Is it time to give 16- and 17-year-olds the vote? Two of the main Westminster political parties think so, and in Scotland they will be allowed to cast their verdict in next year’s independence referendum.
The hope from Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP is pretty transparent: to tap into the perceived social liberalism of yoof, in the hope of finding energetic new support. “The evidence we have,” said the shadow Lord Chancellor, Sadiq Khan, yesterday, “is that if you vote the first time you are entitled to, you will carry on doing so through your life.” So if Labour comes to power, the first to get teen suffrage – following Brazil, Argentina, Austria, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Slovenia, Cuba, Bosnia and the Crown dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man – would be today’s nine-year-olds.
But what really motivates teenagers, politically? You don’t need to be 16 for the Westminster beltway to come across as being about middle-aged white men. Real-world issues get a response. How about this as a tick-list for someone’s 2020 general-election manifesto, with newly enfranchised 16-year-olds in mind: minimum wage, job skills, crime, education, maintenance allowance, exams, buses and trains, police, libraries, teaching, climate change, and personal debt.
Is there any appetite among teens for the vote? It’s not exactly a noisy campaign. But then we haven’t really asked.
This is no panacea for our stale democracy, let’s be clear. Some teenagers, though, would be more politically motivated than older generations – and have the energy to breathe life into morbid campaigns. Most are smart and articulate, with bags of courage and creativity. People aged 16 and 17 are, generally, still rooted in the community where they grew up, whereas a significant minority of Britain’s 18-year-olds have moved away and disengaged by the time they receive that first ballot paper.
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