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Votes at 16 won’t have young people flocking back to the Lib Dems

January 21st, 2013 Posted in freedom, Liberal Democrats by

Over on his blog, Stephen Williams MP has revealed he will once again attempt to lower the voting age to 16 for UK elections and referenda.

Williams makes some valid points about its successful operation elsewhere, on the maturity of young adults and their political awareness through organisations like the UK Youth Parliament. But whilst votes at 16 has been a longstanding aspiration of the Liberal Democrats, it could be perceived as a desperate attempt to reconnect with the younger demographic following their u-turn on tuition fees.

Many remarked alterations to the franchise for the Scottish Independence Referendum was an attempt to gerrymander the vote (subsequent polling has shown this would backfire) and for Nationalists to cynically curry favour with young people.

Indeed, where had the sudden desire to ‘empower’ and ‘enfranchise’ [insert meaningless buzzword here] young people come from? After all, the SNP effectively deemed them as too infantile to understand the obvious health consequences of smoking cigarettes by upping the purchasing age from 16 to 18 and then sought to increase the purchasing age for booze from 18 to 21. One Nationalist MSP even ludicrously proposed a curfew on young drivers under 25 (good on LYS for taking them to task).

One would expect liberal voices to challenge  such liberty eroding moves yet in his article Stephen Williams said,

There are good health reasons for controlling access to alcohol and tobacco.”

Hold on. You can be deemed mature enough to participate in an election and understand the main policy debates including, one assumes, health policy, yet be too immature to fully understand the consequences of smoking fags or drinking lager? It seems hypocritical to confer rights on one hand whilst restricting them on the other. If they are young adults, we should allow them to exercise personal responsibility. I believe young people have the capacity to make sensible and informed decisions about their own life but it is puzzling that some advocates of votes at 16 don’t seem to agree.

Votes at 16 won’t help the Lib Dems suddenly re-engage with young people. I’m not inherently against the idea of extending the franchise but we should look at the rights of young people in their totality rather than an à la carte approach. Within the confines of a blog post, I tentatively suggest:

  • Allowing young adults to make their own decisions about how they lead their life. In response to a YouGov poll last year, only 17% of 18-24 year olds believed politicians and civil servants were well-equipped to make personal decisions on their behalf. They reject the Nanny State; so liberate them from it
  • Don’t return to opportunistic and unaffordable pledges aimed at students like scrapping tuition fees
  • Instil a little intergenerational equity into policy and share the burden of cuts
  • Challenge negative perceptions surrounding young people on issues such as anti-social behaviour and binge drinking
  • But most of all, inspire them. The age-old liberal values of personal freedom, civil liberties, peace and internationalism sound pretty appealing to young ears.

4 Responses to “Votes at 16 won’t have young people flocking back to the Lib Dems”

  1. Stephen Williams Says:

    I personally don’t favour a single age for adulthood, whether 16 or 18. I see no problem with different rights and responsibilities coming at different ages.
    I know some people will say a Lib Dem initiative in this area is an attempt to curry favour with the young after tuition fees. But this can’t be thrown at me as I have supported votes at sixteen for many years and was the last MP to get a Commons vote on the issue, in 2005.
    I agree with you on inter-generational equality. Perhaps you’ll like my blog from earlier in January –

  2. Leslie K. Clark Says:

    Hi Stephen,

    Thanks for engaging with my post. I was in no way doubting your own personal sincerity about votes at 16 and I was aware of your previous attempts at trying to widen the franchise. However, as I said in my piece, I think many will *perceive* this as trying to curry favour with young people post the tuition fee debacle.

    I look forward to reading your link tomorrow as it is now midnight!

  3. Richard Gadsden Says:

    Unlike Stephen, I do support a single age of majority.

    If you allow some rights, but not others you inevitably get interactions where someone is treated as an adult in one context and a child in another. These interactions tend to create problematic results.

    The most notorious ones are around sex – the age of consent to intercourse is 16 but the age of consent to porn is 18 which means that you can have sex, but can’t take a photo of yourself doing it.

    You can get a job, but not a mortgage (because you can’t sign a binding contract until you’re 18).

    You can be held criminally liable, but you can’t sit on a jury (so how can the jury possibly be of your peers, then?).

    I’m certain that there are other anomalies that arise from variable ages for rights.

    My opinion is that there should be a single age of majority, and then, if there are exceptions to be made, they should be specific, narrow exceptions where it is possible to consider all the interactions with other age-laws.

  4. john zims Says:

    Good luck with that,just reminds young people of ‘no more broken promises’.

    Tuition fees tripled.

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