Monthly Archives: January 2013

Should 16 Year-Olds Get the Vote?

Should 16-year-olds be allowed to vote?

The issue of who should be able to vote is as old as democracy itself. As the House of Commons gears up to decide whether 16-year-olds should get the franchise, Dermot Neligan shares his thoughts

Like so many generations before, Britain’s youth face the blanket vilification that suggests a Jeremy Kyle culture really is the norm. Today, MPs will vote to decide a hotly contested issue: whether to include 16 and 17-year-olds as part of the British electorate.

The very idea of giving sixteen year olds the vote is not actually all that controversial, nor very innovative. For, unknown to many, young people of this age can already vote in general elections right here in the UK (albeit only on the Isle Of Man or Isles of Scilly). Too, in the fast approaching referendum for whether Scotland should remain part of the UK, it has already been decided that sixteen and seventeen year olds will be able to vote – and thus possibly decide the fate of a ‘nation’. Surely it follows that they should, too, be trusted with a vote in parliamentary elections? Any pedantic argument that young people are more likely to vote for a particular party are unfounded, for IPSOS Mori data explicitly shows that in the last general election, the vote share of the main parties was almost exactly equal at 30% each in the closest age group (18-24) –  so no party stands to lose votes.

Further, the untainted, and often as yet unaligned political outlooks of young people can only be of benefit to our democracy if they were to get the vote. For, unlike the vast swathes of British citizens who hold lifelong party affiliations, sixteen and seventeen-year- olds are much more likely to have unformed political views, and thus the specific policies of the party’s vying for their vote, will be crucial in deciding who gets it. What will this mean? Party’s adapting their manifestos, so that they may appeal not only to the needs of young people, but also to the greater long term benefit of society – for it is they who’ll be living in our society in fifty years’ time, not the politicians. Gone will be the days, when the major parties can afford to rest on their laurels – instead they’ll be compelled to ‘woo’ a group often defined by their optimism and idealism.

Finally, the often employed arguments that having a social grouping who can: already start a family and/or get married, pay national insurance and join the army etc. but not be able to vote, as being wholly undemocratic – still holds true. Yet more than that, surely our MPs have a moral duty to pioneer progressive politics – through extending the ‘franchise’ (the vote), to a group who are on the cusp of careers, that will see some of them become the leaders of tomorrow? The gift of the vote may yet reverse the tide of youth disengagement, and pave the way for a brighter, more inclusive democracy, where future generations feel more involved in the society they stand to soon inherit.

Dermot was writing for Live Magazine UK – a youth publication based in Brixton

Social Media: The Next Battleground in Democratic Debate?

As a nation, we stand on the cusp of conflict. A conflict mercifully not physical, but a conflict ideological, and the battlelines are decidedly unclear. The enemy is not immediately obvious, yet the stakes could not be higher. For, we have surely now reached a crossroads – where as a nation we must address the role of social media within the framework of our national democracy.

The preponderance of social media within our every –day lives is truly stunning. The technological age we live in is defined by rapid developments in the way we as a society function and interact. Platforms for free speech and dialogue, such as Twitter are only very recent phenomena – (it was only launched in July 2006, but now sees over three hundred and forty million tweets a day.)

Such online forums have also directly facilitated the spread of democracy worldwide – surely a commendable feat, with the Arab Spring being an example of how it can not only aid in the spread of an ideology, but also it can serve to unify and organise the populace against an unjust regime. The combustible nature of a rapid spread of information, has no doubt led, and will lead again, to the corrupt regimes of nations, being torn asunder by a new generation, mobilised online. But then again, it can also serve as a platform to co-ordinate unjustified wanton violence , with ‘BBM’( a mobile based instant messaging service) arguably directly facilitating the infamous London Riots of summer 2011.

Did social media facilitate the destruction wrought on London in the infamous 2011 riots?

Did social media facilitate the destruction wrought on London in the infamous 2011 riots?

Here in the UK, the almost complete lack of censorship or government control over such platforms and the content put onto it, is for many, reassuring. Our nation has a proud history of political freedom, and in times of adversity we never fail to remind ourselves of our ‘superiority’ over other countries, by virtue of our tradition of a free press, and civil liberties. Surely then, social media is a tool for the freedom of speech that so underpins a democracy such as ours, giving the common man or woman a platform to profess their views? Equally, moving into the 21st century, can it not provide a model of what freedom of speech and democracy might look like in a technological, modern world? Well, not necessarily.

In July 2011, Lord Leveson was charged with ‘looking at the culture, practices and ethics of the Press, but after over a year of grilling leading figures, from celebrities to politicians, one can’t help but feel he overlooked something really important in social media. Yes, Rupert Murdoch’s empire took a timely bashing down to size, and yes the victims of his corporations’ malpractices were justly given a platform to speak out. Lord Leveson even issued proposed new press law that one hopes can go some way toward cleaning up the corruption inherent at the top of this country’s media…

However, the rise of the Twitterati might yet pose a threat to the success and longevity of any reform that does eventually get through, for every single day individuals continue to be able to utilize social media, ungagged by government, and thus essentially ‘above the law’. Could it be then, that while big media businesses (like News International) are now compelled to uphold basic ethics, i.e. restraining from impeding on people’s right to privacy through not hacking or harassing them -individuals relatively untraceable might continue to be guilty of abhorrent ‘journalism’? Will legal support be given to those defamed on the net?

Granted, there are already indications of progress, for in recent months there have been signs that the Malicious Communications Act 1988 and the Communications Act 2003 might be re-assessed by lawmakers, so as to provide a clear framework from which courts can proceed. However, the point still remains that in an age where big media corporations are joined by a plethora of other small time bloggers, the standards of journalism expected by big corporations may be logistically difficult to uphold across the board.

The failure then, of the coalition government to adequately discuss the issue at hand, only serves to illustrate how ‘out of touch’ it really is. Instead of discussing the role of social media, the Tories have pursued an aggressive, totalitarian ‘Communications Data Bill’, that would see internet providers keep records of all their customers’ online activity for 12 months. One hopes the Tories will finally see where their priorities should lie – for all our sakes.

A young generation of tech-savvy Tweeters now rely on their elders to establish a basic code of conduct, that’ll strike a fine balance between protecting freedom of speech and the individuals’ privacy – not a blanket infringement of our civil liberties. Society has to therefore have a real discussion about the role of social media, for otherwise the malpractices will go on, and Twitter will continue to be regularly hijacked as a means for evils such as racial abuse and slander.