VOTES AT 16

Supporting the extension of the franchise

SIR PETER CAMPAIGNS ALONGSIDE THE BRITISH YOUTH COUNCILTORY REFORM GROUPELECTORAL REFORM SOCIETY AND JOSEPH ROWNTREE REFORM TRUST.
 

HE IS ONE OF THE FOUNDING OFFICERS OF THE VOTES AT 16 ALL PARTY PARLIAMENTARY GROUP WHICH PROGRESSES THE CAMPAIGN FROM WITHIN THE HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT.

02 April 2019

APPG  Campaign Report Launch

At the recent AGM for the All Party Parliament Group for Votes at 16, the campaign’s proponents within Parliament, I was pleased to be elected as Vice Chair of the group and to work alongside my colleagues in progressing this important campaign.

 

I appreciate that many people share contrary views to this. I do not dispute the level of feeling across all sides in this debate. Though, I do dispute many of the key arguments employed against extending the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds. I do not buy the argument that all age restrictions should be the same. The age to buy fireworks or to be a customer in a tanning booth can be decided separately. 

 

Students and apprentices at colleges in my constituency, or interns in my office, are not too young to vote. They are impressive, sensible, and capable of making reasoned judgements. At the debate hosted at County Hall by West Sussex County Council with local Youth Councillors and at the debate held in Worthing Town Hall between local schools, it was plain that there are few good reasons to delay extending the opportunity. It is the right thing to do.

 

The dominant and convincing approach, I believe, is to assume we all want the average age of participation in a general election to be at or around 18. Registering at 16 allows that because we anticipate five years between national votes. 

This week, the group publishes an updated Campaign Report. My article ‘Making the Case for Progress’ comes at the beginning. Some constituents may not be convinced, at least yet. I encourage all to read the report here

12 December 2018

Progress and Pragmatism

This year we celebrate a century since the Representation of the People Act of 1918. This Act first gave (some) women and almost all men the right to vote.

 

The Equal Franchise Act came in 1928, completely equalizing the franchise for women and men. The 1969 Act reduced the age of voting to 18. This act in 1969, made the United Kingdom the first country in the world to reduce the voting age from 21 to 18. We have consistently been one of the first countries to recognize the rights of the disenfranchised, and we should not be afraid to be at the forefront of progress once again.

 

Those who disagree with Votes at 16 might point to examples of requirements for people to reach the age of 18, such as buying alcohol. Many may claim 16 and 17-year-olds to be incapable of casting a serious vote. These arguments replicate those advanced against women 100 years ago, and, before that, against men who didn’t own property.

 

If we are in favour of the average new voter taking part in a national election aged 18, to achieve this, voting eligibility needs to be 16. Under the current system where the voting age is 18, the average age for people voting in their first election is 21. General elections now occur normally every five years. The direct vote for an MP is an indirect vote for a national government that could be in place for up to five years. By the end of that Government, a 16–year–old will have reached the age of 21.  Votes at 16 makes sense.

 

If we want to continue to consider our nation a United Kingdom, irrespective of any level of devolution, votes at 16 should happen. It has already happened in Scotland and will soon happen in Wales and possibly Northern Ireland. English 16 and 17-year-olds should not be left behind by the Parliament that exists to represent them. It is now the case that 16-year-olds are able to vote in the British dependencies of the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey, as can those in Scotland for The Scottish Parliament. If is acceptable in those circumstances with no issues, then why would this not be acceptable across the rest of the UK?

 

Many from the Conservative Party fear that enfranchising those aged 16 and 17 would lead to an increase in the support for left wing parties and that there is a natural ‘socialist’ sympathy among people within this age bracket. However, elections in Scotland have found that this is not the case, and it is factors such as geographical location and socio-economic background that play a far more important role in voting intentions. Voting behavior among 16-year-olds in Scotland is also often in line with the rest of the country.

 

Students and apprentices at colleges in my constituency, or interns in my office, are not too young to vote. They are impressive and sensible. They are capable of making reasoned judgments. I have the same feelings when in discussions with youth councillors, youth mayors and Members of the Youth Parliament across the country. I would implore anyone who doubts whether or not 16 and 17-year-olds can make reasoned and sensible judgements over political issues to watch or listen to the debates of the Youth Parliament in the House of Commons during Parliament Week each November.

 

In reflecting on the previous year, I have been proud to act as Treasurer for the Votes at 16 APPG. It was also a pleasure to host a reception at the Conservative Party Conference, uniting stake holders, campaigners and supportive party members to discuss the campaign's progress and potential.

This next year presents key constitutional developments as we leave the European Union. This is an opportunity to update our democracy and reinvigorate our politics. Let this be the first step.

Do not approach this issue with calculations of party advantage.

 

Let us unite in trusting and engaging with our country’s future.

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© 2019 Sir Peter Bottomley

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