THE BLOG

At 16 You Can Have Sex With Your MP - But You Can't Vote For Them!

31/07/2017 17:49 BST | Updated 01/08/2017 09:26 BST
ADRIAN DENNIS via Getty Images

During Prime Minister's Questions Theresa May confirmed her opposition to extending the vote to 16 and 17 year olds. She justified her position stating: "We expect people to continue in education or training until the age of 18, and I think that is the right point for the voting age."

We cannot accept this. This Conservative Government are denying 1.5million young people their full rights as citizens and their ability to influence decisions made by politicians about issues that massively affect their lives.

This is impossible to justify. At 16 you can have sex with your MP - but you can't vote for them! You are eligible to pay tax, get married or even join the army. That is why the Labour Party have committed to reducing the voting age to 16 in our last three manifestos.

Not only do young people deserve a vote, but evidence suggests that extending the franchise would increase turnout. During the Scottish independence referendum, turnout among those voting for the first time at the age of 16 and 17 was around 75 percent. Research from Austria and Norway also shows that 16 and 17 year-olds, supported by encouragement from families and schools, have higher rates of turnout than those aged 18 to 24.

Despite this growing evidence base, the Conservatives remain stubbornly opposed to extending the voting age. This is further evidence to show that the Conservative Party do not value or respect the younger generation.

Over the last seven years, young people have been disproportionately hit by austerity including discriminatory measures which leave the next generation worse off than the last. During the General Election campaign, the Conservative Party assumed that young people were apathetic. They made no effort to encourage voter registration, or to put forward policies that would offer real opportunities to young people.

What is more, the Conservatives have gone silent on policy. We are still waiting on the Government to announce their new "youth policy statement", which was due to be published in "the coming months" last November. And now, following the General Election, there is no longer a Youth Minister with overall responsibility for youth policy.

However, Theresa May and her party are swimming against a strengthening tide. Following the Scottish independence referendum, the Scottish Parliament unanimously voted to give 16 and 17 year olds the vote in Scottish parliamentary and local elections. Even the leader of the Scottish Conservatives Party, Ruth Davidson says she is now a "fully paid-up member of the votes at 16 club".

More recently, The Welsh Labour Government launched a consultation into electoral reform and announced that it will be exploring ways to potentially extend the franchise to young people. This presents a momentous opportunity to increase the pressure on the UK Government and strengthen the case for votes at 16 in England.

Jim McMahon, Labour MP for Oldham West and Royton, has also made votes at 16 the subject of his Private Members Bill, with the second reading taking place in early November.

It vital that political parties work together alongside civil society groups, such as the British Youth Council and the Votes at 16 Coalition, and members of the public to push forward this agenda.

To build a healthy democracy we need young people to be engaged and to feel valued. We also want out political system to recognise the abilities of young people, which is why votes at 16 is so important.