Harrow County School for Boys

The 1966 School Mock Election and other stories

by Edward Kerr

With a General Election threatened in the UK, perhaps I can turn the clock back and tell the story of another election - the General Election of 1966.

The Labour Party of Harold Wilson was in power nationally, having (just) won the General Election of 1964. As their overall majority had fallen to a mere three seats, they decided to go to the country in 1966 for a new mandate. The FOUR Harrow seats - Harrow Central, Harrow East, Harrow West and, of course, Harrow County were up for grabs. Harrow West was strongly Conservative, Harrow Central and East were also Conservative, but much less strongly so and everyone assumed that the Liberals (yes, just "Liberals" - they became democrats much later !!) would win the Harrow County constituency. Mr Whiteway was the Returning Officer for the Harrow County constituency although, in reality, he shared the role with Reg Goff.

In addition to the obvious parties (Conservative, Labour and Liberal), half a dozen other candidates were nominated. These included the Nationalist Alliance Party (the candidate was Peter Griffiths, who is Welsh, whilst I was the Election Agent and I am Scottish - this was the early days of the success of Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party). The National Youth Movement (the candidate was Ian Abbott) also stood, as did a party promoted by a number of second formers.

The Nationalist Alliance Party strategy was simple. The election was being fought on the Single Transferable Vote system and we assumed that the Liberals would come first, followed by the Conservatives and, then, Labour. ALL WE NEEDED TO DO WAS CHEAT. Of course, we needed to cheat BIG TIME !!.

We needed enough votes to avoid coming bottom of the poll and then encourage everyone else to give us their second votes. That way, we would rise to the top of the "minor" parties and overtake the Labour candidate. Labour second preferences would enable us to overtake the Conservative candidate (Martin Goodall, as I recall) and, then, Conservative second preferences would enable us to overtake the Liberal candidate (was that Geoff Haines-Styles, or is my memory playing tricks ?). The Nationalist Alliance Party would then have a seat in Parliament !!

The campaign was fun. I remember two particular aspects.

The first was being called in by Reg Goff to explain why I had been seen removing other parties’ election posters from the school walls. I explained that I was trying to prevent other candidates committing a criminal offence. Under the Representation of the Peoples Act, 1948 (I explained) all election material must bear the name and address of the Election Agent - all of mine had "Agent E. Kerr - Form Room C2" in the bottom right-hand corner), whilst no-one else’s complied with the law. Judging by Reg’s lack of further argument, I think that I won that discussion. Anyway, no-one else could remove my posters because they were all posted on ceilings - well out of reach.

The second was the breaking up (oh, I am sorry, I mean democratic heckling), of a joint meeting that the Conservative, Labour and Liberal candidates chose to hold in the New Hall. We decided, along with the National Youth Movement, that such meetings should include all candidates and not just the Conservative, Labour and Liberal ones. The National Youth Movement and we decided that the meeting would not last very long. It didn’t !!

Then came polling day. The Polling Station was the Old Hall and the first form were disqualified from voting because they were deemed not to have been resident in the Constituency on the previous voter registration day. Five minutes after the vote started, it stopped. I had walked into the Old Hall to see the largest Labour poster that I had ever seen adorning the end wall. I complained that this was unfair and the poll was stopped until the offending poster had been removed.

My form, Lower Sixth Modern, was running the election, although I was debarred from helping because I was an Election Agent. However, as my form mates were running the election, it was possible for me to sit on a desk behind them and have a pleasant chat. After a while, they noticed that I was "accidentally" sitting on a pile of ballot papers and, of course, I was terribly apologetic and moved immediately. What no-one had noticed was that I had already stolen about 30 ballot papers - these now being in sundry jacket and trouser pockets.

At that time, I was part of the team that was running both the Stationary Stores and the School Tuck Shop and the stollen ballot papers were immediately removed to the Stationary Stores, where they joined others that had been stolen by other members of the team. They were quickly filled in using a mixture of different pens and handwriting. They were then surreptitiously fed into the ballot boxes.

At about 2.30 p.m., the Polling Station ran out of ballot papers, even though some boys were still queuing to vote. This was a little surprising as about 50 extra papers had been printed and, in addition, some boys were absent on field trips and other "jollies". There should have been plenty of ballot papers. Apparently, Mr Whiteway had spent the previous evening making sure that there were sufficient, before stamping the back of each with a homemade stamp (a potato cut in half with a carved pattern, used with an ink pad). The election was declared null and void.

Reg Goff called a meeting of Candidates and Agents to say how terrible it was that, after all our efforts, this had happened. Apparently, three second formers had been caught voting twice and had been severely caned. Quite right too - SECOND FORMERS CHEATING !! - they should have left the cheating to those who could do it properly. It seemed that there was a discrepancy of about 80 ballot papers. Everyone looked very serious. We knew where about 45 of the missing papers had gone, but didn’t know what had happened to the rest. We smiled sweetly at the National Youth Movement and they smiled sweetly back - so we assumed that we had managed to account for the other missing ballot papers.

The election was re-run a few days later during form periods. This made cheating (sorry, interpreting the real views of the electorate !!) impossible and, so, the Nationalist Alliance Party, sadly, did not win a seat at the 1966 General Election. Oh well, I quite fancied being a Cabinet Minister.

Any jobs going during the 2001 General Election - been there, done that !!


PS …..

At the Greater London Council elections in 1968, the Election Court ordered the votes for the three Harrow seats to be recounted because of a discrepancy between the number of people recorded as voting and the total votes counted. The recount did not affect the result and I was NOT responsible ….. honest !!!

PPS …..

At the Harrow Council elections in May 1974, I stood as a Conservative candidate for the Roxbourne Ward, along with Ron King (another Old Gaytonian) and Joan Kirk. We were all elected, gaining the three seats from Labour. I was elected with a majority of 161 votes over a Liberal - YES, I really was elected - fairly !! - yes, honest !!!

David Amos, two years younger than me (and a former Head Boy of HCS), was elected as a Conservative Councillor for Roxeth Ward at the same election. As such, we both played our part in the final (July 1974) Harrow Council debate on the future of secondary education in the Borough. The 1974 "Gaytonian" claims that I spoke "eloquently" (thanks, Jago). Unfortunately, after a long debate, my side lost the vote, HCS was reorganised and the rest is history.

David voted for reorganisation and, later, rose to become Chairman of Harrow Education Committee. He is probably the only "criminal" to serve in this role, having (in student days) been fined ten shillings by the Llandudno magistrates for playing football on the pier in contravention of the bylaws.

As a Councillor, I made one last contribution - being on the post-HCS appointments panel for both George Cowan and Maurice Venn (George was my final Deputy Head Master and Maurice was my form master in the Lower Sixth form). Funny old world, isn’t it !!

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