The voting age in Britain was last reduced nearly 40 years ago. Since then, there have been major changes in society's expectations of young people, and in young people's contribution to their local communities and wider society. Currently, 16 and 17 year-olds can work, pay taxes, joined the armed forces and get married. They are often invited to set up school councils and youth councils, urged to take part in consultations, sit on local government and Ministerial boards, volunteer in their local community, keep out of trouble and work hard at school. Many will have caring responsibilities, a lot will have a job, some will be parents, and a minority will be leaving care or custody – but they cannot elect those who govern them.
The Electoral Commission's public consultation on the voting age found 72% of respondents favour a lowering of the voting age to 16. Interestingly the consultation attracted huge participation including 8,000 young people which suggests that when made relevant to them, young people are more likely to vote and engage in issues of public importance. If the Government is to successfully deliver sustainable communities then it must ensure that all members of the community are engaged. Young people represent an important proportion of that agenda.
The next general election will be decided in super-marginals like the my own constituency of The Wrekin. Motivating younger voters is therefore both the right thing to do and it could make the difference between Labour winning and losing the next election. That is why I strongly believe that as a party we must take young voters much more seriously. Rather than young people being uninterested in politics (as opposed to voting), we seem to have become uninterested in them. We bolt on campaigns for young voters rather than build them into what we do. This needs to change, and we now have a once in a generation chance to make that change and listen to what young people are saying.
Young people’s belief in politics could be helped by them knowing that they had a direct influence in choosing who represents them. In Austria - where they recently lowered the voting age to 16 - in the last local and regional elections the turnout amongst 16 and 17 year olds was close to 75%.
The most effective means of achieving all of this is to lower the voting age to 16.