A vote at 16 would pep up politics


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The Independent Online

Vote for the Tories and Cameron promises they will help us to achieve our full potential. Vote Labour and you're signing up to an all-inclusive Britain. But what if you're not allowed to vote? In spite of their grandstanding and grovelling for maximum media coverage over the past few weeks, our party leaders chose to ignore one sizeable section of society as they set our their vision for the future – the young. A million 16- to 24-year-olds are unemployed and not in further education, but those under 18 have no way of registering their opinions at the ballot box and perhaps influencing their fate.

Alex Salmond has cleverly manoeuvred David Cameron into agreeing that 16-year-olds in Scotland can vote in the 2014 independence referendum, a move bound to (rightly) infuriate many of their teenage counterparts south of the border.

One and a half million 16- and 17-year-olds are over the age of consent, able to pay tax, work, fight for their country and marry. Cameron wants to legislate for gay marriage, citing equal rights for all, but why should 16-year-olds suffer discrimination when it comes to elections?

It doesn't matter how many young people actually bother to vote. We can't complain that they are unfocused, lacking in ambition and the social skills to enter the workplace without giving them the chance to make their mark on society. Giving 16-year-olds the vote must be progressed as an all-party issue without delay and on the statute book before the next election.

Our Prime Minister needs to wake up to the real world: by 16, young people are fully engaged with issues, if not political parties. That they find mainstream politics a turn-off is the fault of our colourless three main parties, and not the young. David Cameron tweeting is the latest "wannabe groovy" move that sums up the desperation to be "relevant". Giving teenagers the vote might even shake up our moribund party system. Three dreary party conferences prove that time is not on their side.

Very fine art

Ten years on, the Frieze Art fair has a grown-up sister a brisk walk away across Regent's Park. The brash atmosphere inside the contemporary Frieze pavilion, where stands display the very latest in avant-garde art, and a jostling throng of gawpers shuffle round, is reminiscent of feeding time in the monkey house. The new arrival, Frieze Masters, on the other hand, is very calming, from the carpeted floors to the soothing grey walls, to the catering – champagne and delicious nibbles from Giorgio Locatelli. The most expensive item on show, a sensational Alexander Calder mobile, priced at £12.5m, has already been sold. Everyone looks very silky and airbrushed, even the elderly men have fabulous, long, grey, wavy hair.

There are icons, renaissance altarpieces, cherubs, classical statuary and prehistoric carvings laid out in a series of tasteful counterpoints so the very rich can see the decorative potential. This is art for mansions, and if you need to ask the price, you can't afford it. Having said that, there are some wonderful surrealist photographs on show, fabulous early Warhol drawings and a Paula Rego I'd love to own.

Some critics moan that Frieze Masters plonks great and bad art together. Stuff is worth what people will pay for it. I loved the random quality of the experience. Next year, Frieze Masters will only get bigger, which is very good news for London hotels and restaurants.

Mat's a top aunt

Dreading your next gas bill? Depressed at the onset of gloomy winter time? My spirits were magically lifted the other night at a hilarious new production of the classic Victorian farce Charley's Aunt at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London. The success of this revival is due in no small measure to the superb performance by Mat Horne as Lord Fancourt Babberley, or Babbs to his pals, a role leading comedians from Arthur Askey and Jack Benny to Griff Rhys Jones and Frankie Howerd have attempted, with varying results. Dressed as an elderly aunt in a drab black frock and appalling wig, Mat's frenetic, twitching display of nervousness and anxiety is hilarious. Since the huge success of Gavin and Stacey, Mat's career has been a bit of a rollercoaster. The comedy series he made for the BBC with his best pal James Corden wasn't recommissioned, and a British horror film, Lesbian Vampire Killers, got a mixed reception. Mat was superb opposite Imelda Staunton in a recent West End production of Joe Orton's Entertaining Mr Sloane, and he's back on form in this cracking show. With Corden's award-winning performance in One Man, Two Guvnors, both James and Mat have proved they are fine stage actors, and their TV work doesn't show their range.

Radical by birth

Dr Helen Pankhurst has an impressive family tree. Her great-grandmother and grandmother were the suffragettes Emmeline and Sylvia Pankhurst, tireless campaigners for women's suffrage. Helen has clearly inherited their genes: she took part in Danny Boyle's opening ceremony for the Olympics with her daughter dressed as a suffragette and described it as a moving experience. At an event to celebrate the first International Day of the Girl on the South Bank in London last week, where 200 women acted as mentors for schoolgirls, Helen remarked that David Cameron needs to get out and spend more time with "real women", berating him for his lack of female-friendly policies and berating politicians who seek to change the law on abortion. She wants female MPs to vote together to stop further reversals. Cuts in legal aid and a 30 per cent cut in funding for refuges for victims of domestic abuse have had a huge impact on vulnerable women. A march on Parliament by action group UK Feminista is on 24 October.

Wonky parsnips

Beauty is only skin deep, says Sainsbury's, promoting not a range of body lotions, but fruit and veg. After the appalling summer, retailers are trying to persuade picky customers that wonky vegetables taste as good as perfect specimens. Potatoes have cracked skins, fruit is much smaller, and some apples and pears have rust marks or blemishes caused by the torrential rain. With harvests 25 per cent down, farmers need to sell as much produce as possible. Signs in my Tesco explain why the potatoes look slightly imperfect, as if customers will run a mile if they see a scab. One in five of 2,000 adults polled by the Potato Council think parsnips grow on trees, and one in 20 reckon tomatoes grow underground. The Soil Association says up to 40 per cent of vegetables used to be rejected by retailers because they did not meet ludicrous standards of uniformity – a shocking waste. I eat everything I grow, whatever it looks like. But I'm hardcore.