Votes at 16: ‘Either way, we win’, say campaigners

A bill being heard in the House of Commons tomorrow could be the first step in allowing 1.5 million teens to vote.

A bill to reduce the voting age to 16 will have its second reading in the House of Commons tomorrow – but whatever the outcome, campaigners say they’re “in it for the long haul”.

The British Youth Council (BYC) said it had been campaigning on the issue for 18 years — with the Votes at 16 Commission formed to lobby for change 16 years ago — and it will keep campaigning for as long as necessary.

Labour MP Jim McMahon is spearheading the Private Member’s Bill, which could be a first step on a long road towards giving 1.5 million teens a say in the next election.

Proponents say the change is long overdue and would be an immensely positive way to improve British democracy.

But although the Bill has cross party support — with the Scottish Tories particularly keen to lower the voting age — the Prime Minister is expected to block the change, having said in July: “We expect people to continue in education or training until the age of 18, and I think that is the right point for the voting age”. Never mind the fact 16 and 17-year-olds can work like anyone else— albeit for a lower minimum wage — and are expected to pay tax on their earnings.

But the BYC say they feel positive about tomorrow’s vote, and that isn’t contingent on any one outcome.

A spokeswoman told Left Foot Forward:

“Every time we see decision makers use the platform and mechanism available to them to progress our campaign that’s a positive thing.”

She added:

“Success for us would obviously be for the enfranchisement to be changed, but the fact that over 150 MPs have been meaningfully engaged and they have been proactive through the actions of young people at local level lobbying their MPs… is positive for the campaign.”

The vote has put the issue back into public discourse, the organisation said, and started a new conversation around democracy and the rights and responsibilities of young people.

McMahon, who told the Mirror on Tuesday he was pleased with the response to the Bill.

He said:

“…Now the time has come to make this a reality.

“If we want to have discussions about civic engagement and educating a new generation in the importance of being politically aware, then empowering young people to vote is the springboard we need.

“Above all, it’s the right thing to do if we care about strengthening our democracy.”

In addition to the BYC, the National Union of Students and the Electoral Reform Society are supporting the Bill, with proponents pointing out that if 16-year-olds can join the army and get married, they should be allowed to participate in democracy.

It’s likely Theresa May is particularly resistant to the change because few 16 and 17-year-olds are likely to vote Conservative: Labour’s unexpectedly high share of the ballot in June’s general election was attributed to a large youth turnout and Tory efforts to engage more young people since the election have mostly failed, often ending in embarrassment for the party.

Charlotte England is a freelance journalist and writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter.

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6 Responses to “Votes at 16: ‘Either way, we win’, say campaigners”

  1. Michael

    No taxation without Representation! If you are old enough to pay tax, you are old enough to have your say in who spends it and how. It ought not to be a party matter.

  2. Irene Threlkeld

    I feel strongly that 16 year olds should be allowed to vote. Decisiosn are made about their future and they should have a say.

  3. David Herbert

    Only the Tories and UKIP oppose votes at 16. If we had proportional representation this would just happen.

  4. David Lindsay

    I am still not convinced about lowering the voting age. I would not allow 16 and 17-year-olds to get married, or to join the Armed Forces. Between the increase in the participation age, as we are apparently expected to call it, and the increase in the personal tax allowance, 16 and 17-year-olds are now wildly unlikely to be paying income tax, not that that really has anything to do with this. But my mind is no longer entirely closed to this change.

    I remember what it was like to be a politically active Sixth Former. It is not an experience that I shall ever forget. No one who was one could ever imagine that it was, is, or will ever be normal. Even a superbly well-educated 16-year-old is still a 16-year-old. Lowering the voting age even further might pose a very serious threat to democracy, since no one seriously imagines that the opinion of a 16-year-old matters as much as that of his Head Teacher, or his doctor, or his mother. Why, then, should each of them have only as many votes as he had? Thus might the process start.

    Harold Wilson probably thought that he might gain some advantage from lowering the voting age. But the Sixties Swingers hated him (that is largely forgotten now, but it is true), and they handed the 1970 Election to Ted Heath instead. If there had been a General Election, as was once widely expected, in the spring of 1996, then, having been born in September 1977, I would have been able to vote in that Election, even though I would still have had a couple of months of school left to go. But by then, I had been free for more than two years to walk out any time I liked. I would have had that freedom even if the participation age had been raised to 18, as has now happened.

    Lowering the voting age to two years below the school leaving age would literally be giving the vote to children; to people whom we, as a society, had decided were not yet capable of deciding for themselves whether or not they wished to leave full-time education or training. It is still well within living memory that most people left school, and went straight into taxpaying work, a full seven years before they were entitled to vote. Now, we propose that people should have the vote two years before they were able to leave school or an equivalent.

    If anyone doubts quite how monolithically middle-class our political culture has become, then consider that it has almost certainly never occurred to the proponents of lowering the voting age that even 21 was ever attained before leaving full-time education, never mind a third of one’s life to that date after having done so. If 16 and 17-year-olds could vote, then why could they not be called up or cajoled into fighting what have become this country’s never-ending wars? When it is said that this change would leave them open to exploitation, then that is what that ought to mean.

    And yet, and yet, and yet.

    With the introduction of individual registration, I suspect that the proportion of the extremely elderly that remained on the electoral register would be hardly, if at all, higher than the proportion of those all the way up to the age of about 25. Of those registered, if 16 and 17-year-olds were able to be so, then I strongly suspect that the franchise would be exercised by a higher proportion of them than of the over-90s, who are also a very small cohort. I have seen the way in which candidates press the flesh in nursing homes when there is an election coming up. Some of the residents know exactly what is going on. Others are decidedly confused. Others again hardly know Christmas from Tuesday. 16 and 17-year-olds would be very much the same.

    Like a lot of my vintage, I see one third of bus passes used to commute, for much of the year from and to homes heated by the Winter Fuel Allowance. But then I consider that there will be none of those things for us, even though the people now coming into them no more fought in the War than we did. They were no more on this earth than we were while the War was being fought by anyone.

    In my meaner-spirited moments, I ponder that people who “worked all their lives” were paid to do so, and ought not to have spent it all, as of course many of them did not, with the result that they are now loaded. Or I ponder that they have not in fact “worked all their lives” if they have retired a mere two thirds of the way through the probable length of their lives.

    I make no apology for seeing no War-like debt to be repaid to those whose formative experiences were sex, drugs, rock’n’roll, full employment, cheap housing, student grants, public ownership, municipal services, the explosion of mass consumer affluence, and the felt need to demonstrate against another country’s war because this country was not waging one.

    However, I believe in full employment, cheap housing, student grants, public ownership, municipal services, and opposition to American wars of liberal intervention. I am by no means averse to the finer things in life. I fully recognise that few are those who could really manage without their bus passes or their Winter Fuel Allowances. I support the principle of universality to the very marrow of my bones.

    No, the question is one of balance, plus the perfectly simple writing into the legislation of a ban on jurors and parliamentary candidates who were aged under 18 or even 21, and perhaps even 25 or 30, as there is already a ban on jurors aged over 75.

    Balancing generational interests is as important as balancing class interests, or regional interests, or urban and rural interests, and so on. Only social democracy can do those. The sheer size of the ageing Baby Boom is such that the democracy in social democracy may require a modest reduction in the voting age. While that case has not yet been made sufficiently convincingly to justify the change, I am less and less decided that it simply never will or could be.

  5. James Cathcart

    This Bill was different in that it included Citizenship Education on democracy, how to vote, politics – something learned from the Scottish experience where 16 and 17 years have over a year of input in schools to prepare them. Now all ages in Scotland support the new franchise – in Scottish Parliament, and local elections. This knowledge will grow through to all generations, and I think it is unfair to compare the memories of most of the older critics on the basis of ‘when I was 16’ to the current generation, especially if they are additionally prepared and informed.

    Those other comments we often hear about different ages you can do this and that. For example – taxation without representation should be clarified to be National Insurance, and Ive heard it proposed that perhaps no 16-17 year old should pay any income tax or NI, and the age of staying in education is no reflection on a 16-17 year olds ability to learn than before – its just an extension of opportunity to learn and prevent as many young people being unemployed or underemployed by giving them more qualifications and skills. This is an extension of an opportunity to use the learning environment to include PSHS about voting and democracy. It would boost voting participation.

    I believe voting is not harmful and is a right that requires no knowledge or skills ( or maturity test) for anyone else. It seems harsh to measure 16-17 years ability to vote by this standard as many of older ages would simply not pass it.

    Ive written a couple of articles on this – and the subsequent filibusted debate, on my Linked In page for information

  6. James Cathcart

    Will Left Foot Forward or Charlotte be reporting on covering the debate in the House of Commons by young people of the UK Youth Parliament on 10th November. Nearly a million young people voted to choose five topics for debate and vote to be their campaign for 2018. One is Votes at 16. In contrast to the Commons debate and no vote last Friday, the young parliament is polite, well prepared and wont talk out the motion. There are very diverse, unlike MPS, with gender equality and above average minorities and faith representation, and despite the myth that they are the politics students and usual suspects, their data shows they representation all background from the five groups in the DCLG index of deprivation. I wonder if they will bring fresh energy to the debate and get some positive reporting . Their average age is 16-17.

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