It is time politicians put some faith in the future of the country by allowing votes at 16, writes James Cleverley. This article is part of James’ #VotesAt16 guest edit.
The future of our country is currently in its most uncertain point in generations. With a weak and divided Tory government limping towards a no-deal Brexit and shutting Britain off from the rest of the world, young people are rightfully angry. That is why we need to show young people that their voices matter by giving 16 and 17-year olds the vote.
This comes as a very personal issue to me. During the referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union referendum I campaigned tirelessly to secure the future of our generation by staying in. However, I myself was barred from voting; the government looked at my age group and decided we were not to be trusted with the most important vote this country has ever held. On 23 June last year, our future was stripped away without us even being afforded a say in it.
The Tories are pursuing an agenda of brutal austerity, and as always it is young people who have suffered most. A side-effect of this has been a surge in political awareness amongst the lower age brackets; if this momentum is to be kept up it has to be harnessed as a source of support for the progressive policies we in Labour champion. The way to do this is by showing that we do listen and we do care about the issues which affect young people in this country. As was shown in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, the political opinions of 16 and 17-year olds is diverse and often more logical than those of the higher age brackets. They are far less likely to base their vote on what the newspapers say, but instead utilise their technological literacy to make more informed choices.
Jim McMahon’s bill to extend the franchise will help to break the vicious cycle of government policies alienating younger people and causing them to losing faith with the entire political process. If under 25s voted in the same numbers as over 60s, the Tories simply would not be able to get away with horrifically unjust policies such as scrapping the housing benefit for under 21s and barring under 25s from receiving the living wage. That is the root cause of the Tories’ opposition to votes at 16: they know that they would not be able to treat students and young people in the same way they have done for the past seven years. Extending the voting franchise to 16-year olds will pave the way for fairer and more progressive policies to dominate the political agenda which in turn will inspire the young generation to not only vote, but to also get politically active and have their voices heard.
Critics of votes at 16 seem to rely on an assumption that political naivety is limited to those under 18. However, the facts (remember those?) point to the opposite conclusion. Already, 16 and 17-year olds are able to vote in Scottish parliament elections, and the Welsh assembly will soon follow. The evidence from Scotland and other EU countries points to the conclusion that they are often far more informed than their parents and grandparents when they cast their vote. The truth is that there is not a single argument against extending the voting franchise which is not motivated by partisan advantage. Instead of governing in the interests of young people, the Tories favour refusing them the right to vote instead.
Parliament now has an historic opportunity to show that it believes in the future of Britain. It can help to improve our democracy and show young people that politics can work for them by extending the voting franchise to those who are already deemed old enough to pay taxes, get married, and serve in the armed forces. This issue is at the heart of the principles of the Labour party, therefore we need to be the driving force behind making our democracy work for the many, not the few.