Admittedly, it’s not often I agree with David Cameron. But if there’s one thing good ol’ Dave and I can agree on, it’s that I shouldn’t be allowed to vote.
Lowering the voting age to 16 – the brainchild of the SNP, backed by Labour, the Liberal Democrats and about anyone else you care to name. The argument, in its simplest: Scotland did it – that turned out alright – why shouldn’t we just give it a go?
Because, in the nicest way possible, generally us young people know roughly three politicians: whoever’s Prime Minister, the one stuck on the zip wire and whoever keeps putting the GCSE grade boundaries up. It’s rare to find someone who has views on the bedroom tax or NHS privatisation – trust me, I’ve tried.
This isn’t to say young people are apathetic, lazy or whatever else, but the fact is so many of the key policies just aren’t integral to our everyday lives. As much as I’d like to have the sort of living conditions in which I’d be affected by mansion tax, the truth is I’m still living with mum and have roughly £17 in my bank account at any given time – and I’d challenge you to find many sixteen year olds who don’t.
And so what would be the point?
Miliband is intent on ‘hear(ing) the voices of those who haven’t been heard in a long time’, but who knows what those voices would be saying. If the voting age was to be lowered, it would have to come in tandem with a massive increase of political engagement on the national curriculum which, seeing as even a simple amendment to sex education can’t be passed, seems unlikely. And so we find politicians and young people trapped in a vicious circle: they don’t care about us, why should we care about them?
There is truth in that the claim that there are so few policies aimed at young people – but who’s to say lowering the voting age would lead to any more? Us young’uns would still be no match for the roaring, thunderous force that are the over 60s – the electorate’s most dedicated voters. They’re the ones who cast the votes, and policies are tailored accordingly because really if there’s one thing politicians like, it’s votes.
So if there’s any hope for young people in politics, we should rely on those who already are enfranchised – that 56% of 18 to 25 year olds who didn’t vote at the last election. We need power in numbers, and we need to make sure those numbers actually turn up on election day. How that should be done is debatable but the answer definitely isn’t leaving another 1.5 million people wallowing in a political system that’s doing nothing for them.
Yet politicians are seeming increasingly keen to implement this change. It’s estimated the majority of 16 to 18 year olds would vote Labour – perhaps it’s unsurprising they’re one of the policies biggest supporters. But if the major parties really are as keen to engage young people as they claim to be, far more can be gained by targeted and sympathetic policies that directly effect young people than by just hoping to be the recipient of a misinformed vote. Whether it’s a more varied education system to fit a globalised world, investment in vocational opportunities or capping university fees, if parties take this opportunity to define what they mean for young people, who knows, by the age of 18 I might actually know what I’m voting for.
So lowering the voting age is not the answer. If we want to change the system, if we want to get young people involved – and we should – we need to focus on making voting a seductive prospect, something to be anticipated and cherished. And whilst the constant refrain of ‘but my vote makes no difference’ is compelling – and somewhat true – the collective power of our young people should not be underestimated, and we need to make sure it’s put to the best use possible. So yes, the ages of 16 and 17 are a crucial time, but they’re a crucial time to start learning – not to start voting.
See my version for the Telegraph here.