It was on Friday 13th March – unlucky for some, but not for others – 1970 that the British Conservative Party celebrated a big majority in a by-election in Bridgwater, Somerset. ‘So what’ one might say.
The ‘so what’ was the historic fact that, for the very first time, 18 year olds were now allowed to vote in Parliamentary elections in Britain! The new legislation had come into force in January 1970 completing the updating of voting in Britain. Up until that point, you had to be 21 years old before you were eligible to vote. In fact it was only in 1928 that women had been given the same voting rights as men. Up until 1918, they could only vote when they had reached the age of 30.
Twenty-one had always been the point at which young people ‘attained their majority’ or ‘came of age’. At this age they were regarded as adults and were allowed to vote and could get married without permission from their parents. When moves were made to lower the voting age to 18 it was considered a bit controversial, as some people felt that it was too young!
This result was totally unexpected as opinion polls had predicted an easy victory for Labour on the back of a healthy economy and large pay rises. However – on 18th May Harold Wilson called a general election for 18th June. His Labour Party lost that election to Edward Heath’s Conservatives.