Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Votes @ 16 B4 '10

Last week, Gordon Brown suggested that he supported the call for "votes at 16". The question was put by Phyllis Starkey, of the Milton Keynes South West constituency, and apparent expenses-related farago. But enough of her. The main issue is one of the few outstanding electoral improvements I think Labour should enact immediately; it took over a generation to give women the vote, decades to lower the voting age to 18, with the second decade of this 21st Century almost two generations from this last welcome move.

With the age at which people can be a candidate now at 18, the time to bring the voting age in line with most other "society says you're an adult now" levels is all the more relevant. Sixteen is not exactly an age at which people are clueless children; "Make Poverty History" and anti-fascist demonstrations show a growing number of teenagers who are rejecting party politics in preference to single-issues. This should be encouraged as much as possible; the often sneered at world of "student politics" is far deeper than detractors would have believe.

Through Facebook, Twitter, and blogs, younger people who feel marginalised by the political processes have found other means to react and interact with the matters of the day. Be it the drug legalisation debate, student fees, or how to deal with persistent illegal downloading of music, teenagers are more at the centre of the contemporary political debate than ever before. If a candidate aged 18 can request the support of a large electorate in an election, how can it be justified to ignore a growing surge of 16 and 17-year olds whose points of reference are so similar?

As a long-time (failed!) candidate in elections, I have first hand knowledge that not all adults walk into polling stations having read each and every party manifesto. This kills the notion that awarding teenagers the vote would somehow award ignorance. It's simply not the case.

The entrenched party loyalties often stubbornly stuck to by people in their 30s, 40s, and older, do not exist to the same extent with younger voters; continued polls of the young show a taste for democracy and a willingness not to be loyal to one "brand" or "party". Elections to and activities in the Youth Parliament continue to grow as increasing numbers of young people find their voice at a time when "youngster" so often means "thug" or "clueless hoodie" in the columns of the tabloid press.

Labour do not have a faultless record with either electoral administration, or policies which improve the lot of younger people. They should not be scared to embrace the one policy which would bring into the political process thousands of people whose minds are open to questioning the norm and walking against the tide. Relevance to the debates which alter their lives seem so distant at a time when politics is alive with issues. Sixteen year olds are in the same position today as 18 year olds were in the 1960s; a new generation of people more than able to participate in politics. It is time for the improvement to be made, for the issue to be sorted out before the next general election.

Give 16 year olds the vote.