An important part of our project is comparing the policy debate and narratives related to lowering the voting age in contemporary UK politics to that which took place when the voting age was lowered to 18 in 1969.  We have been carrying out archival research at the People’s History Museum in Manchester and the British Library as well as utilising the Hansard online resources including a new digitisation project at the University of Huddersfield.

What we have found is that lowering the voting age generated relatively little media and advocacy interest back in 1969 even among groups which would normally be considered natural supporters such as students.  There tended to be brief flowerings of interest around the General Election or when one of the three major parties made a policy commitment on it.  However, there was little in comparison to the steady build up of civil society advocacy we have witnessed for the Votes at 16 campaign.  Analysis of media coverage suggests that while there was some limited student advocacy on the issue, the National Union of Students still considered itself an ‘apolitical’ organisation until the election of Jack Straw as President in 1969 and, in the early 1960s, was considered a fairly conservative organisation concerned with student complaints and services.  Likewise, there was little evidence of major advocacy from other youth organisation.  Even though the Labour Party offered tacit support for the policy from 1959 onwards it failed to generate much interest for it among it youth wing.  The weight of evidence suggests that this was ultimately something of a top-down move by political elites rather than a response to a sustained bottom-up advocacy movement and that it was linked to wider changes related to the age of majority, ultimately coming somewhat out of the blue.  This clearly contrasts with the contemporary debate in which there has been a steady momentum for Votes at 16 building for a long period of time and connected with student and youth advocacy groups which has only begun to achieve widespread support among MP’s and other elite political actors relatively recently.  We will have more to say on this topic soon.

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