VOTES AT 16: IT’S TIME FOR TORIES TO CHANGE THEIR MINDS

by James Anthony

In January 2018, it was announced that sixteen and seventeen year-olds in Wales will be given the right to vote in their local elections, under proposals set out by the Welsh Labour government. Along with Scotland, where votes at sixteen is already reality, Welsh policy will now be at odds with England and Northern Ireland where the voting age for any sort of election is eighteen. The idea that someone who is exactly the same age and has just as many years in education as another can be denied the right to vote based on location is extremely unfair. Perhaps it’s time the Conservative government reconsider their position on the voting age.

If the national government are seemingly ok with this being a regional disparity, why not allow it to take place in areas where there is clearly a desire for it? Just under two years ago, Norwich City Council voted unanimously for a proposal which asked for Norwich to be used as a possible ‘pilot area’ for allowing 16 and 17 year-olds to participate in local government elections. Disappointingly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, I couldn’t find any official response to this request from the government although if it exists, I suspect it would be in essence – ‘piss off’.

I couldn’t find any official response to this request from the government although if it exists, I suspect it would be in essence – ‘piss off’.

The motion does illustrate however, that support for this is not to be found exclusively amongst young people themselves, but lots of senior elected representatives too. It appears to be only the Conservatives (and by extension the DUP) in Westminster that reject the idea. That, I will argue, is a move which will be to their own disadvantage.

Although I ultimately come down on the side of being pro-votes-at-sixteen, I am more than understanding of some of the criticisms that have been levelled at the idea over the past couple of weeks. Having been a sixteen-year-old myself and remembering full well what that was like, it’s no surprise that people are questioning the ability to reason and decision make at that age. While I won’t be going into any examples of my poor decision making aged sixteen, it’s safe to say I have plenty of examples and countless other anecdotes from my peers.

(McGill students film their vote mob video via discoursemedia.org)

Voting however, is not a rational, calculated decision for so many older people who are allowed to vote. Here in Britain especially, we act as though voting is seen as a great choice for the individual. We  conveniently choose to ignore that so many people vote based on impulse, feeling, peer pressure and party loyalty as opposed to sensibly weighing up the policies of each candidate or party before placing your cross in the box on polling day.

I often see critics claim that sixteen year olds shouldn’t be voting because they don’t have any interest in politics – and to be perfectly honest, as a generalisation, I think they are right. But what they fail to realise is that young people are willing to learn about politics and government when they need to, just as myself and many others did when it came to the 2015 General Election along with the realisation that we would finally be eligible to vote. With everyone still in full time education at age sixteen, it’s also far easier to get people interested in politics and stress the importance of taking part in a democracy when still in an educational institution. With the ability to vote, politicians would take far more notice of younger teenagers, and in turn there would exist far more policy debate surrounding young people, ideally increasing turnout across the whole age group.

With the ability to vote, politicians would take far more notice of younger teenagers

The cynics amongst us all will understandably see why the Tories are reluctant to support the movement – they’re worried it will create more young voters, and therefore more Labour voters. I however, don’t totally buy into this argument. Votes at sixteen is supported by a number of other people who are able to vote currently and making it party policy at the next election would certainly be a signal to current younger voters that the Conservatives are treating young people like adults and preparing for the future. Personally, it wouldn’t be enough to switch my vote, but it might make some difference. Then there’s the obvious bonus for the Conservative Party which, if handled properly, would see them hailed as the party that enfranchised sixteen and seventeen year-olds – and that’s got to be worth some votes from the new intake.

As Conservative MP Mark Field admitted the other day “the move of history will be against us on this”. In my mind, it’s far fairer for us all that the Tories equalise the voting age now and lower it to include all sixteen and seventeen-year-olds. With even Tory ministers admitting it is inevitable we will see a change at some point, it makes sense from their point of view to be the party to make that change. I won’t be making any predictions on this topic and I can’t pinpoint when the change will eventually come, but I can tell you that unless the Conservatives switch sides on this debate, there is one thing for certain that sixteen and seventeen year olds won’t be doing once they’re finally able to – and that’s voting Conservative.

Featured image: ShortList


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