There is something odd about a country that allows a sixteen year old to marry and have a child with an MP whilst denying them the right to vote for them. Labour party members ought to lend their voices to Lisa Nandy’s call to make lowering the voting age to sixteen a 2015 manifesto pledge, which would prevent the bizarre situation where many young people are denied the opportunity to vote until their early twenties.
Student protestors and the large numbers of young unemployed who took to the streets against the Coalition's austerity agenda highlight a hunger for political action that we ought to channel it in a more effective way. We already allow 16 and 17-year-olds to become directors of companies, join the armed forces, and obtain tax credits and welfare benefits in their own right, and we should certainly allow them to fully participate in society, especially as many of them work and pay taxes. What happened to no taxation without representation?
The Coalition didn't pause for thought before abolishing the Educational Maintenance Allowance, raising tuition fees, or speedily introducing education reforms they quickly backtracked on. However, they have moved more cautiously around benefits and policies that concern older people, with the Prime Minister constantly reiterating his pledge to keep the Winter Fuel Allowance and the Government yielding to pressure from organisations like AGE UK, who campaigned so effectively for the need to cap social care. The ‘grey vote’ has the ability to shape the political agenda and governments are mindful, even fearful, of getting on the wrong side of them. 16 and 17-year-olds , on the other hand, have a huge stake in society but remain voiceless and politically feeble.
Giving young people the opportunity to vote at 16 would entrench the civil responsibility of voting before they move away to university or get a full time job and voting slides down their list of priorities. More importantly, votes at 16 would guarantee that every citizen would be able to participate in a general or European election before the age of 21.
It is completely ridiculous that 16-year-olds can join political parties and participate in internal party selection processes but remain unable to vote in an election for the same people they played a part in selecting. Furthermore, it is untenable to lower the voting age in Scotland for the independence referendum and deny Scottish youth and their contemporaries in the rest of the UK the right to vote in the General Election the subsequent year.
Lowering the voting age is gathering momentum, with strong majorities in favour in the Welsh Assembly and Scottish and Westminster Parliaments. The Labour Party ought to recapture its reforming instinct and bring this voiceless section of society into active citizenship.