16 going on 2015

Way back in the mists of time – November 2009, to be almost precise – I recorded in a blog I now want to proof-read within an inch of its life how Gordon Brown spoke of his support for giving 16 and 17 year olds the vote.  That was prior to the 2010 election, and now here we are closer to the local elections of 2013 than we are to that polling day as far away from the change being made than ever.

Today the SNP has won an important concession from the Government; young people aged sixteen and seventeen will now be allowed to vote in the forthcoming Scottish Independence referendum. This is another widening of the democratic deficit between Scotland and the rest of the UK. Whilst Scottish councils are elected by a representative voting system, in England and Wales voters are lumbered with the old-fashioned, out of date, unfair and unjust First Past the Post. There are still, in 2012, parts of the country where councils publish election results prior to polling day because of ‘uncontested wards’. This scandal doesn’t exist in Scotland; it only exists in England because of First Past the Post.

I’ve supported Votes At 16 from the first moment I realised that our current democratic systems dissuade young people from taking an active role in politics. Whilst party machines may hold no interest to teenagers – they hardly attract older people, let’s be honest – arguing and demonstrating for or against  specific policies has not been this prevalent amongst the young for generations. With more teenagers likely to be taking part-time jobs, or elbow deep in worry about higher education, or earning a bit of cash here and there through App designs and other computer programming endeavours, it’s no longer logical to deny them the vote. It’s hardly worth unravelling the old ‘no taxation without representation’ line, however true it is, because the logic is undefeatable. All those years ago I pointed out that 16 year olds in the 21st century are the 21 year olds of the 1960s, eager to participate in the democratic process whilst denied by the establishment. If the denial seems ‘typical’ from the Tories today, it was merely unfathomable under Labour. Why deny over a million votes out of some outdated view of who ‘gets’ politics in the round? I’ve been a party activist, I can tell you there’s a fair amount of older people who don’t ‘get’ politics either.

Let’s return to another of my obsessions – local government. There needs to be a big reset button pressed at some point in the not so distant future. We need local government elected by proportional representation, what I called ‘a coalition compromise’ , and we need the abolition of Council Tax. Added to that is the need to bring more young people into the political processes, not just as candidates or leaflet droppers or hand-shakers but as voters too. As another ‘compromise’ to act as a stepping stone between no reform and real reform, let’s lower the age at which a person can vote at local elections to 16, just as Scotland will allow younger people to vote in the referendum, to show how minded we are towards longer lasting, real reform.

It’s not because I’m a zealot that I support lowering the voting age, or because I’m a geek or idealistic or a soppy liberal. It’s because the alternative looks, sounds and feels like an establishment stitch-up, and nobody should go along with them whatever your character.

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.


Thomas Burridge is the eighteen year old candidate for the UK Libertarian Party at tomorrow’s Norwich North by-election. His age has caused some comment, balanced between “refreshing change” to “way too young”. The law changed on minimum age for candidature some years ago with Thomas probably the first 18 year old to be chosen.

Age limits are one of those great controlling levels Government loves to set, not least New Labour who loves any kind of nanny-state control more than most. Recently boosting up the age at which someone can buy cigarettes to eighteen (although not the age of consent from 16, meaning once you’ve had sex at that age you presumably just roll over to fall asleep…)

The more serious point is that of education, where New Labour are once again in a glorified mess, typified by having no actual Department for Education. Their desire to have 50% of school-leavers going to Uni was based on picking a figure from the air; reality has shown massive drop-out rates and students lumbered with a “mortgage on learning” around their necks if they do graduate. My memory from high school is very clear – at 16 I knew that it was sensible to have a ‘fork in the road’ at that age, not least because so many age limits are placed at sixteen – marriage, joining the army, tax on income. Of course moving the age at which someone stays as school to eighteen is a massive error – it forces people for whom formal education is already unsuitable into endless months of activity pushing them further away from the life they would prefer to lead. This eagerness to micro-manage our lives is typical of New Labour; they would rather force all citizens into school, uni, and work, rather than allow people to go out to see the real world.

It is crazy enough that a 16 year old is mature enough, in the eyes of the state, to have consensual sexual intercourse but not enough to walk into a polling station to vote on the parties allowing their wage to be taxed. It is deeply “unjoined” government to ask 16 year olds to stay on at school until they are 18 and then allow them the vote – what would run through your mind but “Now I can punish the party which stuck me here for so long”.

There exists enough vocational courses post-16 to allow those who have done with school to continue with education. New Labour have once again chased targets rather than followed sensible policy. If the State wants to give some sense of maturity and adult status to people when they turn 16, something with which I agree should happen, then the only change to be made is giving them the right to vote.

Moving up the school leaving age is social engineering gone mental, and should be stopped.