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Was there a Moral Revolution in PostWar Britain?
A top-down approach which focuses on the legislation, moral concerns and public
events of the sixties typically associated with permissiveness and development of
MURDER (ABOLITION OF DEATH PENALTY) ACT 1965
The legislation did not reflect any sea change in public opinion, which remained firmly opposed to
abolition. In the 1930's public support for abolition had been as high as 40%, by 1965 that figure
was as low as 23%.
One contemporary reporter noted of this that the remaining `seventy percent... clearly didn't
find the 1960s, in one sense, swinging enough'.
It was actually instigated by Labour and Conservative MP's alike, on the belief (expressed by
Home Secretary Henry Brooke) that `the taking of life by the State' was `contrary to moral
principle'. MPs took the view that public opinion was not based on a careful evaluation of the
facts, which was the duty of Parliament.
However the reforms were introduced as a private member's bill and MP's voted in accordance
with individual conscience rather than party politics. `The moral reforms were marginal to the
central direction of the government' with Labours elections of 1964 and 1966
The Labour government keen not to be too closely associated with liberal reforms. Elected in
1964 & 1966 on platforms of technological modernization, and their manifesto failed to mention
moral reforms such as the death penalty.
Public support for abolition was further eroded after 1965 over controversial crimes; The
shooting of three policemen at Shepherds Bush 1966 and the Moors Murders 1966 bolstered
cries for retributive justice, particularly by Anti-Abolitionist newspaper The Daily Express
The Daily Express, avid supporters of the Death Penalty, claimed `there have been four murders
in six days. That for what the statistics are worth... is twice the average before abolition'and
Pamela Hansford Johnson's `On Iniquity' cited the lack of retributive justice to deter people.
Don't forget the populace weren't completely conservative; they acknowledged and celebrated
the notoriety of criminals that captured their imagination, most notably the Kray Twins and the
Great Train Robbers.
Rising secularism associated with the permissive sixties is extremely accurate. The decade saw
9.9 million Anglian Churchgoers above the age of 15 in 1961 drop to just 5.6 million by 1966.
Mary Whitehouse was a staunch campaigner against the rise of secularism, who raised concerns
over the younger generation `being won over to a sub-Christian concept of living'.
Traditional Christianity lost much of its cultural influence in favour of modern commodities such
as fashion, pop music and television.
MARRIAGES AND DIVORCE
Historian Callum Brown argues that the liberal Divorce Reform Act 1969 advanced more
personal moral latitude towards marriage and partnership
Despite assertions from contemporaries like Mary Whitehouse, there is no clear indication that
society lost the Christian values of marriage and partnership.
Marriage rates experienced a steady increase throughout the decade, with 346,678 marriages
conducted in 1961 to 396, 746 by 1962, and reaching an all time high in 1972, a few years
subsequent to the reform act of 1969.
Moreover, less than one in 100 adults under the age of 50 cohabited with a partner, without
being married, in the early 1960's.
It wasn't until the seventies that cohabitation became more common, with a substantial quarter
of males and a third of women living with their partner before marriage between 1970 to 1974
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LONE PARENT HOUSEHOLDS
The BBC Television Play `Cathy Come Home' 1966, cited as the UK's most influential TV program
of all time, was watched by twelve million viewers on its first broadcast and raised high profile
attention over the plight of disintegrating families due to impoverishment.
Yet whilst the percentage of lone parent households increased between 1961 and 1976, it was
only two per cent to four per cent.
THE STUDENT PROTESTS OF 1968
Largely exaggerated for its representation of the younger generation.…read more
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It failed to stop arrests, with 30,000 gay and bisexual men convicted between 1967 and 2003
for behaviour that would have been legitimate if their partner had been female.
ABORTION ACT 1967 & THE AVAILABILITY OF THE CONTRACEPTIVE PILL
The Abortion Act 1967 did not allow absolute free access to abortion, but insisted upon
medical permission and imposed time limits on the terminations of pregnancy.…read more
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The stronghold of Christianity had weakened dramatically, but conservative attitudes and
morals were stronger than ever in regards to retributive justice and marriage.
The students that `revolted' were few and far between, and only affected the demographic of
their concerning universities.
A clear moral revolution in the discussion and commercialism of sex; sexuality was dramatically
liberalized in the public sphere.…read more