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