I was enfranchised and able to vote for the first time in 1975. It was a time of turmoil and unrest. Unemployment was high as was inflation (at one point inflations reached 24%). Young people felt that their futures were bleak and many felt society was becoming increasingly unequal. The European Economic Community was held by many to be one of the major causes of the many problems of the time; it was seen as a club designed to benefit business and the wealthy at the expense of the poor. As a young man I allied myself with the progressive forces and campaigned for a “NO” vote in the EEC referendum on the 5th of June 1975.
We had a major battle ahead of us. The big money was against us and all the media, except the Morning Star, had sided with the YES campaign . But we fought on. Our experts warned of increased food prices as a consequence of the Common Agricultural Policy, syndicalist groups warned of the effects for labour and statesmen of every hue warned about the loss of political power which would follow a shift of power from London to Brussels . The nationalists in Scotland, Wales and Ireland joined the fray and warned against loss of sovereignty .
Our experts were correct, but we lost. We lost heavily it was a “landslide” for YES . The young, the better educated and the left had been outvoted by the rest. We saw what had happened and knew what to do. We needed to continue to work to see if it was possible to change the European project from the crony capitalist support network it was becoming, to see if our criticisms were correct and our fears did indeed manifest, and to build a political consensus. In the next 41 years we discovered that the EU could not be changed from within, our fears were in fact correct and we had been able to build a political movement.
4o or so years later, we young voters, now more experienced, older and wiser, got a second chance and we took it. The youth had grown into the man and the man was able to look to the youth’s future.
My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold
My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is the father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.
1 Walsh J. Britain’s 1975 Europe referendum: what was it like last time? The Guardian. 2016.http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/feb/25/britains-1975-europe-referendum-what-was-it-like-last-time .
3 Meyer J-H. The 1975 referendum on Britain’s continued membership in the EEC. cvce.eu. 2016.http://www.cvce.eu/obj/jan_henrik_meyer_the_1975_referendum_on_britain_s_continued_membership_in_the_eec-en-eb67b6cf-33ef-4f79-9510-b6fab56d2509.html.