Time to lower the voting age to 16

MP for Peterborough Fiona Onasanya
MP for Peterborough Fiona Onasanya
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A modern country should do whatever it can to ensure that all sections of society get a say in who represents them.

Through the centuries, political movements have worked towards extending the franchise; first, it was granted to people who weren’t of noble birth, then to those who didn’t own property, then again to women. Each and every time, the result of expanding the electorate has been a parliament which better reflected the composition of the country itself, its opinions, and its needs. I believe the next step forward is to reduce the voting age to 16. This is neither a particularly dramatic change, nor is it untried. In the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, 16 and 17 year olds were allowed a say. Following this, the Scottish parliament extended the franchise for their elections.

In the case of the referendum, this created greater voter enthusiasm; it also served the cause of natural justice. Adults hitherto have created the future and the young have had to live in it: in that instance, youth could make its wishes known, and while their desires in that case were not decisive, at least they had a chance to express themselves.

At the moment, we are at a political impasse: adults are presently making the future in the form of Brexit, education and health policies, and increases to the national debt. The young will have to bear the consequences of these decisions far longer than we will. It shouldn’t sit well with anyone who has a conscience that youth isn’t granted a seat at the table; at best, they are patronised with bland statements about the adults knowing what is best for them. This is nonsense. Not only do young people have a much more extensive stake in the future, we live in an era in which every young person carries around (in the form of a mobile phone) access to a greater store of knowledge than the Library of Alexandria. They can get up to date information far more rapidly than any generation hitherto; as they are the internet generation, they often have a keener sense of what is fact and what is “fake news” than their elders. There is a widespread belief that young people don’t vote, and thus extending the franchise could ultimately be meaningless.

The 2017 General Election showed the reality is altogether different: the young will vote if they are inspired to do so. Imagine how our political system could be improved if political parties were made to talk about the future in positive, constructive terms in order to make young voters manifest themselves. Imagine how democracy would be revitalised by soliciting the participation of a whole new constituency, not just by their voting but also by their running for office.

I passionately believe we need this: let the young vote.