What is your first political memory?

A few years back, The Young Foundation launched a website, First Political Memory, which aimed to reconnect people’s everyday lives with politics through sharing stories about when we first became aware of the wider world.

It’s still running (though may force you to jump through some Flash warnings / installation prompts). You get an interesting – and broad – snapshot as you browse the site.

Which makes me ask: what’s your own first political memory?

34 responses to “What is your first political memory?”

  1. Watching one of the Moscow May Day Parades on t.v. in 1961 and my father telling me to watch Kruschev carefully because he might take off his shoe.

  2. Thatcher’s 1990 leadahip chalange. I was 8, and I remember being confused why my parents didn’t have a vote in who the new prime minster was going to be.

  3. At Age 7, our school was taken out to an open celebration on big green space in Hastings – with the feel of a cricket match. This awareness took the form of a non-awareness. It was the celebration of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, and it was if she and Churchill, who I remember as an overwhelming presence in the air ( I imagine he had just become PM again) were Gods – i.e. they were In Charge of Everything – including they provided our total peace, security, and seemed to Be (not embody) the Very Existence of England. I say “a non-awareness”, because the child’s assumption was that this was immutable – the eternal and immutable Tradition of England [under a summer sky..”!]; that there was in the world absolute loyalty, security, etc.; and this assumption contained no hint of knowledge of the power of the Vote !! , such as might have the power to change something [or everything]. I remember it as a fascinating perception, perhaps a study in childhood, perhaps a study in political and patriotic charisma. It would have been June 2, 1952!… I felt I was believing what I was being trained and brought up to believe, and that this was somehow all there was ….!

    Curiously, I think next of Oxford: 1962: first year at Trinity.. Cuba.. As if by organized magic, a huge crowd of Men With Beards (100? 200? 400?) assembled in St Giles ( a Very Wide Street Indeed) and chanted “Hands Off Cuba!” – at some length. I and Charles Arnold and Andrew Campbell were incensed – and we three – alone – stood by the wall of Balliol and bellowed at them “​We​!​ Back​!​ Jack!”.

    Some weeks after, (ex-?) PM H Macmillan visited Balliol, and a large crowd awaited his exit from the front entrance door ( another Wide Street ). When he appeared, the Crowd was Respectfully Silent, and he said, very loudly (I was way across the street): “Goo-ahd LAH-ck to-ah-You-ah !!! “. After the necessary short pause for digestion of this message, a very elegant and authoritative regional accent shouted loudly from far to my left (directly opposite the distinguished man who was still posing on the entrance steps, but still on the opposite side of the street): “Yew need it maw than Aih do Mate!” – which seemed somehow to settle the matter.

  4. My father waking me up before school on the morning after the 1970 General Election and saying “we [the Conservatives] have won!”

  5. South Ayrshire, 1979. I was 8. The seat was as solid Labour as you could get: old mining country. But for once there was tension in the air, because the Labour MP who’d been elected in ’74, Jim Sillars, had defected mid-term to form the ‘Scottish Labour Party’. It was thought he had a decent personal vote and might even beat the official Labour candidate, George Foulkes.
    I won’t claim that my 8-year old self was aware of all these nuances, but I do remember being given a Sillars sticker by a relative, and joshingly told that I had to persuade my parents to ‘do the right thing’. It all seemed quite exciting and strangely exotic, this ‘voting’ lark. I had taken to wearing a little peaked cap at the time, and the sticker found its way on to this – where it remained, fading but stubborn – long after Foulkes was safely in Westminster and Sillars was on his way to the SNP.

  6. The 2005 General Election; I was about 8 and I can remember the face of Michael Howard looming out from a billboard on a grey morning a few weeks near polling day. I also remember canvassers and the like around my area, though it was safe Tory. Kennedy was also on the TV news, though at the time I didn’t register it. After that, it was Blair in 2006- I was in my school medical room and he was on ITV News touring a hospital in the south and nosing around a new cancer ward, and I remember thinking, because he looked so deathly at that stage and was in a cancer ward, ‘why is a man who is so obviously on the verge of death Prime Minister?’.

  7. The morning after the 1987 General Election I, a little short of 6, had the following conversation with my Mum

    “There are a General Election yesterday Adam”
    “Was there Mummy? What happened?”
    “Mrs Thatcher won Adam”
    “Oh…is that good Mummy?”
    “No, Adam. That’s NOT good”.

    That conversation pretty much established my Politics for the following 30 years…

  8. My early childhood memories were of war, sometimes described as “politics by other means” . My first real political memory was the great surprise when Churchill was defeated in 1945 by Clement Attlee, so seemingly unassuming and showing no sign of the radical reformer he was destined to be.

  9. Port Elizabeth South Africa 1948 (I was 7) I helped my mother deliver leaflets in that years general election which Smuts United Party lost to the nats.

  10. i vaguely remember my dad taking me with him when he went to do something called “vote”, but my first really political awareness was a newspaper article about a man with a girl’s name in a strange country with an unpronounceable name burning himself to death to protest something that had been done to his country: not to him or his family or friends, but to his country. I was 10 and living in a tiny British colony half-way across the world. 10 years after, in a commemorative newspaper article about the crushing of the Prague Spring, I read about him again. His name was Jan Palach. 20 years after that I visited Prague, and dragged my friends to see the little memorial to him.

  11. Listening to Alex Douglas-Home in the 1964 campaign sat as a young child on the top of a car. My father wanted me to know what politics was about… the car park in Rhyl was packed! He then took me canvassing, knocking on doors. Not bad for a 7 year old!

  12. Reading Leslie Brewer’s book, Vote for Richard, written in 1948 about a fictional children’s protest movement that had me told off for laughing out loud in a period of silent reading, but also sparked thoughts about the democratic process. It was 1958, and I was eleven. Before that I recall going with my mother when she voted in elections. Most years we had the day off school as it was used as a polling station. First general election where I worked for the Liberal Party was 1966, in Devizes. Not sure why LSE students went there, but some of us did. Michael Fogarty, a professor Economics was the Liberal Candidate so that might have had something to do with it. Knocked on lots of door of people that hadn’t seen a Liberal since the 1930s.

  13. Rising levels of unemployment in Coventry in my early teens as the car industry failed. And the government insisting on trying to prop it up (which we knew wouldn’t work) rather than setting up enterprise zones etc to get the next industry started – an approach which had served Coventry well for 1000 years. Everyone was furious. A few years later 20,000 were made redundant over the space of around a month when it finally crashed despite the help. And no new industry growing to take up the slack. Took 20 years to start to recover.

  14. Petrol queues during the Suez crisis. Emperor Haile Selassie and Marshal Tto driving through town. All in Twickenham in the 1950s I think.

  15. The 1945 election – Someone had written on the railway bridge just north of the Stockport viaduct visible from the A6 “In honour of Churchill vote Labour”

  16. The two elections of1974, especially the winter one and going to vote with my mother in the cold and wet.
    But another very strong one is the lack of Campaigning in my area, and the contrast with the cars with speakers on the roof just a short distance away in a shopping street. The difference? Mine was (and still is) a very safe Labour seat, at times the only competition was an odd Socialist Worker or Communist. The shopping street was in a seat that swapped between Labour and the Conservatives so had to be fought for.

  17. When I was about five or six, we were visiting home of a friend of my parents. They had an SDP sign in the garden. All I knew about politics was that my dad liked the Tories and strongly disliked all the other parties, so I said “does that stand for stupid dummy party?” – and was surprised that my dad was mortified.

  18. The end of World War II. My father took me out wrapped in a blue blanket to sit by the street bonfire. A warm, precious memory. A day or two later a street party – I remember being sat down in front of an array of treats. But not very long after there was another street party – “Why, I thought the war was over?” Apparently there was another war somewhere (against Japan I suppose). I was three that year.

    Other events seen through childish eyes: the 1947 fuel crisis sitting in front of a fire made mainly of slack; juggling the rations – how many eggs, how much butter; adults complaining about the smallness of the meat ration; the anxiety of my parents (from the Cambridge communist generation) about the Berlin blockade (1949?).- even talking about leaving the country. I didn’t realise then it could have cost my father his job.

    My earliest specifically political memory was prompted by an election, like many of the other contributions here. Sitting swinging my legs on a chair in a neighbour’s house – I had been parked there for some reason – listening to the 1951 election results being read over on the radio. Again, I remember my mother’s anxiety about the Tories winning. Which they did of course, but the sky didn’t fall in, and I’ve been a bit of a political moderate ever since.

  19. (also in Coventry) I recall a knock at the door, and my Dad answering to the Tory canvasser. He announced, ‘you can be sure of the votes from this house’. I was still a child and was listening from the top of the stairs(as we did), and heard Mum rush up the hallway behind him saying ‘not so fast, I speak for myself’. I remember thinking ‘good for you Mum’.
    Mum was a greater political influence on me than Dad, though I remember my brother and I having some good debates with him, which seemed to end when one day I said ‘I don’t see how you can be a Christian and a Conservative’.
    In Coventry South there was only ever Tory and Labour candidates and, though loyal to Dad, I am sure Mum would have voted Liberal given a chance.

  20. Suez, and the invasion of Hungary, 1956. For some reason acquiring a pre-printed petition on the latter and taking it to school, and asking the first teacher I saw to sign it. She did – but then I got a rollocking from the headmistress for not asking *her* to be at the head of the signatories! She signed it even so.

  21. Being told by my parents quite forcefully when I was four (therefore – around 1964) that nothing discussed in our house that had anything to do with politics was to be ever repeated outside because the outside was full of people who could “misunderstand and cause us all a great deal of trouble”. As I did not understand what politics was, I agonised about blurting something out and for the rest of my childhood clammed up or, at best, only gave monosyllabic answers to doctors, teachers, polite neighbours…
    And the summer of 1968: we were driving back from summer holidays on the Adriatic and there were all these Czech registered cars pulled up by the road, with people crying or looking distraught. I remember in particular a sobbing woman in a red scarf. My parents became very quiet. We normally sang throughout long drives, but not this time. Just south of Sarajevo, growing columns of Czech cars were being parked on the road with the Yugoslav police standing around helplessly. People were huddling together over transistor radios. Back home, there was no unpacking, no looking for the cat, but straight to the TV. Russian tanks had invaded Czechoslovakia. My mother kept asking my father: “Will we be the next?” His reassurances didn’t work. The next day she stuffed the fridge with chocolate bars and the pantry with bags of flour. My father remained glued to our TV. Even Jan Palach’s self-immolation, endlessly replayed on the screen, was a side story for me. Russian tanks were coming for us.

  22. The problems in Kashmir and what Hari Singh was doing in 1947 to 8 on the wireless. I was about 18 months to 2 years old. My grandmother was very concerned and Hari Singh had the same name as my father Harry. That’s about all I understood. Later in life I realised that my grandmother had spent a lot of time in Srinigar because my grandfather was a RQSM in the army there. I thought the broadcasts were about partition but now I’ve just found out that India and Pakistan were at war then over Kashmir. My grandmother had a baby who died there so her link to that part of the world must’ve been very strong.

  23. Entering a Fancy Dress competition as the ‘Common Market’ . It was my mother’s idea. I came second to a blonde girl wearing a Japanese outfit. I was 11 at the time.

  24. Young liberals protesting against aparthied, it struck a cord with me … age 10ish. Also at similiar age going to local hall with my Mother to listen to the local Labour MP talk 🙂

  25. The Bay of Pigs. Not realising the awful significance of the events unfolding, I was tired –
    at 10 – of seeing Kruschov and Kennedy on the news every day. When Kennedy was shot two years later, I thought it was my fault!

  26. I was born in 1946 and vaguely remember there was a war in Korea (1950-3) and it was separate from the Second World War. I couldn’t say when precisely I became aware of the Korean War.

  27. The fall of the Berlin Wall. I was five and didn’t know what was going on, but my parents were transfixed to the television.

    I remember the clips of Berliners sitting atop the wall, taking to it with pickaxes and celebrating. It was clear that whatever was going on, it was a big deal. I will never forget those images.

  28. The Suez Invasion, October 1956. I was an impressionable 4th former at Purley County Grammar School, attending its lunchtime Socii discussion group. Our Headmaster, a former RAF Commander “Basher” Birchall, would have been a great supporter of the UK’s attack on Egypt’s Colonel Nasser, of course. But here was Ron Pickup, 2ndXV hooker, protesting that the Government was wrong, the UK had just fought a Hearts-and-Minds World War about freedom, so how could we start treating people in this outdated, oppressive way? The scales fell from my eyes…..it was possible to criticise the government of the day ! Pickup won the vote,and I became a Liberal. Fast forward to our invasion of Iraq and Charlie Kennedy’s brave stand, which inspired me to run for the LibDems in Haringey, and win a virgin council seat from Labour, largely because of local opposition to Blair’s invasion. Happy Days.

  29. The 1997 election. Aged eight, I recall feeling surprised that my parents were voting for Labour in a area where I had never heard of them. I have a very faint memory of seeing the results on Ceefax, and of the news of the result being somewhat significant. It was only in 2001-3 that I recall feeling mobilised and in a reserved way.

  30. My first memory was in the 1964 election on polling day playing a vote liberal message on a tape recorder with Julian Thomas who lived next to greenways school we were 8 at the time. Little did I know what I had started

  31. One of my earliest memories overall was my mother leaving me briefly in the car, perhaps strapped in a car seat, while she went to the “poll”, not knowing what that was picturing a pole and later being told it was to vote and not knowing what that was either but hearing something about Eisenhower. I might have even pictured a boat at a pole. She couldn’t have said she was voting for him, because I know they later said how much they wanted Stevenson. Perhaps they were talking about voting to get rid of Eisenhower. I was born in 1953, so it must have been 1956. The next memories with a bit more substance were of Kennedy, the family, kids close to my age, presidents fitness program, ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country, goal of putting a man in the moon, and then of course the 4th grade teacher getting a call from the office, hanging up and informing us that the president had been shot. But the big big thing that dominated everything when I was growing up was Viet Nam, which didn’t seem like it would ever end.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments and data you submit with them will be handled in line with the privacy and moderation policies.