Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Is sixteen old enough to vote? My Coalville Times column

If political pundits are to be believed how old you are really matters when it comes to how you vote.

Psephologists, those academics who study elections, will tell you that if you are retired you were far more likely than not to have voted for BREXIT; so much so that this time last year you would have heard liberals aplenty telling pensioners they had cost the youth their futures without ever seemingly getting that their arguments were anything but democratic.

One of the reasons that Theresa May called last month’s General Election was that polls reassured her of a massive Tory lead amongst the retired; the age group invariably most likely to vote. It’s also true that one of the reasons for the Conservatives comparatively poor performance was the alienation of older people through the proposed withdrawal of the pensions triple lock and the possibility of ‘the dementia task’ and Jeremy Corbyn’s enthusing of young voters; a group who normally can’t be relied to bother to turn out on polling day but who, when they do, will typically vote for more left wing causes.

Perhaps most notably during the Scottish independence referendum in 2014, for the first time ever in Britain, the voting age for those entitled to take part was lowered to just 16. In that referendum 80% of young voters were engaged enough to register to vote, far higher than the turnout at national general elections, and perhaps being an age group far more enthused with the prospect of change polls showed that 71% of them voted for Independence.

Simply put in the Independence Referendum if there had been a few less older people and a few more younger ones Scotland and England would now be separate countries.

I write all of this because there are currently moves afoot to reduce the voting age for elections across the United Kingdom.

Last month Green Party MP Caroline Lucas tabled an early day motion which calls on Government ‘to give 16 and 17 year olds a say in their long term future by legislating to reduce the voting age to 16 for all national and local elections and referendums at the earliest possible opportunity.’

And here’s the key point: her motion is gaining momentum. So far 78 of Lucas’ parliamentary colleagues have signed up to support her suggestion.

Whilst most of the motion’s co signatories are Labour MPs it is fair to say that she has generated support across parliament. Members of parliament from every major party, seemingly with the exception of the Democratic Unionists, have joined the call to lower the voting age.

The arguments in favour of reducing the voting age are strong. 16 year olds can marry, join the army, pay tax (although as I point out to my children you are a taxpayer as soon as you are old enough to pay the VAT on chocolate) and do many of the other responsible things adults can. Plus, of course, it would be far easier to link the practical importance of democracy into citizenship lessons at school.
The counter arguments are persuasive too. We don’t allow 16 year olds to drink, smoke, gamble or drive (OK, the age limit for driving is 17). There is also the important consideration that many 16 years are simply not mature enough to be trusted with such an important decision; but then again are than 18 year olds worldly wise enough to be trusted either?

It is said, I don’t know how true it is, that if you can get younger people to actually, you know, vote that you would never see a Conservative government again. There’s probably an element of truth in the assertion; certainly if polling analysis is anything to go by folk do become more conservative as they mature.

Whether you agree with votes at 16 or not is very much a personal choice, many reasonable people do take up positions on both sides of the argument; but for me at least I’m simply not convinced that children aged 16 or 17 have grown up sufficiently to have a say in how our government is formed; to choose the people who keep us safe or take us to war.

But then again, just look at the mess ‘sensible’ adults make of democracy on a regular basis.

On a serious note one thing is certain. The debate on reducing our voting age isn’t going away; if the Conservative Party do want to continue as a natural party of government they must find a way to promote the positive benefits of a free market to young people.

In fairness the Tories should probably be talking to voters much more about the good that a successful economy brings, no matter how old we are.

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