THE BLOG

Our Democracy Will Benefit From Lowering the Voting Age to Sixteen

27/05/2015 08:37 BST | Updated 26/05/2016 10:59 BST

So, cards on the table. I'm a big fan of lowering the voting age. I think our democracy will benefit from allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to vote.

That's why, when I was the shadow Cabinet member with responsibility for political and constitutional reform, I pushed hard for Labour to commit to votes at 16. I was delighted it made the 2015 manifesto.

What's more, Labour committed to have the legislation in place in time for the 2016 London Mayoral election. In London, this would have given 190,000 16 and 17 year olds a stake in the future of our city.

The average age of a Londoner is now younger than the UK as a whole, but the process by which we exercise our vote hasn't kept up with the pace of change of our city. It's a real shame that Labour's exciting programme of political reforms won't now take place. No trials of online voting, no holding elections on different days and no lowering the voting age. We foresaw the dangers to our democracy of more and more young people deciding to opt out from voting altogether, and had a plan to reverse this.

I'm not prepared to sit back and allow elections to be decided by older generations alone, but want to ensure that all generations are engaged in our democracy as active citizens.

At the moment it's too easy for governments to ignore young people because they're less likely to vote. The last Government cut the Educational Maintenance Allowance and turned a blind eye to youth unemployment because it knew young people wouldn't punish them for it at the ballot box.

To counter the gap between older and younger voters, an enormous amount of work went into getting young people to registered to vote in the run up to the last election. I take my hat off to the likes of Bite the Ballot, Hope not Hate, the Daily Mirror, the NUS and trade unions who worked their socks off getting people signed up to vote.

But early indications show that turnout amongst under 25s was still way below that for older age groups. Ipsos Mori have estimated that just 43% of 18-25 year olds voted on 7 May, yet the figure for those over 65 was just shy of 80%. For those of us democrats who want to get as many people voting as possible, across all eligible ages, this shows there's still a big job to do.

Far from turning our backs on raising turnout amongst young people, we should re-double our efforts. All of the proposals advocated in Labour's manifesto are still relevant: improved citizenship in schools, lowering the voting age, ballot boxes in schools and colleges, and automatically putting 16-year-olds on the electoral register. None of these are silver bullets, but done together as a package I believe they would make a difference. Next year's Mayoral election could have been an exciting test bed for these ideas.

And it simply isn't the case that young people don't care. When given a say over really important decisions on the way the country is run people will turn out to vote. We saw it in the Scottish referendum where people's passion and enthusiasm meant the numbers voting reached almost 90%. And one of the standout memories was the number of 16- and 17-year-olds that voted and engaged in politics for the first time.

Over the next couple of years, we will have a referendum on whether to stay a member of the European Union. This is a critical moment in the future of our country, and given the City's dependence on overseas trade, it's particularly critical to London.

That's why I passionately believe that 16- and 17-year-olds should be allowed to vote in the forthcoming referendum on our EU membership. For something so significant, which will determine the whole future of our country beyond what happens at General Elections, it's only right that young people have their say.

I'm fully behind my frontbench colleagues who have come out and argued for 16- and 17-year-olds to be able to vote in the referendum. I was pleased to see Hilary Benn making the case so strongly.

After all, Labour is a party that believes in progressive change. We don't accept the status quo. We cannot continue to tolerate such a sharp difference in the numbers who vote between older and younger generations. But we also need to give younger people something to vote for. And there is no bigger issue on the horizon than a say on our whole relationship with the European Union.

Sadiq Khan is the Labour MP for Tooting and is standing to be Labour's Mayoral candidate in 2016