Is it time that 16 and 17 year olds make their mark?

3 Nov 2014

 

Young adults of today are able to make hard and long-term decisions such as join the army, work full-time, and pay tax. Yet the British government still denies 1.5 million 16 to 17 year olds the right to vote, even though most laws created by the political parties will affect every single one of them. Is it right for the government to withhold the franchise from 16 to 17 year olds, or are they just too young to vote?

 

It has been a question that has been tossed around the political sphere over the past 10 years. But, it has been brought back into the spotlight with the recent Scottish referendum and by the Labour party; with a pledge to give 16 to 17 years olds the vote set to appear in their 2015 manifesto. It is an idea that is backed by the Liberal Democrats, but is sorely opposed by the Conservative party.

 

The electorate is also divided over the issue, with a large majority against the extension of the franchise. Besides, it’s something that young adults are unsure on too, the Youth Citizenship Commission (set up in June 2009) found that only 46% were in favour, with the concerns of the other 54% being they feel they do not hold the relative information to go out and make their mark at election time.

 

The government has attempted to change this with ‘Citizenship Lessons’ becoming a compulsory part of the national curriculum for 11 to 16 year olds in England. However, it was poorly organised and for the most part politics equated to only 4 hours over the course of the academic year. Hardly teaching young voters of the future what the often complicated and strange system that we call British Politics is.

 

‘UK Government and Politics’ is also something that does not appear as a subject until A- Level. If politics was to be included at GCSE, I believe more people would choose the subject, thus striking an interest in politics at an earlier age, causing young people to go on and become active members of British politics.

 

Nowhere is there a better example than the Scottish referendum, where young adults relished the chance to make their mark, with a staggering 81% being registered to vote. The referendum proved that when entrusted to cast a ballot, young adults can deliver. So if we can entrust 16 to17 year olds to vote on the independence of a country, we can surely allow them to vote for their local MP.

 

Shortly after the referendum Sadiq Kahn, a close ally to Mr Miliband, said "Despite warnings from the sceptics, 16 and 17-year-olds did come out and vote and engage in the big issues over the future of Scotland” he went on to say, “this is all the more reason why the voting age should be lowered for all elections. It's an idea whose time has come.”

 

As a student I feel that the government are taking advantage of the fact that we are unable to vote. For example, parties hold the ability to change tuition fees for prospective students, even before that student has the ability to vote at an election. Lowering the voting age is a topic which I feel deserves a full and fair debate up and down the country and then within the walls of Parliament.

 

In 1969 the Parliament passed The Representation of the People Act, which extended the franchise to 18 year olds, we became one of the first countries in the world to do so and soon after many countries followed. I believe it is time for the United Kingdom to do the same again and extend the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds.

 

By Josh Harwood

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