Votes at 16 – an idea that made its case

First published on Progressonline in the Young progressives column

Following the UK Youth Parliament’s both historic and impressive performance in the House of Commons two weeks ago, the prime minister was asked if he supported lowering the voting age to 16. To my surprise, he pledged his support for the policy but said yet more consultation was needed.

Following the UK Youth Parliament’s both historic and impressive performance in the House of Commons two weeks ago, the prime minister was asked if he supported lowering the voting age to 16. To my surprise, he pledged his support for the policy but said yet more consultation was needed.

I will be proud to knock on doors for Labour at the coming election and speak directly to first time voters and tell them that Labour offers a future to our nation’s young people. Votes at 16 is barely a vote winner but it sends a message to young people, continuously vilified in the media, that Labour believes that when young people engage good things will happen. That we can loosen our grip on democracy and welcome a new batch of voters whose concerns will be slightly different – yet fundamentally progressive.

I have long argued that the case for Votes at 16 is compelling. For me, a Labour party member, it is not about people’s right to vote or the benefits of widening the franchise (as important as they are), but that young people’s services are first to be cut, least likely to be consulted on and concerns about the future can be delayed for the short-termism of a parliamentary election cycle.

Now more than ever, it is important that young people get the vote so they can state a claim on their public services and join Labour in a progressive coalition that defends local services and investment in better provision and the future. In an age where cuts will fall, we need to ensure that fairness and equality is front and centre when deciding which service to cut and what to keep. If the Tories’ track record is to be repeated, we will see them hit youth services most, support against unemployment abolished and investment in skills a thing of the past. Only if the Labour party gives young people the stake to fightback might the legacy of 12 years of relentless investment be saved from a Tory government intent on a slash a burn approach to our public sector.

When I first met Progress chair, Stephen Twigg, as a bright eyed member of the UK Youth Parliament in its first year back in 2000, I asked his views on Votes at 16 – he was a supporter. Denied a follow up question, I wrote to him as minister for young people asking what the point in the position was if we had convinced the minister of our campaign and nothing changed; I wondered if there was any point in being involved after all. At the time I received a very nice reply.

I was reminded of this experience when watching PMQs this Wednesday. The votes at 16 lobby has convinced the prime minister of Britain that the voting age should be lowered – yet nothing is going to happen despite a Constitutional Reform Bill currently going through its parliamentary stages.

If I were in the Youth Parliament today I would feel disappointed and frustrated. What chance is there that you can change the world if when you have convinced the prime minister of Great Britain nothing happens.

Young people should be taken more seriously and shown real respect. Those great young people who turned up to argue about the future of our country did not do so to have their say – you can go on Trisha if you want to get something off your chest – but because they want to change the world in which they live.

I am sure one of two of the MYPs are still coming down from the high of sitting on those green benches, my hope is their when they do, they still want to engage because tokenism can not be tolerated.

The government could show it cares – amend the Bill, give young people the vote and in a time when people think so little of politics and politicians show them that it is only those who engage in our political system that get to change it for the better.

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Richard Angell is parliamentary and equalities manager for Community Union and a former national chair of Young Labour

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