Bring on the Clearasil Voters – they’ll knock spots off election apathy

My only complaint with Little Ed’s pledge-vow is that it doesn’t go far enough

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The Independent Online

In a gesture to delight the one demographic that could possibly regard him a superhero, Ed Miliband this week came out strongly for lowering the voting age to 16. Exactly how strongly is hard to gauge. Some reports analyse his announcement as “a vow”, which is close to maximum strength, though others dismiss it as “a pledge” (a statement of intent sufficiently degraded by Nick Clegg’s tuition fee debacle to translate as: “Erm, I’d like to do it, honest I would, urrgh, but… Hell, they can’t stop us dreaming!”).

Yet be it a vow, a pledge, an aspiration, or a solemn oath signed in blood, the Adrian Mole constituency to which Little Ed is well suited to serve as role model will be ecstatic at the news. Precocious mid-teens, your moment of democratic involvement is but a Labour victory away.

How other substrata of adolescent society will respond is anyone’s guess, though not mine. The middle-aged nebbish who generalises about teenagers is embarking on a form of dad-dancing too embarrassing even for me to attempt. For every Vicky Pollard (if we really must reduce this to lazy stereotyping), who knows how many left-leaning Moles there are? For each Kevin the Teenager, there might be half a Tory Boy with a faded poster of the 16-year-old William Hague on his bedroom wall. Lauren might be unbovvered about being denied the ballot box, but she no more represents her age group than a 17-year-old of my close acquaintance, who is hugely excited that he will be able to vote next May. He happens to be far more mature and better qualified to pick a government than his father, but a sample group of one may lack scientific credibility.

Anyway, all of that is a red herring. The argument here should have nothing to do with adult preconceptions, and no doubt misconceptions, about the eccentricities  or otherwise of the mid-teen mind. If a  97-year-old who has Alzheimer’s can vote,  by what logic should someone legally entitled to become a parent and join the Army be disqualified just because she claims not to comprehend the mechanics of washing  up, or he is defeated by the challenge of boiling an egg?

I can put the case no more eloquently than a contributor in America – where this issue also rumbles on – to the website “I think that 16-year-old should be able to vote because some kids at my school are the most smart peaple i no,” posits Maturity In Teens. “Some kids that i now will make the best choices that anyone will make because sometimes older peaple sometimes dont no what voting is about. And some kids no what is voting, president and secritary.” Who can say fairer than that?

Over here, startlingly, political parties split according to how the change would affect their votes. Labour appreciates that a minority of pre-18 year-olds belong to the right, as do the Liberal Democrats and the SNP (71 per cent of 16- and 17-years-olds voted Yes in the Scottish referendum). The Tories are not in favour. As for Ukip, although its position is not known, one assumes it would wish to go back to 1969, when the minimum age was 21; if not to 1918, when a woman over 30 was first permitted to vote so long as she owned a certain amount of property. However much one admires the above for cleaving to purest self-interest, the primary criterion should be this. Would extending the franchise do anything to counteract the apathy that has dragged turn-out down to worryingly close to 50 per cent? Would it pump a little adrenaline into the increasingly anaemic bloodstream of the body politic? And the answer, surely, is that it would.

In fact, my only complaint about Little Ed’s pledge-vow is that it doesn’t go far enough. With one MP, Penny Mordaunt, peppering a Commons speech with the word “cock” for a dare, and another Tory, Nigel Mills, enlivening a select committee meeting by playing Candy Crush on his iPad, 11 now seems the ideal age for active engagement with the democratic process.

But if the idea of prepubescents making crosses with colouring-in pencils remains a distant fantasy, the day of the Clearasil Voter may be upon us. If it is, and whatever warnings of impending anarchy Conservatives might screech, a brief glance around the world suggests that life would go on much as before. Possibly in a bid to prove that the Anschluss was reversed, and that it is a sovereign state, “Austria” (Greater Germany) gave 16-year-olds the vote in 2008, and survived.

A while ago, without doing a shred of damage to its reputation as a model democracy, North Korea did the same. What’s good enough for Kim Jong-il (he was in charge then) has to be good enough for us.

If people are regarded as old enough to work and pay income tax, how can they be denied a say in how that tax is spent? Or as Pollard herself put it in her well-received keynote address, “Yeah, but no, but yeah, but no, but yeah, but no taxation without representation, innit, like what them Yanks said before ’cos they threw them PG Tips into the sea. Don’t go giving me no evils. Shu’ up.”

Ukip’s Bird finds his wings clipped

Roger Bird, former Ukip general secretary

Little activates the lachrymals like a glorious career strangled in the womb, so weep salty tears for Roger Bird, who has withdrawn as Ukip’s candidate for the winnable seat of Basildon.

Still, at the time of writing, the party’s General Secretary, Bird is accused by one Natasha Bolter – also a newly ex-Ukip candidate, but previously a poster girl for Ukip inclusivity being of mixed race – of an indecent proposal.

While interviewing her at his club, she asserts, “he took me down to the snooker room [where else? nothing gets a lad frisky like a sepia print of Fred Davis], and said, ‘I find you very attractive… Would you like to come home with me?’”. He insists they were in a “consensual relationship”.

Without wishing to prejudice Ukip’s top-level inquiry, a couple of points in his defence. He seems a chivalrous fellow: finding Bolter too informally clothed, he bought her a £169 Ted Baker dress and matching shoes, and told her she now looked “like a girl who could get into a taxi”. For another thing, what’s a chap saddled with the name of Roger Bird supposed to do for God’s sake? Does nominative determinism count for nothing in the age of PC gone mad?

But the most eye-catching detail is his age. Mr Bird, who looks 53 and allegedly acts 77, is 41. Then again, Nigel Farage, who most take for 60, recently turned 50. Playing a part in the Ukip story seems really ageing. It’s like Cocoon in reverse.