THE BLOG
07/05/2014 09:05 BST | Updated 02/07/2014 06:59 BST

The 2015 Election Will Affect 16-year-olds as Much as 18-year-olds, So We Deserve the Right to Vote

Teenagers are as divided on politics as we are about music, films and football, though if there's one thing we generally agree upon, it's that we should be given a greater say. That's why even people my age who don't see eye to eye with Labour values will support Ed Miliband's pre-election promise to grant 16-year-olds the vote.

Yes, the 'Votes at 16' campaign won't be considered a pivotal issue at the 2015 General Election (certainly not by the people professionally obliged to make those judgements, in any case) but candidates who pledge to stand up for young people's democratic right to influence the decisions affecting their lives can't be praised highly enough.

In his speech at the Labour Party Conference last autumn, Mr Miliband said politicians should listen to the "voices of young people demanding a job, the voices of young people who demand that we shoulder and don't shirk our responsibilities to the environment" and that British 16- and 17-year-olds should be made "part of our democracy".

Quite right, too; you can add an almost endless list to those policy areas where we have important perspectives and need our voices amplified, including schools, tuition fees, benefits for under-25s, binge drinking, gang culture and mental illness.

There are 1.5 million people in the UK aged 16 and 17 whose futures depend on the outcome of the next General Election as much as the lives of the first-time voters less than two years older. Yet it seems ludicrous that teenagers like me, who are going to fall just a few months short of the voting age in exactly 365 days and will be adults for most of the next five-year Parliament, have to wait until we are nearly 23 to hold our MPs to account.

Naturally, this means governments will keep pandering to older generations in order to maximise their chances of retaining power, alienating the young. We have seen it before with the Coalition's recent pensions reforms -- designed to seduce the 'grey vote' and a stark contrast to the stingy abolition of young people's housing benefit. Likewise, could anyone forget Nick Clegg's U-turns over university costs and votes at 16?

The fact is, teenagers are only treated as adults when it suits the stuffed shirts: ministers want to invoke policies that shape our prospects years before they entertain our opinions. They ought to realise that, in addition to worrying about our own futures, we are Britain's future -- not too immature to visit a polling station and vote accordingly.

Arguments against reducing the voting age, meanwhile, are nothing more than a veneer; some of which are the identical, completely condescending 19th Century lines which were trotted out as women fought for their suffrage. Sure, plenty of young people don't know enough about politics but that also applies to the adult population. Similarly, we may often be nonpartisan but we are no less socially conscious than 18-year-olds.

Youth activist Georgina Howarth was spectacularly right when she spoke at the same conference as the Labour leader in 2013, to a standing ovation from party members: "Is it any wonder that we are branded a generation that is politically uninterested when the politicians have no interest in what we have to say? We are not uninterested, apathetic and incapable of making decisions; we are ignored, dismissed and patronised."

Georgina was 14 at the time -- a Key Stage Three pupil from Cambridge with a greater awareness of where Parliament is going wrong than parts of Westminster. What's more, her brains and commitment are typical of the 20 thousand teenagers active in local youth councils, the half a million 11-to-18-year-olds who elect our Youth Parliament and the millions of us who care about addressing serious problems in our society.

In and around Hampstead & Kilburn alone (where The Huffington Post is tracking first-time voters), 16-year-olds Sophia Parvizi-Wayne and Amber Van Dam have launched a petition for their 'Stop It Before It Starts' campaign for better mental health education, feminists from Camden School for Girls have taken on Tesco for selling lads mags and 17-year-old Raphael Hogarth lobbied Michael Gove on his education policy.

The misconception is that any voting change would centre upon boosting election turnouts or inspiring future politicians, but alas re-writing the rulebook is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to real engagement with the political clique. To me at least, this is about giving 16- and 17-year-olds the trust and authority we already deserve.

Politics is a rare aspect of British life that people under 18 are not allowed to be part of, which merely underlines how outdated the existing voting age has become. Young people are perfectly capable of making choices, so it's time for the Westminster classes to lower the drawbridge for a democratic election to everyone bound by its result.