Of course we should give 16 year olds the vote

29th November, 2012 9:00 am

There are several claims made for votes at 16 which are decidedly spurious. I don’t believe – for example – that giving 16 year olds the vote will increase participation. If anything, it could mean that while more people vote, a smaller percentage of the increased electorate do so.

I equally don’t believe it’s fair to recite the “no taxation without representation” argument. For a start, some 16 year olds earn (and pay income tax) and some do not, but the same can be said of any age. Equally, pretty much as soon as you reach pocket money age you’re like to have paid some VAT even if just on tampons and downloads. I don’t think we should head down a path of thresholds on how much tax we pay before we can vote or we’ll be on a very slippery slope indeed.

But for me, the arguments wheeled out against expanding the franchise to 16 year olds are more flawed.

Sometimes, the fact that it won’t solve the wider issues of participation is presented as an argument against. It’s not. Those who want to solve our democratic problems may be fellow travellers but their being wrong on a consequence of change does not make the change in itself wrong.

One argument against is that 16 year olds are too immature to vote. This is true for some. It’s also true for some 18 year olds (and several people considerably older than that and currently politically active (anyone who thinks wearing a V for Vendetta mask is a reasonably, well made political statement – I’m looking at you).

There is also a concern that these 16 year olds will be too likely to be influenced by their parents, on whom they are dependent. This seems to me to be based on a middle-class and long gone vision of growing up where children leave home at 18 and head off for university never to return.

If this was ever the norm, it sure as hell isn’t now. So many young people are stuck living with their parents well into their 30s now. Should their ability to have a say on the policies that cause low wages, soaring rents and housing shortages be curtailed because of their financial dependence on their parents?

Too many of these objections stem from a dark history of the franchise being tied to property ownership. These arguments should have no truck on the egalitarian left.

For me, voting is a positive right. It should not be restricted from those willing and capable of doing so because others are less capable or less likely to take action. While we have limits to who can vote and who can’t those should – as far as possible – be expanded.

Professionally, I spend time with young people who are taking apprenticeships. I can honestly say, hand on heart, that there isn’t a great deal of difference between the 16 and 18 year olds. They are all bright, sparky and determined to succeed. They also all thrive on being given responsibility; it’s what helps them develop a pride in their work. I would give every one of those young people the vote.

Change is scary, I get that. Some will continue to argue that it is unwise to risk the good we already have for the evil that may occur. But that’s an argument that has been used before. It was wrong then, it’s wrong now.

On votes at 16 – as on any positive right, I believe the balance of evidence should be in proving why it would be harmful. For me I see nothing that persuades me that it would be. Given that, refusing this right to those who want to exercise it is just plain wrong.

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  • AlanGiles

    Thanks to the education policies of both the present and previous governments, we will soon be seeing everybody forced to stay at school until they are 18. I was working at 15 and neither expected or wanted to vote.

    Though it is true many of these lads and girls will have to take weekend and evening jobs, they will not strictly speaking be tax payers and therefore I don’t think this is a good enough excuse to lower the voting age.

    With all due respect there is not a lot of difference between some 14 year olds and 16 year olds (ever been on a bus when schools out?). Why not allow the vote at 14, or 12, or perhaps even allow 10 year olds the vote.

    Sorry but I think this is a dreadful idea

    • Redshift1

      16 year olds can not only get full-time jobs, they can join the army. If we allow that, we must in my mind allow them to be able to cast a vote.

      • KonradBaxter

        But we don’t allow them to drink, buy cigarettes or drive.

      • AlanGiles

        I take your point – up to a point. At the moment you can leave school and go to work at 16 but that is shortly to change. As I said I started work when I was 15 and though my grandad was a member and worker for the Co-Op and the Daily Herald came into the house every weekday (Reynolds News on Sundays), and though I shared their outlook, I frankly would not have gone out to vote. At 15/16 you are usually wrapped up in other things (trumpets and lathes in my case), and there is the added problem that you might get parents and teachers trying to influence them to vote one way or the other, when they have no real personal experience of life to come to their own conclusions. This could become a bigger problem when we force youngsters to stay at school till they are 18 whether they like it or not.

        I am not trying to tar all 16 year olds with the same brush, but generally speaking they are more interested in voting for the “X Factor” than a political party, and even then the younger you are the more fickle you are likely to be.

        One final point: for years politicians have been trying to pull the wool over our eyes – to make us believe they can point in two directions at once. It is bad enough in late middle age to become disillusioned with politicians and their piecrust promises, to the point where you begin to doubt the voracity or competence of the lot of them. let’s not start this disillusionment at such a tender age.

        • Redshift1

          I think you can probably make the X-Factor comment about quite a lot of the population – not just 16-18 year olds.

          Similarly, lots of people influence others at all kinds of ages, people don’t stop being impressionable at the age of 18. If anything, a lot of people get a whole lot worse. Most teenagers I think all would admit at least question what they are told, even if it is incredibly tedious at times!

          As for the politics of this. Young people are being screwed over more than most by this government. Record youth unemployment, EMA scrapped, tuition fees trebling – whatever route they want to take in life, their opportunities are being taken away right before their eyes. They are the country’s future and the older generations have not only screwed up bigtime, they are now being incredibly selfish about the solutions. They deserve a say in the future.

    • JoeDM

      They are still classified as children and too immature to be classified as adults. Yet some want to give them the vote. No !!!

  • MonkeyBot5000

    16yr olds aren’t allowed to buy knives.

    If you’re not considered old enough to wield a pointy bit of metal, you’re definitely not old enough to wield something as dangerous as a ballot paper.

    • Redshift1

      Except they are aren’t they? 16 year olds are allowed to do far more than that if they sign up to the armed forces. If you’re allowed to die for your country as a soldier, you should be allowed to vote.

      • Whilst 16 year olds are allowed to join the military, they are not allowed to serve in a combat role until the age of 18.

        • Redshift1

          Oh no. I stand corrected – you can only train to kill and die for your country at 16….that’s alright then….

  • KonradBaxter

    So will you also support the right of 16 year olds to buy and smoke cigarettes, drive, appear in and watch hard core pornography, drink alcohol and – as said below – buy knives and solvents?

    If they can vote then they should be able to do all of the above as well surely?

  • Quiet_Sceptic

    I wonder if Emma opposes raising the school leaving age to 18?

    We seem to be heading in rather opposite directions, curtailing the rights of young people to make decisions about their future, or to put it differently, restricting their rights to make poor decisions about their future which implies they are not fully adult and capable of making those decisions.

    I’m not sure the right to vote is sufficient compensation for being stripped of your right to determine what to do with your life and how to spend your time.

    • AlanGiles

      Totally agree. I can’t imagine what would have happened to me if I had been detained at school till the age of 18 – I imagine I might have become a juvenille delinquent just to stick up two fingers at authority.

      When me and my contemporaries were 15 we looked a lot younger than today’s 15 year olds, but there we were getting jobs, and settling down to them, but it is amazing how quickly you learn – and want to learn – to do your job well, when you knew that you could get a week’s notice if you didn’t. It made you grow up, and you learn valuable things they can NEVER teach you at school.

      I wouldn’t lower the SLA to 15 today – that would be retrogressive, but I certainly think by 16 a great number of them know what they want to do.

  • Hallelujah, this is a long overdue move by the party. I was interested in politics and the party from my-mid teens, but had to wait til not only 18, but 19, to actually vote (there weren’t any elections in my area in my first year of eligibility). Also, the taxation-representation argument seems perfectly relevant to me, along with Redshift’s point about army service (non-combat, yes, but serving is still serving).

    I’ll remind you all of one additional point that too often goes unmentioned in this debate. Labour Party rules allow people to become party members at 14, and some of our best current officeholders took the party up on that offer before they were 18. Andy Burnham and Rachel Reeves, for example. The same goes for the Conservatives, while the Lib Dems have no minimum limit at all (perhaps because when you’re losing members at the rate they are it helps to be less picky). It’s extremely hard to explain why it’s not glaringly non-sensical, hypocritical and fairly patronising for the party to have previously taken the position that we’re happy enough with the political maturity of 14 year olds that we let them campaign for us, take part in internal processes and even pay membership dues (cut-price, but still), while simultaneously maintaing that until 18, they’re too irresponsible to actually vote for us at the public ballot box. I’d make clear I’m not calling for a drop to 14, or for an exact tightening of membership eligibility to 16 or 18 (the more the merrier), but supporting votes at 16 seems like a decent compromise to me to limit the gap.

  • franwhi

    So you back the extension of the franchise for the Scottish indy referendum in 2014 ?

  • brianbarder

    It seems to me obviously daft to allow children to vote. Virtually all 16- and 17-year-olds lack the experience of life, the background reading and listening and understanding of the political process and the values of the rival parties and candidates to form a meaningful judgement. The truth of this is demonstrated, anyway to my own satisfaction, by the recollection that at the age of 16 I was, or thought myself to be, a Tory! By the age of 18 I had pretty well grown up and knew better.

    Moreover, if 16, why not 15? 14?

    Indeed, it wouldn’t be difficult to devise a cogent case for reverting to a minimum age for voting of 21. (All right, all right! I’m not suggesting that that would be a popular move…)

  • You say of course like it’s obvious but nothing you have written here proves your point. There are some anomalies but generally 18 is the age one becomes an adult in the eyes of the law. Certain rights are granted (marry without permission, enter a pub without supervision, drive etc) and so it makes sense to include the right to vote with these new rights. What is argued here could be applied much the same to 14 year old’s. Or, come to think of, any age.


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