Voting at 16. This has been debated for the last decade, especially since Scotland allowed 16 to 17-year-olds to have their say on the Scottish Independence Referendum. And young Scots certainly didn’t ‘muck it up’, much to the relief of David Cameron’s government. So, if the Scots proved their maturity by weighing up arguments for themselves, then why are we English kids not trusted? Is it because we would mess up democracy by voting for the Monster Raving Looney Party?
I remember getting very angry about this when I attended an event for Parliament Week in 2014 about polling predictions for the 2015 general election. The speaker got to the topic of voter behaviour so I asked whether he thinks the voting age should be lowered. His response was simply NO! When I asked him why, he said he felt that that results would turn upside down causing British democracy to turn into a mess. I literally wanted to slam the table and call him a few names …
But a lot of MPs do want there to be a change and the majority of these are from the Labour Party, which may not actually be a great surprise. Jim McMahon who is a Labour MP is very passionate about empowering 16 to 17-year-olds to become politically aware, so that they are treated as true members of British society. Another MP promoting the cause is Shadow Minister for Voter Engagement and Youth Affairs, Cat Smith. Smith feels that this Tory government does not really have much meat to their argument for not lowering the voting age. She also finds it silly that the Scottish government made the change but the rest of the UK hasn’t.
Of course, Corbyn himself is a big believer in empowering young people. He Tweeted the day before the Private Members Bill on Friday the 3rd of November that he is also a campaigner for the change — something that aptly fits with his ‘For the Many, Not the Few’ slogan.
Following the 2015 debate at the House of Lords about whether to make the change, the result was 303 to 253 in favour of rejecting an amendment to the European Union Referendum Bill that would lower the voting age from 18 to 16 for the referendum.
BUT, will Tories oppose again?
The Private Members Bill debate: November 3
Last Friday I attended the Private Members Bill debate on voting at 16. As I sat in the public gallery with many other young people, I wondered why government seats were empty. It seemed like ‘pantomime politics’ as usual as so-called ‘honourable ladies and gentleman’ called each other out with the customary finger pointing. It was literally like being at the Apollo and watching a play about the Houses of Parliament.
Tories vs. Bill change
Inclusion was a key theme running through Labour’s argument. They stated how young people already felt alienated from the Tories and deserve something back after seven years of austerity. They also pointed out that Scotland already gave this opportunity, so why can’t we?
One Tory MP stood out for me as to why he opposes the change. He began his argument with a long list of statistics, dating back to the early 2000s, which included a 2003 bill that was considered by all EU member states. It was agreed then that the age should stay the same at 18 (apart from Austria). He then skilfully proceeded to explain how the usual argument for change was flawed.
Even though 16 and 17-year-olds are allowed to do a range of things that would seems to make them mature enough to vote, they still need parental approval in certain key areas such as marriage.
Victoria Atkins (Tory MP) supported this by talking about civic rights. She discussed how those under 18 do not need to pay tax, that they have to defend themselves in a youth court, and that they are not allowed to sit in the care of an adult that smokes E-ciggs. Strangely enough, she also felt that voting should not be treated as political football. (I really do not think any party is actually treating it this way.)
Political education was another key theme. Caroline Lucas and Labour and SNP MPs all said how young people need to have basic knowledge in politics so they can become mature enough to vote. Citizenship lessons here and there are simply not enough. Teaching young people what each party stands for and who their local MP is can get them engaged.
However, I do think that having the voting age lowered will help significantly. Why would a 16-year-old even care about a general election unless they can partake in it? I sincerely feel that 16 is the age when the mind is nearly fully matured, making the person a ‘young adult’.
Luckily, we have ‘Bite the Ballot’ and Shout Out UK’s own political literacy course to help young people under the voting age get to grips with politics. So, when we do get the vote one day, we will have politically literate young people that know what it means to tick a box.
Bad for health?
A strange argument. One that says early voting will make young people ill the way smoking can (!). The fact is though, the Tories are scared of giving 16-year-olds the vote. The Tories want to keep the status quo. They want to keep 16 and 17-year-olds locked in a small private box, to be let out only when needed, when it suits their purpose — as when they need to change the curriculum and force them to deal with the stress.
Unfortunately, the bill was not passed. The debate lasted for one hour and twenty minutes but the speaker did not allow enough time for MPs to actually vote on the change. But the bill will be looked at again in December so we can only hope that a good outcome will follow.
Comment from student at London Metropolitan University:
‘It was interesting; a lot of waffling and unstructured facts. Voting will not affect out health. We are the future generation so we should vote’.