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It’s about time we gave 16 and 17 year olds a vote

JANUARY 21, 2020

The arguments for and against continue but this week sees the news of two academics who will be conducting research into the issue of whether 16 year olds should be able to vote ( The research is being carried out by Dr Andrew Mycock of the University of Huddersfield and Professor Jonathan Tonge of the University of Liverpool, who were both part of the Youth Citizen Commission in 2008 which suggested that the voting age should remain at 18. They will be conducting the research with a £120,000 grant from the Leverhulme Trust.

Both the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats are signed up to lowering the voting age to 16; however the government still refuses to support the policy. 16 and 17 year olds were able to vote in Scottish Independence referendum in 2014. This was considered by many to be a success, so much so that even the Scottish Tory leader, Ruth Davidson declared her support for lowering the voting age, following the impressive youth involvement in the campaign- which resulted in a win for Davidson’s side of the referendum argument.

16 year olds in the UK, such as me, are able to join the armed forces, work full time, pay taxes and have to pay adult prices for things such as public transport; however the government still refuses to give us a say on who governs us. At 16 years old, I could marry my local MP, but I could not vote for them. I am able to join the army, but I cannot have a say in who decides whether the country goes to war or not.

The argument that young people do not care about politics was proven wrong in the 2017 general Election when the youth turnout rocketed and reached a figure of around 70%. This was achieved by many factors including successful use of social media by political parties but also the inclusion of various policies by the Labour Party such as scrapping tuition fees, a radical house-building programme and introducing a £10p/h living wage for all people over 16. Young people were particularly energised by Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, for example I joined the Labour Party following his election as leader because he offered change and hope to all, not just the young.

The fact that young people overwhelmingly turn out for Labour is perhaps the reason why the Prime Minister and her party are so unwilling to lower the voting age, they view it as simply widening the number of people that will vote against them. However, the issue of lowering the voting age and giving young people a say should not be considered on a party political basis but should instead be decided based on the fundamental principle that all people who are able to contribute to the treasury, should be able to have a say in how that money is spent, through the means of their democratic voice in elections.

In November 2017, a bill was introduced by Labour MP, Jim McMahon, which proposed the lowering of the voting age to 16 but this was filibustered by Tory MPs meaning there could not be a vote on the issue and it was shelved. Whenever this occurs, it is clear that the Tories are fearful that they could well lose a vote, should there have been one, amidst the growing pressure for this change. 

Lowering the voting age would mean that any party in government would be held to account regarding their actions towards young people, this is a democratic way of ensuring that young people are represented by their elected officials. Policies such as trebling tuition fees and scrapping EMA’s perhaps would not have been passed through if the ministers responsible knew they had to answer to the people that were being hit by these measures. In addition, by involving young people at an earlier age it will help to reduce voter apathy in the UK, which is a problem as we often have lower voter turnouts than other European nations. I believe that a healthy democracy is one where the electorate have their say on what parties have done and what they are promising to do.

Written by Luke Phillips

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