HAVE we really thought through this “votes at 16” issue?
On the only recent occasion when the Commons was given a vote on this subject – on a Ten Minute Rule Motion – I voted against. As a colleague at the time observed: “I’ll support votes at 16 when half a million 15- to 17-year-olds march on parliament demanding it.”
In fact, I’ve had virtually no representations from constituents asking me to support this measure. It’s one of those issues which, when put before people, will usually ellicit a positive response. But it’s certainly not an issue that young people, unprompted, will volunteer as an issue important to them.
And the reason all this is important is this: if 16 and 17-year-olds are to be given the vote, I worry that the most significant effect will be a huge increase in the number of “voters” who don’t vote.
I can almost hear the arguments winging their way towards me even as you read this: “Why shouldn’t they be allowed to vote when they can join the army/buy alcohol/have sex/pay tax, etc?” (And I say “they” rather than “we” because this is a change which is almost invariably promoted by those who have already reached the age of majority, rather by those who might actually benefit from it.)
I think it rather unlikely that we will ever have a single age at which individuals attain all these rights. In the meantime, the argument for votes at 16 has not yet been made. If there are powerful arguments in favour, I haven’t heard them yet.
But perhaps I will soon, because Labour’s National Policy Forum has decided in favour, and it will now be put to national conference. It’s a debate I’ll be interested in listening to.
But just because something can be changed, it doesn’t necessarily mean it should be.