One of the main arguments against extending the franchise to 16 year olds is that ‘they’re not interested’ and Ill be blunt; many are not. A lot of 16 year olds find politics dull, they’re uninspired by politicians, bored by rhetoric and believe that ‘they’re all the same’, in regards to political parties.
And yet, despite this, when I tell even the most politically apathetic that I’m involved in politics, they’re impressed and intrigued. Politics to a 16-year-old seems elusive and alien. Reserved for suit-wearing, forty-something year old Oxford graduates with millionaire grandparents.
It is not for a state-schooled teenager who wears jeans and goes to parties. Fundamentally, I think this distance between teenagers and politics is why so many young people are ‘disinterested’; they just don’t know how to get involved.
Yet if 16-year-olds were able to vote, it would shorten this distance. Politicians would reach out to them (for they’d have to; we all know politicians only care about the electorate), campaigns would be centred around getting them out and voting, and for the first time young people would have a direct way to participate in politics.
Of course, I won’t claim all our young people are apathetic; in fact, some of the most passionate people about politics I’ve met have all been very young. There are many organisations dedicated to young people who want to get involved; UK Youth Parliament, the British Youth Council, youth wings of major political parties.
For these people, myself included, the vote is what they have been begging for. It’s frustrating and humiliating to know that the government thinks you too young, too immature, too inexperienced to be able to partake in political activism. This was one of my major fears when I was 13 and getting involved in politics; I was so young, even for the youth wings, I was frightened I wouldn’t be taken seriously when it was still five years until I could ‘officially’ voice my opinion.
So I watched from the sidelines, and it’s only been in the past year or so that I’ve really engaged in politics. If this is how I feel, being a politics-obsessed person, how will ‘normal’ teenagers feel about getting involved? Ironically, it’s this lack of the vote and ability to participate that keeps teenagers not interested in politics, for if they think the government don’t care about them, they won’t care about the people in power.
At a recent Q&A with Robert Syms, Conservative MP for a neighbouring constituency to my own (a visit organised as part of AS-level Politics – a popular subject at my school). In that session, he was, predictably, questioned about his thoughts on voting at 16.
In typical politician fashion, he skirted around the topic; he of course was opposed to lowering the voting age as they were ‘too immature’. This is after he arrived late for our session, got the name of our school wrong, despite our school being in his constituency, and tried to get out the session as quick as possible! (I could write an entire article on Robert Syms and his incapability to be an MP, but that’s for a different time.)
After reminding him that he was in a room full of politically interested 16 and 17 year olds, who were being neglected and disregarded in UK politics by being denied the vote, despite that we were all able to get married, pay tax, and join the army, he sarcastically suggested I start my own campaign for votes at 16. I think I might.
Sophie Nash is standing to be ordinary officer on the Young Labour national committee. You can see a full list of left candidates here.