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Monday, 23 May 2016, 6:00PM - 7:00PM
Museum of London

Learning from History? The 1975 Referendum on Europe

Professor Vernon Bogdanor FBA CBE


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Britain held her first national referendum in 1975 - on whether we should remain in the European Communities, forerunner of the European Union, which we had joined in 1973. The result was a two to one majority for staying in. Party attitudes were almost the opposite to what they are today. The Labour government favoured staying in, but the party in the Commons and in the country did not. The Conservatives were enthusiastically for staying in. The nationalists in Scotland and Wales favoured leaving.

The referendum was not held solely because the Labour government sincerely wished to discover the views of the British people, but to paper over the cracks of a divided party; nor did the two to one majority indicate widespread popular enthusiasm for Europe. Britain was at that time, economically, the sick man of Europe. One of Britain's European Commissioners, Sir Christopher Soames said that it was no time to leave a Christmas club, let alone the Common Market! In addition, there was considerable deference towards the pro-European political establishment - Harold Wilson, Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams and Edward Heath. Neither of these factors are present today.

Populist politicians such as Tony Benn and Enoch Powell tried to stimulate a grass-roots nationalist movement against Europe, such as had defeated the pro-Europeans in Norway in a referendum held in 1972. Such movement did not materialise. Could it do so today?

Are there any lessons to be learnt from the 1975 referendum?


No reservations are required for this lecture. It will be run on a ‘first come, first served’ basis.
Doors will open 30 minutes before the start of the lecture.
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Vernon Bogdanor CBE is Emeritus Gresham Professor of Law, current Visiting Gresham Professor of Political History, Research Professor at King's College London, a Fellow of the British Academy and an Honorary Fellow of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies. Prior to 2010, Professor Bogdanor was a Fellow of Brasenose College and Professor of Government at Oxford University.

He has been an adviser to a number of governments, including those of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Kosovo, Israel and Slovakia. His books include The People and the Party System, Multi-Party Politics and the Constitution, Power and the People, and Devolution in the United Kingdom. He is a frequent contributor to TV, radio and the press and is a sometimes special advisor to the House of Lords Select Committee on the European Communities (1982-83), and the House of Commons Public Service Committee. Most recently he was awarded the Sir Isaiah Berlin Prize for Lifetime Contribution to Political Studies by the Political Studies Association.

Professor Bogdanor's previous lecture series are as follows:

2017/18 British Political Parties

2016/17 The Monarchy

2014/15 Six General Elections

2013/14 Britain and Europe

2012/13 Making the Weather: Six Politicians Who Shaped Our Age

2010/12 Britain in the 20th Century

2007/09 From Roosevelt to Bush: The American Presidency: Transformation and Change

All of Professor Bogdanor's past Gresham lectures can be accessed here.

Current Visiting Professor of Political History

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23 May 2016

Learning from History? The 1975 Referendum on Europe
Professor Vernon Bogdanor FBA CBE

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