Arguably, no party really managed to tap into the new ‘youth’ vote, with turnout low in the actual election; and the eventual result might even have been swung by a football match! You can find out more in Wellington College Archivist Caroline Jones’ latest podcast, here: