Yesterday was a brilliant day in Parliament, not only was it a historic moment but it’s a moment that I’m very proud of. Young people are constantly pushed aside and made to feel that their views are redundant, we are not trusted by our own nation, we are frequently ignored by our representatives but we have fought for the voice that we really deserve.
Yesterday in the House of Commons MPs debated whether or not we should lower the voting age to sixteen. I feel there was a subtle common ground on the topic; it was a pleasing and largely constructive debate- in fact the UK Youth Parliament was constantly brought up along with the work of the British Youth Council regarding the efforts they make to get young people’s voices heard. Although, admittedly there were some very cynical ideas about the voting age, one view in stood out in particular as an MP said that by giving young people the vote we make them ‘vulnerable,’ we take away their ‘childhood’- this isn’t true. By giving young people the vote we don’t force them to grow up, we give them responsibility and choice, giving young people the vote doesn’t mean we are burdening them, we’re showing them that they’re important and valued members of society, like they should be.
Many MPs attempted to impose the idea that if young people can’t buy cigarettes at the age of sixteen why should they be allowed to vote at that age? Surely if sixteen year olds are as well informed and as intelligent as people say they are then there would be no need for a law to prevent them from buying cigarettes right? Well, this argument just doesn’t make logical sense. Laws such as these are in place for the greater good, they’re set in our best interests to protect us. How on earth is not allowing us to vote and engage in political activity harmful? What are you protecting me from, the horrors of democracy? This is totally unacceptable and premise is totally far-fetched.
Austria, Nicragua, Brazil, Ecuador, Germany, Jersey, Guernsey, Slovenia and many more countries offer the vote at sixteen, it is essential to have this right, especially when we have very dwindling numbers turning out for elections such as the PCC elections, which had one of the poorest turn-outs in UK history- 13.7%. Give young people a reason, give them the chance to prove and show they’re responsible and engaged members of society. The attraction that the UK Youth Parliament got from media when we were in the House of Commons was immense. People are engaged with what we’re doing young people are engaged with the world around them; it’s the politicians that are not engaged, they’re not seeing what we as young people have to offer.
At the age of sixteen you can join a political party and help campaign for that party during election times, you can even vote for the leader of that party, and yet you can’t vote for that party. What’s the point? This premise is utterly flawed. You can be sent to war and in the worst case scenario die for your country but you can’t vote for the government that chooses to send and engage you in war. Young people pay National Insurance and VAT, yet we get no say as to what sectors this money gets put in. Young people are trusted to do so much at this age yet we’re not even trusted to vote. What does that say about how distant and backwards our government is, and has been? We are all rational humans, we all have our own voices and opinions, there is no reason to deny us one of the fundamental rights that we really and truly deserve.
All of these arguments were considered yesterday and as a result MPs in the House of Commons voted 116 to 46 in favour of votes at sixteen. I was very lucky to be able to sit in the public galleries at this debate and see such a momentous occasion happen before my eyes. Votes at 16 won’t just mean a few more voters. It will be a political movement which will encapsulate the unity of young people from across the UK and build us into a force that won’t be ignored.
By Chanté Joseph