Voting age row: the teenagers standing as MPs

Old heads on young shoulders: Three 18-year-olds running for Parliament on June 8th.

Nominations to run for Parliament close today with three 18-year-olds hoping to become MPs. If they can get this far this young, why can’t Britain allow people aged 16 and 17 even to vote?

When Eli Aldridge, Chris Rimicans and Robbie Lee were born, Tony Blair had been British prime minister for two years and the Queen was already 73. But now, these three 18-year-olds are standing to become MPs at the next general election. They would become the youngest to sit in the House of Commons for 350 years.

Their chances are, however, slim. Labour candidates Aldridge and Rimicans would have to overturn big Lib Dem and SNP majorities, while the Green Party’s Robbie Lee is a huge outsider for his Greater Manchester seat.

The trio can take heart from a handful of youthful trailblazers already sitting on the Commons’ benches. At the last election, the SNP’s Mhairi Black overturned an enormous Labour majority to become MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South at the age of just 20.

But many young people still feel disconnected from politics. A key reason Britain voted to leave the European Union was that young people, who were in favour of Remain by about 70–30, simply did not turn out in sufficient numbers. The older you were, the more likely you were both to vote, and to vote for Brexit.

This election campaign has seen renewed calls for 16- and 17-year-olds to be given the vote, just as they are in Scottish elections, as well as in Argentina, Austria and Brazil.

Labour, the Lib Dems, the Greens and the SNP all support votes at 16. They point out how strange it is that you can drive a car, have sex and join the armed forces before you can legally vote. The Greens’ co-leader Caroline Lucas called it “elitist rubbish” to prevent 16-year-olds from voting.

However, as these parties’ voters are generally younger, their opponents see this stance as a cynical ploy to get more votes. And there is also the question of experience: researchers generally agree that the brain is still developing until the mid-20s. There are others who believe lowering the voting age would be pandering to a culture that is “obsessed with youth”.

Breaking the system

“Of course 16- and 17-year-olds should have the vote”, cry thousands of teenagers. They are the people whose futures most depend on the decisions governments make, and denying them the vote will only increase mistrust between the generations. You do not have to be old to care about politics, and you do not have to be young to feel disengaged.

Young people can still be interested in politics even if they are not yet old enough to vote, others respond. If you give 16-year-olds the vote, where do you draw the line: what about 15-year-olds — or 12-year-olds? The more life experience you have, the wiser you will be. And if you do not own property or pay taxes, you do not have a big enough stake in society to make its decisions.

You Decide

  1. Do you think you are old enough or mature enough to vote?
  2. Should people over the age of 80 be denied the vote?

Activities

  1. Write a letter to your MP arguing for or against a change to the voting age.
  2. Speak to someone you know, possibly a relative, who is above the age of 65. Write down three political issues you agree on, and three you disagree on.

Some People Say...

“Only people with an above-average IQ should be allowed to vote.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
We know that the young are, on average, significantly less likely to vote than older people, so parties often tailor their policies towards older voters. Since 16- and 17-year-olds were allowed to vote in the Scottish independence referendum, calls for a nationwide change to the law have grown louder. But the Conservatives are in government, and they oppose any changes.
What do we not know?
In a sense this is a chicken-and-egg situation. What we do not know is whether parties tailor their policies to old people because young people care less about politics, or whether the reason young people are less likely to vote is that politics does not address their concerns.

Word Watch

Lib Dem and SNP majorities
Aldridge is standing in Westmoreland and Lonsdale in Cumbria, whose current MP is the Lib Dem leader Tim Farron. Rimicans, meanwhile, is standing in the seat of North Ayrshire and Arran.
Green Party
The Greens currently have one MP in the House of Commons — Caroline Lucas who represents Brighton Pavilion. Current odds suggest she will keep her seat, but the Greens will not make any further gains.
Trailblazers
Youth in politics is nothing new. William Pitt the Younger became prime minister (in 1783) at just 24. However, after the Great Reform Act of 1832 politicians started to get older, although Winston Churchill still managed to become an MP (in 1900) at the age of 26.
16- and 17-year-olds
In Croatia, 16- and 17-year-olds are given the vote only if they remain in education.
Join the armed forces
You have to be at least 16 to join the regular army, but if you are under 18 you need permission from your parents.
Younger
For example, according to YouGov, 32% of those under 40 plan to vote Labour, but only 19% of those over 40 plan to do so.

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