Lowering the voting age: three lessons from the 1969 Representation of the People’s Act

Posted: 03 Nov 2021 01:00 AM PDT

In 1969, the UK became the first country to lower its age of franchise to 18.Tom LoughranAndy Mycockand Jon Tonge argue that lowering the voting age was not in response to popular mobilisation by the public or pressure groups, nor the outcome of significant political contestation. Rather, voting age reform was a consequence of the desire of political leaders to align the voting age with what society increasingly perceived as the new age of adulthood. Lowering the voting age was part of package of reforms which attempted to streamline the age at which young people were seen to become adults. 

The 1969 Representation of the People’s Act, which lowered the UK age of enfranchisement to 18, has received remarkably little attention in contemporary debates. Although the UK became the first democracy to lower the voting age to 18 and most of the rest of the world followed, advocates and opponents of ‘Votes at 16’ rarely reference the 1969 Act or discuss its impacts and legacies. This oversight is surprising as ‘Votes at 18’ was the last major extension of the UK franchise and is therefore an important element of the history of UK democracy from the 1832 Great Reform Act onwards.

Lowering the voting age in 1969 provides important evidence which should – but has not yet – informed the votes at 16 debate across the UK, even in Scotland and Wales where the voting age has been revised for non-Westminster elections. Our article published in Contemporary British History, based on research from the Leverhulme Trust ‘Lowering the Voting Age in the UK’ project we recently completed, highlights three relevant lessons that can be drawn for the current UK voting age debate regarding both the process and enactment of the policy.

The first lesson from 1969 highlights the importance of the voting age being integrated into broader debates around young people’s civic rights and citizenship status. Reform of the voting age in 1969 was an alignment of age-related rights which saw the official age of majority lowered to 18. This meant that acquiring the vote was framed as part of a broader discussion about youth transitions to adulthood. In contrast, the contemporary votes at 16 debate is curiously detached from the broader context in which young people become citizens and the role that they play within democratic society. Advocates of the change often present voting age reform as a policy goal rather than as part of a broader approach to making the political system more responsive to young people’s voices and needs. Conversely, most opponents of votes at 16 tend to frame the issue as a binary debate regarding where ‘adulthood’ should begin, ignoring the more nuanced views emerging from our research showing most 16–17-year-olds want the right to vote on their own terms, not because they see voting as an ‘adult’ act. The debate around the 1969 act shows that it is possible to move beyond the narrow terms of this debate to encompass a more holistic approach to young people’s citizenship.

The less polarised political context surrounding the 1969 reform puts into sharp relief the divisions between votes at 16 advocates and opponents, providing this way the context for a second lesson. Contrary to received wisdom, there is little evidence that partisan advantage was a key motivator for Harold Wilson’s Labour government in lowering the voting age to 18. Neither Labour nor the Conservatives considered age to be an important electoral divide and there was a consensus (although little actual evidence) among politicians and the media that from the late 1950s onwards that the ‘youth vote’ skewed slightly towards the Conservatives. It was not until the 1970s that Conservatives became concerned about declining support among younger voters. Conservative opposition to the measure in both parliament and the media was therefore mild and based on classic small ‘c’ conservative concerns around constitutional precedent rather than accusations of an electoral ‘stitch-up’. This contrasts with the more partisan environment in which the debate is taking place, where age has become the largest demographic division in electoral politics. Developments in Scotland and Wales, where votes at 16 advocates were able to gain support for reform from across the political spectrum, show the importance of working towards a consensual approach. This noted, recent debates at Westminstersuggest a more divisive and counterproductive American-style scenario whereby votes at 16 has become part of de-facto political battleground about electoral reform.

The 1969 Act provides a third lesson about the need to establish a comprehensive policy and evaluation framework to ensure the long-term successful implementation of voting age reform. Whilst successful overall in terms of political and public acceptance, an important negative aspect of votes at 18 – large-scale abstention amongst 18–24-year-olds – quickly materialised and steadily increased. In 1970, the first UK election to enfranchise 18–21-year-olds, 65% of 18–24-year-olds voted. This was 7% lower than the overall turnout level, a disparity which increased to 9% in October 1974 and further grew of successive general elections until reaching a peak of 23% in 2001. The causes were multiple and significant. The passage of the 1969 Act did not identify the need for civic or political education to socialise young people with the skills and knowledge required to vote. It also failed to transform the supply side of political culture by making political parties and authorities more responsive to young people’s views, thus incentivising them to engage with the political process. Evidence from Scotland and Wales suggests that this critical final lesson has only been partially learned by policymakers, with the introduction of votes at 16 also not adequately planned or resourced, and turnout of 16-17-year-olds thus far proving consistently lower than average turnouts. It is noteworthy that one common feature of voting age reform in the late 1960s and the introduction of votes at 16 is the absence of longitudinal evaluation of its impacts on youth democratic engagement and participation.

Ultimately, the three lessons of the 1969 Act we identified highlight a missed opportunity for policymakers across the UK and internationally to undertake policy learning. We believe it demonstrates that voting age reform can be successful as a catalyst for young people’s political engagement but not if it is seen as a panacea in itself. It is vital that voting age reform is part of a more holistic approach to young people’s citizenship and engagement with the political system. Should the UK voting age be lowered in the near future, it is critical that the lessons from 1969 should be learnt to ensure its success.


About the Authors

Thomas Loughran is Lecturer in Comparative Elections at the University of Liverpool.

Andrew Mycock is Reader in Politics School Director of External Engagement at the University of Huddersfield.

Jonathan Tonge is Professor of Politics at the University of Liverpool

LSE Blog

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill includes major proposals on crime and justice in England and Wales.

David Mead writes that its introduction is an attempt to divert attention away from serious threats – such as climate change and racialised policing – and onto those who try to raise awareness.

‘By giving the police the discretion to use these powers some of the time, it takes away our freedom all of the time’. David Lammy’s closing speech at the end of the Second Reading debate of the Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Bill gets to the nub of the issue – a potentially massive increase in the power of the state to regulate protest and activism. The Bill, despite some of the hyperbole, does not remove the right to protest; it is drafted very carefully to avoid such a charge, but it does render it far more precarious, and far more in the gift of the police. If we hadn’t before, events at the Sarah Everard vigil on the night of 13 March should make us question the wisdom of this Bill very, very closely.

I will not engage with the question of the Bill’s scope and effect (see instead hereand here). What I want to focus on is the parliamentary passage of the Bill, specifically the side-lining of scrutiny. There are three related issues I want to touch on: the provision of information to the public and MPs about the Bill; the speed of passage; and the need for the legislation (and, more importantly, what MPs see as the need).

The Bill had its First Reading on 9 March, and two days were set aside for the Second Reading later that month. Not only is this a 307-page, 176-clause Bill, but at least for the public order sections, there was no White or Green paper, no draft Bill. There had before been some floating of the need to make inroads though nothing officially was said before March. In late November, Netpol – the network for police monitoring – posted about plans for a ‘major crackdown on protest in 2021’, in light of talks it had had with HMICFRS. The plans were said to include equalising the power to impose conditions as between marches and assemblies; lessening of the trigger from serious to significant disruption to the life of the community; and plans to introduce stop-and-search powers to prevent such disruption. The Bill certainly covers the first, to some extent it touches on the second, but does not include the third. The provisions in the Bill that allow for conditions on noisy protests – if the noise level is such as likely to cause some serious unease, alarm or distress – is new, as is the planned power to regulate one-person protests, the power to prohibit obstructions of entry/exit into the Palace of Westminster, and plans to put common law nuisance onto a statutory footing – though the latter dates back to a Law Commission report in 2015.

Of course, the mood music has been playing for a while – most of the past 18 months have featured regular, albeit sporadic calls for action and castigation of activists, going back to evidence given by Met Commander Adrian Usher to the JCHR in April 2019, where he argued for the police to have powers to deal with unlawful protests, in total contradistinction to ECHR case law. More recently, they go back to claims made about Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion, most especially the pulling down of statues and the blocking of the distribution of several Murdoch press titles in September 2020. The Home Secretary responded by labelling ‘so-called eco-crusaders turned criminals’ while some Black Lives Matter protesters became ‘hooligans and thugs’.

It was clear, then, that the tide was turning, perhaps had done so. That does not explain the Bill that has just landed, accompanied by a 161-page HMICFRS report vindicating the government’s approach. Neither does it explain the absence in the Bill of a power allowing the police to impose conditions centrally, so avoiding the restrictions of the High Court decision in the Jenny Jones judicial review. There, it was held the Met had acted unlawfully when a senior officer had imposed conditions on several cross-London Extinction Rebellion ‘pop up’ protests, since the legislation, properly interpreted, required that to be done separately at each scene.

The Bill then is something of an enigma: to what is it supposed to be a response? We soon see an enigma wrapped up in a puzzle when we consider the views expressed by Conservative backbenchers during the debate. Several (not all – see the thoughtful interventions of StephenHammond and Fiona Bruce) managed to convince themselves into holding two irreconcilable positions: that the Bill was proposing things not actually in it, and yet was needed to cater for things that were already covered. For instance, Gareth Johnson said that ‘the Bill seeks to balance those competing rights. It will allow protests, vigils, demonstrations and marches, but not the blocking of bridges or stopping traffic and bringing cities to a standstill. Protests, yes; causing serious disruption to others, no.’ Then, TimLoughton warned that ‘Labour Members may try to claim that they have objections to the new public demonstration conditions proposed for preventing serious disruption to the life of the community’. Finally, Richard Drax was reassured that ‘the Home Secretary indicated in her speech that these new powers are aimed at preventing protesters from stopping people going to work or closing a city like London for days on end’.

Serious disruption to the life of the community has been the trigger for imposing conditions for 35 years, since the relevant Public Order Act 1986. There is nothing in the Bill that adds to the armoury here, yet none of those three MPs addressed the real challenge to peaceful protest, what I term an existential threat: conditions based on likely noise levels. They may simply be repeating a Whip-derived line – that the Bill does not affect the right to protest. But that is nonsense. Any increase in police power has that capacity and potential. Whether it is ever used, whether we think it should ever be used, are entirely different and valuable normative questions. But to deny that this Bill changes anything at all is false. This is compounded with the realisation that, in fact, the Bill does not deal with Extinction Rebellion protests. It does not alter the Jenny Jones decision. Neither does it deal with protests by putting common law nuisance onto a statutory footing. While it is true that since Rimmington a charge cannot be laid if there is a statutory alternative, that is the very point: either there is already an offence in an Act – charge someone with that – or if there is not, the common law provides the charge. This Bill does not change that.

We see the Bill, then, in its proper light: a lightning rod, diverting proper attention away from the imminent threat of climate change and onto those who exhort for a different way of life to tackle it, away from those subjected to racialised policing and onto those who tear down statues. The Bill is the epitome of much wider contemporary political discourse, one that allows government to cast us as good or bad, activists and citizens, reinforcing tensions and division at the expense of collective social solidarity, and for that reason alone we should oppose it.


About the Author

David Mead is Professor of UK Human Rights at the University of East Anglia. He has worked with Amnesty, Greenpeace and Liberty on protest issues, been involved with practitioners in cases up to and including the Supreme Court, and been consulted by the UN Special Rapporteurs on both Peaceful Assembly and on Use of Force. Most recently, his evidence has been relied on by the JCHR in its report on protest under COVID-19. He is a member of Netpol’s Lawyers’ Group. He is the author of The New Law of Peaceful Protest: Rights and Regulation in the Human Rights Act Era.

LSE blog

The increasingly close ties between leading politicians and journalists in Britain have been to the detriment of the public interest

The British press, from the Sun to the Telegraph and most points in between, were quick to castigate the Crown Prosecution Service for its attacks on the ‘free press’ after the acquittal of Rebekah Brooks and despite the conviction of Andy Coulson. There are no winners in this case, writes Mick Temple. Neither the press, police nor politicians emerge well from the hacking trial.

So now we know. The ‘wicked witch’ was not wicked after all – just ignorant. Rebekah Brooks was so unaware of  the methods employed by journalists under her command that we shall have to reassess the well-founded stereotype of the all-knowing editor with their fingers on the pulse of their newspaper. Innocent of the charges against her, are we to conclude that she was merely one of the most incompetent editors Fleet Street has ever seen?


Apparently unaware of this reading of events, Rebekah Brooks left court feeling, in her own words, ‘vindicated’ by the jury’s decision that she was innocent of hacking telephones, perverting the course of justice and conspiracy to pay public officials. And our national newspapers felt equally vindicated.


Despite former News of the World editor Andy Coulson being found guilty of conspiracy to hack voicemails, the British press, from the Sun to the Telegraph and most points in between, were quick to castigate the Crown Prosecution Service for its attacks on the ‘free press’. The Daily Telegraph’s editorial trumpeted that Brooks’ not guilty verdict was a ‘devastating blow’ to those who have attempted to ‘besmirch’ all newspapers with the bad practices of some journalists.


The Sun’s front page proclaimed a ‘Great Day for Redtops’. But for most of us long-term observers and supporters of the British press – and I must add, opponents of press regulation – there was little to celebrate. In addition to Coulson, let’s not forget that a number of people employed by the News of the World have already admitted or been found guilty of phone hacking, and that two dozen journalists, mostly from the Murdoch press, are still awaiting trial on comparable charges.


Image: Duncan C (CC BY-NC)


The press also made a lot of the huge cost of the trial, at the expense of ‘terrorist’ and ‘paedophile’ investigations. For the Daily Mail, this ‘disproportionality’ of the police response was led by ‘the left-leaning Guardian’ and a ‘handful of tabloid-hating celebrities’. The result was that the ‘public purse has paid the most outrageous price for politicking and expedience’.


In truth, neither the press, police nor politicians emerge well from this trial. The police directed unprecedented resources at this case, for their critics far beyond an appropriate level. Their own wrongdoing appears to have been largely swept under an increasingly grubby carpet.


Our newspapers, and not just the redtops, have suffered a considerable blow to their already dreadful public image. The press, still resisting the post-Leveson calls for statutory press regulation from pressure groups such as Hacked Off, have retreated to the ‘few bad apples’ defence which was formerly the exclusive property of our police force.  As some of us predicted in the immediate wake of Leveson, don’t hold your breath waiting for press regulation. It won’t happen now.


But perhaps it is the image of politicians, and in particular that of the prime minister, that has fared the worse. And our newspapers have been quick to try and swivel the spotlight onto political malpractice. On the day after Ms Brooks was found innocent and Coulson guilty, the increasingly critical Daily Mail focused on the consequences for David Cameron: as its front page headline starkly put it, the verdict on Coulson was ‘Humiliation for Cameron’.


Adding further to the pressure on him, the Guardian’s Nick Davies alleged last week that David Cameron had misled the Leveson Inquiry with his account of the appointment and vetting of Andy Coulson. Mr Cameron has also been publicly criticised to an unprecedented degree by the trial judge. The prime minister’s apology for believing Andy Coulson’s lies to him when he appointed him as chief spin doctor was made while the jury was still deliberating on charges of conspiracy against Coulson.


To coin a cliché, there are no winners in this case. Despite their triumphant response to Rebekah Brooks’ innocence, a section of the press has been exposed as even more vicious and sleazy than we suspected. Our police have been exposed as at best incompetent and at worse corrupt. And our politicians, most damagingly of all, our prime minister, have been clearly shown to lack essential judgement. Despite many warnings from those who knew, the prime minister allowed a corrupt and mendacious journalist into the heart of government.


While I concur with The Economist’s judgement of the Leveson Report as decidedly ‘mediocre’, Leveson’s central message was clear and indisputable. The relationship between British politicians and journalists needs to change. Senior politicians have for too long responded like Pavlov’s dogs to the temporary obsessions of newspapers like the Sun and Daily Mail, and are so afraid of powerful press barons like Rupert Murdoch that they openly court their approval and support in return for policy pay-offs. Our politicians maintain a belief in the king-making powers of the British press, whose influence on the public is in all probability far less than frequently claimed.


The evidence presented to Leveson showed a relationship corrupted by mutual suspicion and cynicism in which the public have been the chief losers. In a democracy, the exchange of information between journalists and politicians is both necessary and inevitable but the increasingly close ties between leading politicians and journalists in Britain have been to the detriment of the public interest. The public sphere has been poisoned by a ‘daily drip-feed of falsehood and distortion’, as Nick Davies so aptly puts it.


If we believe that an informed population is essential to democracy, then public trust in our press is crucial. If the electorate’s perception of both the press and politics is predominantly of worlds inhabited by the devious, ill-informed, corrupt or incompetent, they are unlikely to believe political news reporting and far less likely to engage in any meaningful political activity. Declining electoral participation rates, falling party memberships and unprecedently low levels of public trust in both politicians and journalists do not suggest a thriving political public sphere. Although our newspapers are only one factor, they have contributed to the decline.


But perhaps the biggest danger to our public institutions is not the aura of sleaze that the last few years have fostered. The appearance of incompetence is potentially far more damaging. For example, Bill Clinton’s competence turned out to be more important to the American public than his somewhat sleazy personal life.


We appear to have an incompetent political class, exemplified by the inappropriate appointments and friendships of David Cameron and his knee-jerk response to the trial; an incompetent police force whose failure to investigate the original allegations of press (and police) corruption contributed to an even bigger scandal; and an incompetent press where the owners, executives and editors of some of our major newspapers seemed unable to comprehend the corruption within their own empires.





I’ll always be grateful to the GP who eased Mum’s pain – even if it hastened her death

By Nick Maes

Nick Maes's mum Wil lived with a diagnosis of dementia for three yearsNick Maes’s mum Wil lived with a diagnosis of dementia for three years

Earlier this month, Dr William Lloyd Bassett, a Shropshire GP, was hauled in front of a disciplinary panel at the General Medical Council.

It was alleged that he’d deliberately hastened the death of a terminally-ill man by giving him a huge dose of morphine.

The case made headlines across the country, and prompted debate about the fine and treacherous line between aiding a patient in distress and hastening death.

But for me, this case was especially shocking. For I had witnessed Dr Bassett in action: he gave my mother morphine as she was about to die.

The recent General Medical Council hearing centred on an incident in May 2009 when Dr Bassett went to the home of a man dying from lung cancer and treated him with a high dose of diamorphine.

This led to him being questioned over his fitness to practise; a serious charge that could have ended his career.

Crucially, though, the family of the man who died would have nothing to do with the charges against him, and supported Dr Bassett 100 per cent in his actions.

The patient had become deeply distressed in his final hours. Although Dr Bassett accepted that the 100mg dose of morphine was too high and a mistake, it led, in all likelihood, to a more peaceful death

Last week, the hearing decided that Dr Bassett should continue to practise, but issued a warning of serious misconduct against his name.

Such cases mean many GPs are now nervous about administering pain relief to people in the final hours of life, in case they find themselves in a situation similar to Dr Bassett’s.

Dr Clare Gerada, chair of the Royal College of GPs, agrees that doctors are frightened to administer powerful opiate drugs.

‘It’s very difficult for doctors to offer palliative care because of the threat of manslaughter charges should the patient die soon afterwards. When one hears of a patient dying after a dose of morphine, there’s a sense of relief that you’re not the one who has administered it.’

Dr William Bassett gave Wil morphine as she was about to dieDr William Bassett gave Wil morphine as she was about to die

But after witnessing Dr Bassett at work in a similar situation as he attended my dying mother three years ago, I can only thank him for his caring, professional intervention.

At 83, my mother Wil — the name she was known by to all her family and friends — had been living with a diagnosis of dementia for three years.

Yet she managed to remain at home because of the stalwart support of her family, and carers who came in a couple of times each day.

Mum was determined to stay put. That was her resilient, forthright character — some would call it bloody mindedness, but it made her who she was.

When a social worker pushed for her to enter a home, the idea was swiftly rejected — by Mum and by us as a family. She’d cling to her staunch independence, a trait compounded by losing her husband Arthur nearly 40 years earlier.

But Wil’s general health was suddenly complicated as her vital organs began to fail: heart failure, water retention, high blood pressure and immobility intensified the problems.

Our family GP had no sure way of telling how long she might live, although it was suggested she might survive for another two weeks.

Mum’s condition rapidly deteriorated. Within 24 hours, she looked intensely frail and was hallucinating.

But that evening she seemed to rally. She sat up in bed and enjoyed an impromptu party, drinking brandy, laughing and chatting with all those closest to her.

Mum loved a good party and I think secretly enjoyed being the centre of this particular one. Our spirits were raised, even though we sensed, deep down, this would be the final stage of her illness.

At midnight, as my three sisters and I prepared Mum for bed, she had a seizure. Her eyes rolled into the back of her head, her body became a dead-weight and any colour that might have been there drained from her complexion. It was as if she’d imploded.

We eased Mum back into bed, tacitly understanding the end was close. Yet none of us really quite knew what to do. We’re not a foolish or mawkish family by nature, yet confronted by our mother’s inexorable slide towards death we found ourselves helpless.

It was eventually decided to call Shropdoc, the local out-of-hours doctor’s service. Dr Bassett isn’t our family doctor; it was sheer luck that he happened to be on call that night. His response was quick, and after examining Mum he suggested sending for an ambulance.

Nick Maes, aged four, with his mum WilNick Maes, aged four, with his mum Wil

We didn’t want Wil to go to hospital; there was no logical reason to send her. Dr Bassett respected our wishes and left, urging us to call again if there were any change.

We took it in turns to sit with Mum. But as the night drew on, Wil became restless, pointing into space, trying to shift her tiny frame off the bed. Mum’s agitation and distress became more marked and then she was sick.

At 4am we called Shropdoc again and Dr Bassett returned. It was obvious that neither I nor my sisters knew what we were doing. Dr Bassett’s presence was a huge reassurance to us, and more importantly to Mum, towards whom he was compassionate. He was with us for an hour all told and his manner was exemplary.

He spoke with Mum as she drifted in and out of semi-consciousness, asking her how he could help. Eventually he suggested that she might like morphine as a drip and as an oral dosage to ease her pain and relax her. (Wil hadn’t had any other medication until that point.)

Mum was unequivocal and nodded agreement. Wil was a woman who’d always said she wasn’t afraid of death, and now her old resilience flashed back. I felt an innate sense of relief, as did my sisters, that a decision had been made and a course of action taken.

Dr Bassett didn’t shy away from explaining what would happen, not to Mum nor to us, her children. The morphine would calm her and relax her; as the drug worked she’d probably slip away with less fight, drifting inescapably into a deep sleep.

He attached a line to Wil’s leg and placed the morphine drip-feed device on the dressing table — an incongruous addition to the knick-knackery of mirrors, perfume and jewellery usually found there.

Ensuring Mum was comfortable, Dr Bassett slipped quietly out of the house, leaving us to sit and gently talk with her.

The morphine quickly took effect, and she drifted off into a calm and deep sleep. We sat around her bed, holding her hands, stroking her hair, reminiscing about the marvellous times we’d had together and telling her how much we loved her.

Just after 9am the next day — a little over five hours later — Mum stopped breathing; she’d died with dignity and in peace.

The nature of her death was due to Dr Bassett’s seemly and humane intervention.

Her suffering had been minimal and she’d had the great good fortune to die in her own bed surrounded by all of her children.

Because of this experience, I’m under no illusion that assistance for those in the final stages of dying should, if requested, be given by doctors without fear of reprisal.

I’m not advocating wholesale euthanasia, or ending life along the lines practised at centres such as Dignitas in Switzerland. But when life is undeniably ebbing away, it is surely our responsibility, as a kind and caring society, to alleviate unnecessary suffering.

Doctors are rightly governed by a strict code of conduct. Key to the principles of medical ethics is that the doctor acts in the best interest of the patient. This would include giving pain relief to ease the suffering of the dying patient.

But this action can conflict with another key principle: do no harm. Even small doses of morphine suppress breathing, and there is a point where adequate doses may, inevitably, stop the breathing.

Dr Clare Gerada explains: ‘There’s no guidance regarding the amounts of diamorphine to be used on patients. This is because some cancers require hundreds of milligrams and others maybe just 10 or 20. It makes it very difficult for doctors because it’s difficult to predict.

‘Morphine is a very good drug, not because it kills people, but because it calms people down; and in the case of lung cancer makes it easier to breathe.’

Yet I would argue that if someone was on the verge of death, then what difference would alleviating the pain and hastening the inevitable make?

It’s a pragmatic approach, due in no small way to the practical influence of my mother.

‘We all have to go at some time,’ my mother would say. ‘No exceptions. There’s nothing to be scared of.’

Of course, the real fear is of dying in anguish. But the use of morphine to ease this fear still conjures up — almost unavoidably — awful memories of Dr Harold Shipman.

However, we shouldn’t make these nervous connections and demonise the drug. It’s vital that we have open and honest dialogues with GPs, patients and families in order to make informed decisions.

Until recently, it was common knowledge that the family GP, when tending the dying at home, might help shorten the suffering with morphine.

Maybe this was more an implicit arrangement — an unofficial, yet profoundly caring intervention that was acknowledged but not openly talked about.

Perhaps in previous generations there was a greater level of interaction between doctor and patient than we have today.

Each year, approximately half a million people die in Britain. A recent report from the think-tank Demos shows two-thirds of us would like to die in the peaceful and familiar surroundings of our own homes.

This is an infinitely preferable option to the noisy and frightening environments found in over-stretched and busy hospitals.

Yet, in reality, barely 18 per cent actually manage to achieve this last wish — which equates to more than 190,000 dying in hospital each year when they would rather die at home.

The Dying for Change report suggests that by 2030, just one in ten will have the opportunity to die at home.

Charles Leadbeater, the report’s co-author, said: ‘It’s not just that we’re living longer; part of this means that people are dying over a longer period, losing first their memory and then their physical capacities in stages.

‘If we put in the right kind of supports for people to cope at home, many tens of thousands of people could have a chance of achieving what they want at the end of life; to be close to their family and friends, to find a sense of meaning in death.’

From sitting in those final moments with my mother, I know nothing is as intimate or as personal as being with someone as they die. It is a great and intensely private honour.

And when my time comes, I can only fervently hope that someone as caring and as compassionate as Dr Bassett will be at my bedside.

Labour needs to take a look in the mirror on civil liberties

This morning, Nick Clegg made a speech on civil liberties, the sound of the left gloating as the deputy prime minister stumbled over control orders drowning out his critique of Labour’s authoritarian instinct; Mike Harris, a contributor to Big Brother Watch’s ‘The state of civil liberties in modern Britain’, reports

The gloating is an instinct I remember well when I worked for a Labour MP as our government attempted to bring in 90 days’ detention. Even my meagre bag-carrying at the time made me feel complicit in something immoral. Labour friends would shrug their shoulders in bars as we discussed where it all went wrong: the party who had Roy Jenkins as home secretary also managed to accommodate former Stalinist John Reid.

Ed-MilibandBut Labour was possessed by a group-think that imagined the civil liberties agenda was a minority pursuit by a radical Hampstead fringe; that to be in favour of protecting liberties against baser gut instincts was, in itself, a sign of moral weakness: of political frailty.

The reference to John Reid’s Stalinism is deliberate. Many of our friends in the Labour movement’s politics arose not from Methodism but Marxism. Their vision for government was not as a regulator or provider of goods, but as a totality, the State as the rational omnigod. As Francesa Klug said at last year’s Compass conference this

“… intellectual tradition never really saw the problem with the state – provided it was in the right, or rather left, hands.”

It was Ed Miliband’s dad, Ralph, who warned socialists of the danger that the state had it in the potential to be an oppressive force in ‘The State in Capitalist Society’. Whilst Labour did much in government to make Britain more tolerant, we also made painful mistakes.

Clegg opened his speech with a powerful salvo, which is worth reading:

“Ed Balls has admitted that, when it comes to civil liberties, Labour got the balance wrong. Ed Miliband has conceded that his government seemed too casual about people’s freedom.

“But there was nothing casual about introducing ID cards. Nothing casual about building the biggest DNA database in the world, and storing the DNA of over one million innocent people.

“Nothing casual about their failed attempts to increase the time a person can be detained without charge from what was then 14 days up to 90; something Labour’s new leader voted for.

“They turned Britain into a place where schools can fingerprint your children without their parents’ consent… Where, in one year, we saw over 100,000 terror-related stop-and-searches, none of which yielded a single terror arrest.

They made Britain a place where you could be put under virtual house arrest when there was not enough evidence to charge you with a crime. And with barely an explanation of the allegations against you. A place where young, innocent children caught up in the immigration system were placed behind bars. A Britain whose international reputation has been brought into question because of our alleged complicity in torture.”

In the last year of a Labour government, 1,000 children of asylum seekers were imprisoned. Yet, as a party there is no mea culpa. Many of the myriad special advisers and ministers who advocated ever more authoritarian powers are still in place. I still hear, “they aren’t talking about it in the Dog & Duck”, as a catch-all phrase that is fairly sinister.

People don’t focus on their human rights until they are taken away. The majority of Belarusians are currently getting on with their lives in Europe’s last dictatorship. It’s the 28 in solidarity confinement in a KGB prison in downtown Minsk for whom human rights are important.

There’s no doubt that Nick Clegg’s attempt to demonise Labour today was political posturing. He ignored Labour’s introduction of the Human Rights Act; that Labour were in office after the talismanic episode of 9/11; that civil liberties are dependent in a democracy on public support (which often wasn’t there). But rather than receiving Nick Clegg’s speech with jeers, Ed Miliband needs to reappraise the party Labour ought to be.

As I wrote before for Left Foot Forward, Labour is toxic to many of the people it ought to be a natural bedfellow of. Many Muslims in places like Oldham East and Saddleworth voted Liberal Democrat not just because of Iraq, but because they felt victimised. Many of the much-derided ‘Hampstead liberals’ are some of the five million votes Labour lost between 1997-2010.

Newspapers that ought to be on our side turned against us. It’s no coincidence that it was a liberal party, the Liberal Democrats, who opposed our authoritarian streak who made the largest electoral gains in 2005 and 2010. And it’s a surprise that we didn’t take this lesson on board. For Labour to win the election in 2015, we need to take a look in the mirror.