There are currently 1.5 million sixteen and seventeen year olds denied the right to vote.
Recently, there has been a lot of debate on the political stage as to whether sixteen and seventeen year olds should be allowed to vote in general elections and although the youth of today are often described in patronising, if not downright rude, jargon- there are many young people who would jump at the chance to vote for their Government.
Many say young people don't have enough life experience to be able to vote, how much more life experience do you need than waiting for weeks to see your GP; not being able to afford new school uniform because of austerity measures or having their school turned into an academy because of government policy? A prime example of this is the current Government policy to raise tuition fees to £9,000 per year: if the sixteen and seventeen year olds of the time of the 2010 election had been able to vote, would this policy have destroyed their chance of getting elected? Would they have made policies that would be more inclusive to the younger generation? Maybe, we can't be certain but as it stands many are being put off the idea of getting a degree and heading straight for the workplace; but, with a struggling economy where the unemployment toll gets higher every day, was it really an ingenious idea or was it, indeed, a disastrous mistake?
‘‘Young people do not know enough about politics’’. True, it needs to be tackled. In a society where certain sixteen and seventeen year olds can't even name the incumbent prime minister, something needs to be done. 'Citizenship' (the word every teenager dreads to see on their timetable) needs to be made more exciting, but at the same time more informative of topical stories that affect young people in the world, general elections and why you should be involved. Young people need to be aware of the options they face when voting so we do not create generations of abstainers because ‘they’re all the same’, ‘I didn’t know who to vote for’ or ‘I don’t care about politics’. We are currently comprehending the lowest turnout figures in general elections ever post World War II and party membership being at its lowest point since the turn of the 20th Century: something needs to be tackled at the lowest level possible: the answer? Sixteen year olds.
If young people feel they can interact and take an interest in current affairs we will develop better thinkers for the future- after all, one of today's sixteen or seventeen year olds may well be the prime minister in the next thirty or forty years. If sixteen and seventeen year olds are allowed to vote, it will lead to them wanting to find out more about their options when it comes to deciding how this country is run by asking their parents, teachers and peers. Even though they may be influential, isn’t it the culture we grow up in that ultimately sways our political stance? By becoming more interested in politics, young people will start listening to politicians and (granted this is not always reliable) forming their opinions on what they say their party will do if they get elected into government (even if it is not always the case) The argument of unawareness is also invalid because in this country we have ignorant forty and fifty year olds- who don’t vote, won’t vote and can’t vote, but they are still eligible to vote, yet when the issue surrounds young people, it is age that matters.
Young people are currently suffering from a ‘double standard’ society where they are eligible to pay adults fares on public transport, eligible to pay income tax and even eligible to join the army yet they are not allowed to vote in a general election where Governments can amend these ages at will.
What kind of society allows sixteen year olds to sleep with their MP, move in with their MP and marry their MP but doesn't allow sixteen year olds to vote for them?
There are many organisations that back the Votes for 16 campaign, including the British Youth Council, Scottish Youth Parliament and National Union of Students. It may even be debated at this year’s United Kingdom Youth Parliament (UKYP) annual House of Commons debate. If you feel that this needs to be debated on 23rd November 2012 and want it to become UKYP’s national campaign of 2012 and you are 11-18, fill out this ballot paper (www.mi-vote.com/mym), ticking the corresponding box with David Hall as the Member of Youth Parliament and the London Borough of Greenwich as the local authority- your voice matters just like the currently silent 16 & 17 year olds.
By David Hall