Politics is a messy business but, unfortunately, it rules our lives in a very literal sense. So, what can we do to rejuvenate interest and passion into UK politics? How can we encourage more than 66% of the country to use the vote that we are so fortunate to have? Personally, I reckon a national ‘Throw Rotten Eggs at Boris Johnson Day’ could do the trick, but, failing that, some may argue that we give the vote to 16 and 17 year olds. This doesn’t seem like too much of a bad idea, after all that’s how they did it for the independence referendum and just look at the turnout for that – 84% of registered voters had their say. So, why not in general elections too?
With no disrespect to 16 and 17 year olds, having recently been one of them, they aren’t ready for the vote. The British education system does not prepare us enough to have a well-informed say in who we think should run the country when we are 16. This sort of knowledge normally comes from one of two places: either the individual has to have a personal desire to go and research manifestos and parties properly, or our parents and teachers send us in a particular direction.
The latter can be dangerous – at this age in life, the brain is prime for moulding. We are considering universities and course choices, if not jobs and careers, but we are still so reliant on our families and teachers to help guide us through it all, no matter how mature we are. When voting, people do need those two extra years of life experience and brain development to make an informed and personal decision.
The website www.votesat16.org claims that because 16 year olds are eligible to pay income tax, among other things, then they should be able to vote on who to manage their money. However, because of the law in England now, the vast majority of post-sixteen students in the UK are either still in education or training in work, therefore not paying tax. The fact of the matter is that 16 and 17 year olds just don’t hold as much of a stake in society as the current electorate.
I do strongly believe that we need to find a way to get the young voice heard more in politics, but there simply has to be a more rational solution to achieving this.
[Callum Price – @calprice28]
Let’s start by looking at some important legal rights bestowed upon 16 and 17 year olds that are the foundation of beginning one’s own life: claiming benefits, earning the minimum wage and, upon becoming 17, leaving home without parental guarantor.
These rights can all be affected by government policy, and yet we deny the youth the right to have their say in these policies that will affect their self-determination. This leads to a demographic of the population, being dictated to by the politically mobile, who are believed to possess innate knowledge of policy that 16 year olds do not, because they have circled the sun twice more.
I hope you are beginning to see the absurdity of this dilemma.
Twenty-first century British politics has been defined by political apathy. Lowering the voting age would encourage debate in schools, instigating an urgency to develop independent thinking, with Scotland’s recent foray into lowering the voting age gave some promising results.
Dr. Jan Eichhorn of Edinburgh University has shown that 16-17 year olds voted mainly on the economy as opposed to national identity, had their own independent views – more than 40% voted differently to their parents – and actually encouraged political engagement amongst the older voting demographic, as children would come home from school and exchange what they had learnt at school with their parents.
However, those opposed, could argue that the referendum is a bad basis on which to justify lowering the voting age, citing the fact that it was a Yes/No debate which lacked the intricacy and plurality of a multi-party general election. However, there is no parallel to raw experience when it comes to learning. Exposure to the great variety of thought and the inter-penetration of political philosophies that are involved at a general election could create any number of politically adept individuals.
Otherwise, we risk choosing between subscribing to a binary left/right paradigm or being completely disillusioned because the correct environment for cultivating one’s ideas was not provided at a younger age, upon being thrust into the political abyss at the age of 18.
[Douglas Keith Jack – @DougKeithJack]