POLITICS
02/02/2018 15:43 GMT | Updated 02/02/2018 16:55 GMT

Tory 'Hypocrisy' For Opposing Votes At 16 While Letting Teens Pick Party Leader

Labour demand clarification on Conservative Party membership rules.

David Lidington has been accused “hypocrisy” for suggesting 16-year-olds lack the “sufficient maturity” to vote in general elections, despite teenagers aged 15 and over apparently being allowed to vote in Tory leadership contests.

Under Conservative Party rules, 16 and 17 year olds are allowed to become full members of the party.

“There is no upper or lower age limit on membership, although children under the age of 15 cannot be enrolled as full voting members,” party guidelines state.

Members have rights including “one member, one vote in the election of the Leader of the Party” and “a vote in the selection of candidates for Westminster and Europe”.

It costs just £5 for anyone under the age of 22 to join while it costs £25 for anyone over the age of 23.

“Being a member of the Conservative Party means that you have joined the most open and democratic political party in Britain,” the party says.

In 2015, the Conservatives voted down an attempt to give 16-year-olds a vote in the EU referendum.

Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs, has accused David Lidington of 'hypocrisy'  

Cat Smith, Labour’s shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs, said the “Tories’ hypocrisy knows no bounds” and added it was “increasingly clear their positon to not extend the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds is entirely based on self-interest”.

“They claim that 16 and 17 year olds simply aren’t mature enough to vote at a general election, but apparently are perfectly suited to pick the next Conservative leader,” she said.

“It’s time for the Tories to stop putting politics before people. If they won’t give 16 and 17 years olds the vote, the next Labour Government will.”

In a letter to Tory chairman Brandon Lewis, and Tory vice chairman for young people, Ben Bradley, seen by HuffPost UK, Smith asks for clarification on the Conservative Party’s rules.

“While your party constitution does not mention age at all, a quick search of local Conservative Party guidelines seems to suggest that it is in fact perfectly possible for 16 and 17 year olds (and 15 year olds) to vote for the leader of your party,” she wrote.

“Could you please explain this apparent discrepancy? Does your party think that 16 and 17 year olds are too childish and irresponsible to vote in local or Westminster elections, but that this lack of maturity has no bearing on their ability to vote for the Conservative Leader?”

Smith added: “You will have further noted that the Welsh Labour Government is to extend the franchise to anyone over the age of 16 for local government elections following the example from Scotland.

“An unsustainable position has now developed whereby 16 and 17 year olds in England and Northern Ireland are being denied the same rights as their peers in Scotland and Wales.”

Christopher Furlong via Getty Images
Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis

During prime minister’s questions on Wednesday, Lidington minister rejected Labour Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry’s demand that the voting age be lowered from 18.

“She listed a number of areas in which she supported the age at which activity should be allowed to 18, on the grounds that only then could people be expected to have sufficient maturity and responsibility to have those rights,” he told Thornberry.

“My argument to her is that the age of majority should be set matching both rights and responsibilities. I think that it is perfectly reasonable to say that, from the age of 18, we entrust young men and women to exercise those rights and responsibilities in full.”

Thornberry branded the Conservative Party and the DUP a “coalition of cavemen” for opposing moves to lower the voting age to 16.

 

 

Cat Smith’s letter in full:

Dear Brandon and Ben,

 You will have no doubt noticed that the issue of extending the franchise to 16 and 17 year-olds came up at Prime Minister Questions this afternoon.

During exchanges between the Shadow Foreign Secretary and your colleague the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Mr Lidington appeared to suggest that 16 and 17 year olds lacked sufficient maturity and responsibility to hold the franchise:

“She listed a number of areas in which she supported the age of which activities should be allowed to 18 on grounds that only then could people be expected to have sufficient maturity and responsibility to have those rights. Now my argument to her is that the age of majority should be set matching both rights and responsibilities and I think it is perfectly reasonable to say that from the age of 18 we entrust young men and women to exercise those rights and responsibilities in full.”

David Lidington, PMQs, 31 January 2018

Consequently, I wanted to confirm that the Conservative Party does in fact allow 16 and 17 year olds full voting rights if they become a member of your party.

While your party constitution does not mention age at all, a quick search of local Conservative Party guidelines seems to suggest that it is in fact perfectly possible for 16 and 17 year olds (and 15 year olds) to vote for the leader of your party:

“There is no upper or lower age limit on membership, although children under the age of 15 cannot be enrolled as full voting members.”

Rutland Conservatives, Become a Conservative Party Member, https://www.rutlandmeltonconservatives.org/become-conservative-party-member

Further examples can be found here: https://goo.gl/R7h5mX

Could you please explain this apparent discrepancy? Does your party think that 16 and 17 year olds are too childish and irresponsible to vote in local or Westminster elections, but that this lack of maturity has no bearing on their ability to vote for the Conservative Leader?

You will have further noted that the Welsh Labour Government is to extend the franchise to anyone over the age of 16 for local government elections following the example from Scotland.

An unsustainable position has now developed whereby 16 and 17 year olds in England and Northern Ireland are being denied the same rights as their peers in Scotland and Wales.

In fact, an unsustainable position has also developed within your party.

First-hand experience of the positive impact 16 and 17 year olds made in the 2014 Independence referendum convinced the Leader of the Scottish Conservatives:

“We deem 16 year olds adult enough to join the army, to have sex, get married, leave home and work full-time. The evidence of the referendum suggests that, clearly, they are old enough to vote too.”

Ruth Davidson, Tory Reform Group, Giving 16 and 17 Year Olds the Vote The Tory Case, https://www.trg.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/TRG_Giving-16-and-17-Year-Olds-the-Vote.pdf

While the Conservative Chair of the Health Committee does not seem to share Mr Lidington’s patronising view of our young people:

“Does anyone seriously feel that 16 and 17 year olds lack the capacity to understand the issues and weigh them in the balance?”

Sarah Wollaston, Tory Reform Group, Giving 16 and 17 Year Olds the Vote The Tory Case, https://www.trg.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/TRG_Giving-16-and-17-Year-Olds-the-Vote.pdf

And the Prime Minister’s former deputy seems to think your party’s intransience demonstrates that you do not take the opinions of young people seriously:

“In purely party terms it is important for Conservatives to demonstrate to young people, many of whom share our values, that we take their opinions seriously. Supporting a reduction in the voting age would be a dramatic way of doing that, showing that we were confident of taking our arguments to a new generation.”

Damien Green, Tory Reform Group, Giving 16 and 17 Year Olds the Vote The Tory Case, https://www.trg.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/TRG_Giving-16-and-17-Year-Olds-the-Vote.pdf

Clearly your party leadership at Westminster is increasingly isolated on this, from the rest of the country and from your own colleagues. Perhaps now is the time for your party to have a rethink?

Yours sincerely,

Cat Smith MP
Shadow Minister for Voter Engagement and Youth Affairs