Give young people the vote

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Give young people the vote

16 and 17-year-olds can make reasoned and sensible judgements over political issues as well as any other adult, says Sir Peter Bottomley MP. They should be given the vote too.

Cast aside the turmoil surrounding Brexit for a moment, and 2018 offers us reasons for it to be remembered in other ways. This year marked 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.

A decade later, 1928 saw the introduction of 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 making 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.

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. A few 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 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. 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 more important role in voting intentions. Voting behaviour 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. Anyone who doubts whether or not 16 and 17-year-olds can make reasoned and sensible judgements over political issues can watch or listen to the debates of the Youth Parliament in the House of Commons during Parliament Week each November.

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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    Sir Peter Bottomley MP
    Sir Peter Bottomley MP is a Conservative Party politician and Treasurer of the APPG on Votes at 16. He has served as a Member of Parliament since 1975 and has represented the Worthing West constituency since 1997.
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