Things you can do when you’re 16: get married, have sex, pilot a glider (note to self: must get around to piloting a glider), join the actual army, leave home, buy a lottery ticket and go to Reading Festival and cry about your GCSE results while missing Wiley on the Radio 1Xtra Stage because you’re in a really long queue for cheesy chips. Things you can’t do at 16: vote in general and local elections. Which, frankly, seems more than a bit b******s.
Despite rumours to the contrary, today’s 16 and 17-year- olds are switched on, politically engaged and part of many systems – the NHS, education and youth schemes, for starters – in whose running they currently have no say, even though said systems affect them every single day. I’m pretty sure the most fired up I’ve ever been is when I was 16 and wanted to change the world. I was out being aggy on demos quicker than you can say ‘hold my placard’, studying government and politics A-level and convinced my vegetarianism was a powerful political act.
I was more engaged with what was going on in Parliament than ever and knew my proportional representation from my first-past-the-post, but was still banned from casting a ballot, whereas I knew that people twice my age were regularly giving up their own chance to vote through general can’t-be-arsedness.
It turns out I’m not the only one who thinks young people should be more included in politics in the UK. Today (November 3), there will be a debate about reducing the voting age in this country from 18 to 16. The Representation of the People (Young People’s Enfranchisement and Education) Bill is set to have its second reading in the House of Commons and Cat Smith MP, Labour’s 32-year-old Shadow Minister for Voter Engagement and Youth Affairs, is fully on board. “Lots of young people feel their future has been decided for them by another generation, including the 1.5 million 16 and 17-year-olds living in the UK who are denied the right to vote by this Conservative Government,” she told NME. “The general election should have served as a wake-up call to the Conservative Party that they can no longer ignore young people’s views.”
Theresa May isn’t having any of it, opposing the idea in July, stating, “We expect people to continue in education or training until the age of 18, and I think that is the right point for the voting age.” But opening up voting to 16 and 17-year-olds isn’t just the decent thing to do, it’s embraced with open arms. In Scotland – where the voting age for local elections has been 16 since 2015 – 75 per cent voted in the Scottish independence referendum, compared with just 54 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds. If that’s what counts as apathy in 2017, bring it on.