should 16 and 17 year olds get the vote?

As George Osborne's #Budget2015 looks set to hit young people hardest, 17 year old Abby Tomlinson, leader of the #Milifandom, argues that people her age should have a say in the decisions that will affect their future.

by Abby Tomlinson
09 July 2015, 11:47am

Unless an amendment can be forced through in the House of Lords, 16 and 17 year olds will not get a vote in the upcoming EU referendum. For me, this is a travesty.

At 16 and 17, you are forced to make important decisions about your own future, decisions that will help determine how your life plays out. It is at 16 that you really start to gain a significant amount of control over your own life, and yet, you can have no say in the future of your country. David Cameron himself has emphasised the importance of the EU referendum with regards to Britain's future, and it just seems rather ridiculous that he wants to deny 16 and 17 year olds a say in a once-in-a-generation choice that will undoubtedly affect them and their lives. I don't mean to say that it will not affect those younger than 16, but by 16 you have completed secondary school, you have learned about different subjects in depth and, in general, have a better understanding of the world around you. At 16, you can also sit an AS Level exam in Government and Politics, and yet Conservative MP John Redwood still has the cheek to say that politically engaged teenagers are a "myth", even though teenagers have actively chosen to study politics at this age. No myth there John, that is a fact.

Not only do many politicians ignore teenagers engaged in politics, it's almost as though they don't want teenagers to be engaged. Take Education Secretary Nicky Morgan for example; she voted against lowering the voting age to 16 in the EU referendum, which would suggest she doesn't think that 16 and 17 year olds know enough about politics, and sees this as a problem. And yet, I don't see any moves from Morgan to increase political education in secondary schools. If she thinks it's such a problem, why on earth isn't she doing anything to solve it? Either she doesn't really believe that 16 and 17 year olds don't know enough about politics -- and voted because David Cameron tells her what to do -- or she just doesn't actually want more 16 and 17 year olds to be informed, because it makes things easier for the Tories if some of those young, progressive lefties are denied the vote and continue to be seen as irrelevant.

What makes the situation even more infuriating is the fact that 16 and 17 year olds were allowed to vote in the Scottish referendum, and have recently been enfranchised for all Scottish elections too. It seems extremely unfair that, whilst Scotland will recognise the voice of this age group, the rest of the UK will not. Perhaps one of the reasons some 16 and 17 year olds don't care about politics is actually because they don't have the vote; might they adopt the stance that, if the government does not care for their opinion, is it really worth having an opinion at all? The answer, of course, is yes, but being denied the vote only discourages teenage engagement.

If this group are given the vote for all general elections and referendums, the positive consequences far outweigh any negatives. Not only will it encourage engagement, it will also ensure that politicians have to more seriously consider young people when proposing policies and ideas, and are likely to propose more policies that will benefit young people.

Furthermore, I believe it is actually much easier to engage people in politics when they are 16 and 17 than when they are 18. At 16, you could be in year 11 of high school or year 12 of college and surrounded by teachers who could be there five days of the week telling you why it's important to vote. Imagine: there could be leafleting, talks, everything, it wouldn't be a difficult thing to have a compulsory assembly for those eligible to vote. However, it is much more difficult to capture an enfranchised group of 18 year olds and encourage them to. If we start the encouragement at 16 in schools and colleges, then I honestly believe that after a few elections the voting turnout for 18-24 year olds would also drastically increase.

As for how I'm planning to campaign about lowering the voting age, there are so many different ways. Before MPs voted on lowering the voting age for the EU referendum, I tweeted about 25 Conservative MPs and asked them for support. None replied, one followed. I also emailed my MP, a Conservative, asking for her support. She replied about 2 weeks later, a week after the vote, saying that she would consider my views "should the issue come to vote". Obviously, I think social media can be a great and easy way to campaign for or against something, so I fully intend to utilise that when continuing to campaign to lower the voting age, as it can reach a lot of people and help get your message across. Although simple and trivial to some, social media can actually help to make a difference.

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abby tomlinson