Should the voting age be lowered to 16?
- Credit: Archant
In 2001, there was something as a 15-year-old that I was really keen to do but wasn’t yet allowed to by law.
No, I wasn’t particularly champing at the bit to get my driving licence, nor was I ready to make a bid for freedom and leave home.
And as many people who know me will realise, I certainly wasn’t looking to have an alcoholic drink.
No, as the freedom to get married, apply for a home and get a full-time job beckoned, the thing I really wanted to do was…vote in that year’s general election.
With so many temptations on the horizon, it might seem to some a slightly peculiar thing to preoccupy a young mind.
The 2001 election hardly went down in history as a legendary campaign - even with the deputy prime minister, John Prescott, hitting a voter on camera.
Indeed, even amongst those who actually were allowed to vote, the turnout was a record low. Less than six out 10 Britons eligible to do went to the polls.
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Yet as someone who has always been interested in politics, I was fascinated by the issues being discussed and the impact the choices made could have on our country.
Of course, even if the voting age was 16 rather than 18, in 2001 I still would’ve been too young to take part. Yet, I felt a compulsion to get involved and have my say.
Interestingly, when asked during the 2001 election whether Britons should be given an in-out referendum on Europe, Conservative leader William Hague said he did not think it would ever be in Britain’s interest to leave the EU. So I guess that was settled, then…
Fast forward 20 years and while the debate on Europe has totally transformed, enfranchising 16-year-olds with the vote is perhaps the only thing that has taken longer than agreeing a new trade deal.
Now aged 35, one might argue I’m no longer in the group of people whose views on lower the voting age matter most.
Yet in 2041, will the 16-year-olds of today still be having to make the arguments they did in their teens, long after they ceased to be the beneficiaries?
The arguments against lowering the voting age to 16 are much the same as the ones made the last time the voting age was lowered in 1969, from 21 to 18 (although Scotland allowed 16-year-olds to participate in the 2014 independence referendum).
Back then, it was said, 18-year-olds did not know enough about life and were not mature enough to handle the responsibility of voting.
That didn’t turn out to be true then, and in my view it’s enormously patronising to young people now - many of whom have already experienced the hardships and realities of life.
A lot of 16-year-olds are in fact probably more capable of making informed decisions about who to vote for, given they are coming out of schools where political issues are discussed and debated in schools.
And if maturity is the yardstick that we are using to judge whether people should have the vote, there are quite a few angry, middle-aged Twitter trolls who might not qualify.
It is often said that many 16-year-olds are apathetic about politics and wouldn’t be interested if they were given the vote. Personally, I don’t buy this either.
I believe many young people are very engaged and interested in the issues that affect their lives. It’s just that they might not express it through traditional party politics.
When they are perfectly able, yet denied a chance to participate in parliamentary democracy and have the ultimate say on the issues that affect them, who can blame them?
You might say that it’s only a two-year wait until these new voters turn 18, which is true.
However, with general elections taking place every five years and most local elections no longer held in thirds, some people could be 22 before they actually get the chance to vote.
That, in my view, really is too long to wait.
Some people think votes at 16 would benefit the likes of Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Nationalist Party rather than the Conservatives.
Personally, I’m not so sure.
Just look at 1970 - the first election after the lowering of the voting age to 18 was unexpectedly won by the Conservatives. Many ousted Labour MPs at the time said it was teenagers voting blue that lost them their seats.
Regardless of who benefits, we should do what is right for young people. To me, it seems odd that at 16 you are legally allowed to create a life and have your own home, yet cannot vote.
When you might have someone who is working, paying taxes and contributing to our society, that inconsistency seems even more unfair - particularly when young people have more of a stake in our future than anyone.
If we don’t want our young people to start off in life politically frustrated, let’s give them the chance to vote at 16 - and shape our country’s future.
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