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The First Political Youthquake

Fifty years ago young people shaped political debate. Jo Coburn considers the first political 'youthquake' and how young voters’ engagement with politics has waxed and waned since.

After years of young people in Britain demonstrating on everything from the Vietnam War to gay rights, in 1969 there was a political 'youthquake': those over 18 and under 21 got the vote. Politicians had to court a new constituency - and young people had an incentive to become politically involved.
But, as Jo Coburn shows, the first political youthquake also saw new political figures emerge - such as Bernadette Devlin, first elected to Westminster in 1969. Devlin's outspoken approach was as important as her policies – and her gender. She wanted to be in Parliament because it was "where things happen".
Another outsider, Peter Hain, from South Africa transformed political protest not just with campaigns against visiting sports teams from apartheid South Africa but also, later in the 1970s, with the Anti-Nazi League which confronted the far-right extremism of the National Front. By then, a rejuvenated Conservatism under Margaret Thatcher was inspiring figures like the teenager William Hague - who would himself later lead the Tories. Jo Coburn talks to both men and considers how their experiences shaped politics into the 1980s and 90s when they both held office.
Clive Lewis, MP for Norwich South and former NUS vice-president, recalls school debates during the 1984 miners' strike and the impact of Red Wedge, while Liz Truss - the queen of Instagram and a member of Boris Johnson's Cabinet - reflects on the unfinished business of the first youthquake. Labour MP and former student campaigner Wes Streeting recalls a hurt letter written to Ann Widdecombe, his revolutionary Facebook campaign and says that on issues which matter to young people today - like the environment - 1960s-style commitment needs to be harnessed to social media.

Producer Simon Coates

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57 minutes




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