Patrick O'Flynn lets slip his desire to silence those who don't agree with his party
UKIP’s economic spokesperson Patrick O’Flynn has accused Nick Clegg and David Cameron of laying the ground for a ‘rigged’ referendum on EU membership.
Writing on the party website, Mr O’Flynn said:
“The Lib Dems are reportedly demanding that millions of EU migrants should participate, as well as pushing to include 16 and 17-year-olds who are statistically more likely to hold pro-EU views.”
He accuses the coalition of extending voting to 16 and 17-year olds in an attempt to ’tilt the result’ as school leavers were more likely to have been recently exposed to pro-EU views.
Then at a press conference this morning Mr O’Flynn, and UKIP’s deputy chairman Suzanne Evans, continued their attack on young voters, and accused Brussels of trying to brainwash children through school textbooks. Evans said pro-EU literature circulating in schools included:
“Colouring-in books on the Common Agricultural policy for primary schoolchildren right up to research projects at university level.”
”The amount of money the EU is putting into this propaganda and throughout the entire education system is enormous”.
UKIP’s hostility to younger voters is reciprocated. A poll by Opinium in December found Nigel Farage to be by far the least popular party leader among 17-22- year-olds, with a 13 per cent approval rating. Only three per cent of this group said they intended to vote UKIP.
The decision about EU membership is huge. The economic and cultural effects of a UK withdrawal will have a profound impact on future generations, so it seems only fair that 16 and 17-year-olds should have a say in the decision. What Mr O’Flynn is suggesting is excluding a group of voters because they might vote the wrong way, a profoundly undemocratic proposal.
There are many reasons why young people may be more pro-European than the older generation, and they have nothing to do with ‘propaganda’ or colouring books. Without the EU, young people would have more limited job prospects, would find it harder to study abroad and harder to travel.
They are also less likely to hold the kind of views about overseas workers that UKIP promote. A survey commissioned by British Future in 2013 found that young people thought it important that UK policy on EU migrants did not stir up prejudice against newcomers :
“Let’s not stir up tensions before they’ve even got here – we can deal with the issues without being prejudiced.”
It looks like Mr O’Flynn wants to punish younger voters for the fact that, having grown up in a multiracial society, they are more liberal and tolerant than previous generations.
Citizenship education was made a compulsory part of the education system in 2002, yet the next generation are being denied full citizenship rights. At the Scottish referendum, over 100,000 16 and 17-year-olds turned out to vote. A poll by Lord Ashcroft showed that 71 per cent of them voted Yes, but among the wider 16-24-year-old age group 51 per cent voted Yes.
So yes, Mr O’Flynn is right in a sense; extending the franchise to younger voters on EU membership could have a very significant impact on the outcome. But it looks a bit desperate to conclude that we should exclude them.
Offering teenagers the vote means they are more likely to engage in politics earlier. Having the decision to take on a vote would actually encourage them to think critically and ask questions about Europe, to listen to both sides of the campaign. Without a voice in the debate, teenagers are much less likely to question their textbooks.
By lumping 16 and 17-year-olds and migrants together, Mr O’Flynn is simply demonstrating that UKIP would like to block the votes of anyone whose opinion they don’t like.
Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on TwitterLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.