Yesterday, in a rare showing of common sense in the, err, commons, Labour and Lib Dem MPs cosied up to vote in favour of a proposal to lower the voting age in all UK elections from 18 to 16.
After the deafening show of voter apathy that resulted in a hung parliament in the last general election, many who back the proposals see it as a chance to boost turnout at future elections.
But that’s not the only reason for the motion. For me, it’s time we stopped homogenizing the ‘yoof’ into a mass of hoodies, crime and vice. We need to realise the truth that this section of society deserve what is essentially a key right for citizens in a democratic society. Stop second guessing them and give them that chance.
That’s what Scotland did last October when Alex Salmond met David Cameron to sign the Edinburgh agreement, setting up a referendum on Scottish independence in 2014. 16 and 17 year olds will be allowed to on Scotland’s constitutional future as well, so why we are so prickly on the issue?
The perversities are vast – we ask them to work full-time, pay taxes and go to war. We allow them to leave school and get married. Yet when it comes to having a say on who runs the country they are ostracised from the process. How can we expect them to take an interest in politics and society when we withhold the very means to do so?
Bristol teenager Rory (17) is passionate about lowering the voting age: “People think we don’t care about politics and the way the country is run but that’s not true. We are affected by the outcome of elections and decisions that are made in parliament but we are not allowed to have our say.”
“I know a lot of my friends probably wouldn’t vote but also a lot of them would. It’s having the choice that matters most to me. I want to have the same choice as my parents do.”
Though the backbench motion was overwhelmingly backed (winning by a majority of 73) the result is not binding on the government and the Conservatives are firmly opposed to the move. They seem unable to grasp the reality that younger voters can offer different perspectives on a wide range of topics including youth and public services.
Perhaps the government is wary of the issues likely to be front and centre in the minds of young voters – spiraling youth unemployment rates, huge hikes in tuition fees, the lack of jobs and opportunities for school-leavers and graduates. Convenient then that they simply bat the ball back with resounding disinterest whenever there are calls for voter reform.
Whilst I think more needs to be done to encourage voter turnout right across the board, it’s time we lowered the voting age to sixteen and started treating these people as full, equal and valuable members of society.