Votes at 16 can help address the widening gap between people and politics

1st October, 2013 5:36 pm

When 16- and 17-year-olds were given the vote for the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, it created a cast-iron logic for introducing votes at 16 universally. Why should these particular young people be entrusted with the franchise, and not their counterparts in the rest of the UK? And why should they have a say on independence but not on who represents them at the local, Holyrood or Westminster level?

That ruling, passed into law this summer, made votes at 16 for all British elections more likely. But that is not why Ed Miliband was right to commit Labour to the policy in his conference speech last week. It was right because votes at 16 could be an important first step in addressing one of our most pressing problems: the widening gap between people and politics.

There are good reasons to think that giving people the vote at a younger age will improve the chances of them being engaged in politics for the rest of their life. According to Eric Plutzer, voting is a ‘gradually acquired habit’, and the earlier you get into that habit the more likely you will sustain it over a lifetime.

But voting should be more than just a behavioural tic, and that is why citizenship education is so important. If 16- and 17-year-olds are given the vote, they should already be thinking deeply about what it means to be a good citizen. One of the advantages of votes at 16 is that it allows young people to exercise their civic rights while their citizenship education is still fresh in their mind. But if that citizenship education is insufficient, then the benefits of early voting will not come through.

Many who teach citizenship in schools bemoan the fact that it is accorded too little status in the curriculum. Labour should think about embedding the votes at 16 pledge into their wider programme for renewing education policy, with particular emphasis on citizenship. Political reforms are too often framed within a ‘constitutional’ silo, cut off from the rest of public policy. Votes at 16 is the perfect antidote to this. It is by exploring every issue from education to the environment, from the economy to immigration that younger people will feel more motivated to come to the ballot  box – not the other way round.

There are some excellent examples of what a renewed commitment to citizenship in schools might look like – a recent IPPR report cites four schools which not only take citizenship teaching seriously, but also instil a commitment to democratic participation in their students across their activities both in school and in the community.

If this kind of initiative is encouraged, then it could make the promise of votes at 16 turn into the reality of a more engaged society. This is not just about young people now. Votes at 16 could be the start of a wider debate about what constitutes political participation and what are the barriers stopping people of all ages from taking part.

In the end, this policy’s true measure of success will not be the numbers of 16- and 17-year-olds who turn out to vote, and it won’t even be the overall voter turnout in generations to come. It will be the degree to which people are more likely to participate in our democracy, whether in their neighbourhood, through their workplace or trade union, or as elected representatives. That should be the ultimate aim of any civic reform, and votes at 16 is no exception.

Katie Ghose is chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society

To report anything from the comment section, please e-mail [email protected]
  • Ben Cobley

    I’m thinking we should be focusing more on trying to engage the existing electorate a bit better rather than creating a new one.

    I also don’t like the idea of our schools and sixth-form colleges becoming overtly party political – there are some nasty potential unintended consequences in that.

    http://afreeleftblog.blogspot.co.uk/

    • swatnan

      You’re right. Votes at 16 will go down like a lead balloon, especially amongst the 16 yr olds.

  • Peter Metalli

    No taxation without representation.

    Can’t expect them to to pay income tax if we don’t give them the right to tell MPs how to
    spend it.

Latest

  • Featured News LIVEBLOG: Corbyn loses no confidence ballot 172-40

    LIVEBLOG: Corbyn loses no confidence ballot 172-40

    Corbyn is rapidly putting together a new front bench as resignations continue to pile in. While the Labour Party is in limbo, we will bring you all the Labour frontbench news as it comes through. 19.23: National Policy Forum (NPF) members are unhappy about the last minute cancelling of this weekend’s meeting. In the email cancelling the meeting, it was claimed that “It would not be democratic to consider policy options which are no longer possible given Britain’s decision to leave […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured Seats and Selections “Today’s vote is illegitimate” – Corbyn’s response to losing confidence vote

    “Today’s vote is illegitimate” – Corbyn’s response to losing confidence vote

    This is the statement issued by Jeremy Corbyn immediately after he lost today’s confidence motion among MPs. “In the aftermath of last week’s referendum, our country faces major challenges. Risks to the economy and living standards are growing. The public is divided. “The Government is in disarray. Ministers have made it clear they have no exit plan, but are determined to make working people pay with a new round of cuts and tax rises. “Labour has the responsibility to give a […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Round-up: All the resignations, sackings and appointments

    Round-up: All the resignations, sackings and appointments

    You can keep up to date with all the latest comings and goings on our liveblog here. Below is a quick round-up of everyone who has left their position or been appointed to a new one so far. We’ll keep the list updated as new names come through. Left the Shadow Cabinet Luciana Berger, Shadow Minister for Mental Health Maria Eagle, Shadow Culture, Media and Sport Lisa Nandy, Shadow Energy and Climate Change Owen Smith, Shadow Work and Pensions Angela […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Uncategorized Corbyn defiant after being trounced in MPs’ confidence vote

    Corbyn defiant after being trounced in MPs’ confidence vote

    A defiant Jeremy Corbyn has said he will “not betray” Labour members by resigning, despite three-quarters of the party’s MPs voting against him in a no confidence motion. Just 40 MPs voted to back Corbyn in the secret ballot, far short of the number needed to fill a complete frontbench. Voting took place between 9am and 4pm today, and a vast majority of MPs – 170 – voted that they had “no confidence” in Corbyn’s leadership. Four MPs actively abstained, leaving a further […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Momentum claims huge spike in membership after Corbyn “coup”

    Momentum claims huge spike in membership after Corbyn “coup”

    More than 1,700 have Corbyn supporters have joined Momentum in just over a 24 hour period. A spokesperson for the group confirmed that before yesterday’s #KeepCorbyn rally that 1,000 people had joined the organisation, followed by an additional 700 afterwards, with the last update provided mid-morning. This is a 27 per cent increase, taking their current membership to around 8,000 members. The group has committed itself to protecting Corbyn in his position. Their “confidence in Corbyn” petition has gained over […]

    Read more →
x

LabourList Daily Email

Everything Labour. Every weekday morning

Share with your friends










Submit