It’s clear that all the best people read the Penarth Times! Last week my article on poor voter turnout and my suggestion that we lower the voting age to 14 clearly sparked interest and was quoted extensively, not least by the BBC, ITV, The Independent and the Huffington Post online. The ‘Votes at 16’ campaign were also very pleased and Liam Preston, the chair of the British Youth Council, said that he was “delighted” that I had raised the issue. Locking young people out from taking part in their political system is patronising; he said it “relies on out-dated views about young people’s capacities” and he drew comparisons to how women and those under 21 used to be kept out of the voting process.
In the ensuing discussion, some people asked whether young people have the ‘capacity’ to make this kind of decision. Are they mature enough? In fact I find that young people are more than capable of making intelligent decisions than many other people and as the decisions taken by MPs affect their world just as much, it makes sense to include them. We have the opportunity to engage young people at exactly the time when they are learning how the world works, and not just those who go on to college. Once they know how to vote and are registered then they are much more likely to vote again in future elections.
The alternative of trying to engage young people through mock elections hasn’t worked because they know that nothing will change as a result of their vote. So it becomes a sort of ‘beauty contest’.
My guess is that candidates will change how they campaign if they have to ask for the support of people who will have to live with the effects of our legislation for the longest.
I’m glad that people were so interested in this, but my article last week actually highlighted another issue; that of the proposed move to individual voter registration, and away from household registration. The Committee on Standards in Public Life stressed that it is vital to get the existing register up as near to 100% as possible in advance of any move to individual registration. We’re nowhere near that target and with 3 million people already missing from the register, this is now urgent.