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EU Referendum: Looking back at Hackney’s role in the 1975 vote

PUBLISHED: 12:50 23 June 2016 | UPDATED: 11:15 24 June 2016

Sir Philip Allen, 62, the Chief Counting Officer for the referendum at Earls Court in London. Picture: PA

Sir Philip Allen, 62, the Chief Counting Officer for the referendum at Earls Court in London. Picture: PA

PA Archive/Press Association Images

Millions of people will make a “once in a generation” decision today when they vote in the EU Referendum – but for many it’s not the first time.

Referendum campaign copy from 1975 Referendum campaign copy from 1975

In 1975, two years after Britain joined the European Economic Community (EEC) as it was then known, Harold Wilson’s Labour government asked the public whether we should remain in it.

It was the first referendum the country had ever had. It’s fair to say the campaigning was not quite as dramatic or extreme as it has been this time round.

The question was worded a little differently from the “leave” or “remain” options today. Voters were asked: “Do you think the United Kingdom should stay in the European Community?”

National media overwhelmingly supported the “yes” vote, as did leader of the opposition Margaret Thatcher. Conversely, like the Tories this time, the Labour party was torn – both nationally and in Hackney.

Pro-Marketeers hail the result of the Greater London referendum count - another Pro-Marketeers hail the result of the Greater London referendum count - another "Yes" in the overwhelming national vote for continued membership of the EEC - at the Earl's Court counting centre. Picture: PA

MP for Hackney Central Stanley Clinton-Davis was firmly in the “no” camp. He said at the time: “I believe the whole concept of entry will result in our becoming an offshore island. There is always a movement from the periphery to the economic centre of activity and this is likely to happen to us.

“At a time when we are anxious about the role of Parliament, we would be giving away further assets of democracy to a wholly unelected commission in Brussels, over which we have very little control.”

South Hackney’s MP Ron Brown however, was for staying in Europe, calling on Britain to stand firm amid recession and unemployment.

He said: “We should devote ourselves to creating a strong, free and prosperous Europe, laying the foundations for a peaceful, prosperous Britain for our children and our grandchildren.”

Margaret Thatcher, sporting a sweater bearing the flags of European nations, in Parliament Square during her 'Yes to Europe' campaign. Margaret Thatcher, sporting a sweater bearing the flags of European nations, in Parliament Square during her 'Yes to Europe' campaign.

Two days before the referendum, the Gazette spoke to voters in the street, where opinions were again divided.

People worried about rising prices should the country remain in Europe, while others thought it helped increase national security and stability.

George Miller of the Kingsland Estate told the Gazette: “If we stay in, passports will be done away with and there’ll be a common currency. But the main thing is that if we stay in or out we’re not going to get cheap food – those days are over.”

Elsewhere, the Hackney Trade Council confidently predicted a “no” vote for the borough.

So what memories do the people who voted have of the referendum?

Hackney old boy Michael Carey says there was nothing like the media circus surrounding today’s vote.

“It’s got silly now,” he said. “Back then there wasn’t much going on at all. I don’t think it was discussed much and I don’t remember any canvassing for votes.

“There wasn’t much reaction afterwards, either. I voted ‘yes’ and although there’s lots of things wrong with the EU, I think we’re still better off in.”

The lack of reaction is evident in the lack of coverage given to the result by the Gazette.

In the first edition that went to press after the public had voted to stay in – “yes” won with two thirds of the vote – there was a single column on page 24 given to a Tory politician ranting about how it was a “squalid little political trick to which the country should never have been subjected.”

And with that, Britain’s place in Europe was secured. Well, for 41 years, at least.

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