Wednesday, 9 October 2019

GE 1959: familiar names, familiar voices

BBC-Parliament has today rerun Auntie's coverage of the 1959 general election, held on the eighth of October. It has to be said that the presentation was far from slick, even though the BBC had fairly recent experience of presenting election results. It looks as if, in trying to cover so many venues live, they underestimated the difficulties of coordination. However, for those fascinated by current affairs, there were rewards.

It was good to see David Butler, the "Sultan of Swing", already a veteran of three general elections and happily still with us. Another survivor is Shirley Williams, whose name appeared in an early result from Southampton as a losing Labour candidate. Also in the first hour came Gerald Kaufman's loss - in his second foray - in Gillingham in Kent (which presenter Richard Dimbleby seemed to confuse with Gillingham in Dorset).

Most of the outside broadcast commentators were anonymous voices, but it was fun spotting Alan Whicker in Hammersmith and (I believe) Raymond Baxter in Cheltenham. A pre-"Knockout" Stuart Hall in Manchester was name-checked, as was Alun Williams reporting from a pub in Wrexham. His report was balanced politically, but not sexually. After all the clearly pre-selected blokes had had their say, London cut off an equally articulate woman who wanted to put the feminine angle. She made the major contribution in the first hour or so, when the only other female faces on show were those of the comptometer operators.

The election was notable for two things: the increase in the Conservative vote, on an increased turnout, at a point in the electoral cycle (it was their third successive victory) when an incumbent government usually sees its support falling away; and the resurgence of the Liberal party which had been virtually wiped out in previous post-war elections. The vote share more than doubled. This was not reflected in terms of seats at this election - though a certain J Thorpe recorded a gain from a Conservative in North Devon - the party having to wait for a string of by-election successes in succeeding years of Conservative  government to see the first fruits.

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