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 already 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. They would become the youngest members to sit in the House of Commons for 350 years.

The trio can take heart from a handful of youthful trailblazers in Parliament already. At the last election, Mhairi Black of the SNP became an MP at the age of just 20.

Many young people 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.

This election campaign has seen renewed calls for 16- and 17-year-olds to be given the vote.

Proponents of lowering the voting age 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 Green Party’s co-leader Caroline Lucas called it “elitist rubbish” to prevent 16-year-olds from voting.

But there is the key question of experience: researchers generally agree that the brain is still developing until the mid-20s. Can teenagers really make such important decisions?

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. 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.

You Decide

  1. Do you think you are old enough or mature enough to vote?

Activities

  1. Write a letter to your MP arguing for or against a change to the voting age.

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 young people are significantly less likely to vote than old people. This means that parties often tailor their policies towards older voters.
What do we not know?
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 speak to them.

Word Watch

These three
Aldridge (Labour) is standing in Westmoreland and Lonsdale in Cumbria (whose current MP is the Lib Dem leader Tim Farron), Rimicans (Labour) in North Ayrshire and Arran, and Lee (Green) in Greater Manchester.
Trailblazers
Youth in politics is nothing new. William Pitt the Younger became prime minister in 1783 at just 24. Winston Churchill managed to become an MP in 1900 at the age of 26.
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.

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