Like Charles Moore in this week’s Spectator, I am inclined to wonder whether there is ‘any conceivable good reason’ why 16-year-olds should have the vote. As a teenager interested in politics, I found not being eligible to cast a ballot until this year frustrating but reasonable. The idea that, at 18, I would become an adult, and as an adult I would be able to vote, made perfect sense. Departing from this principle by picking an arbitrary voting age is, as Moore points out, a slippery slope: what about all those politically oppressed 8 year olds?
It is never argued that 16-year-olds should have the vote as part of a broader scheme to lower the age of majority – which is what happened to 18-year-olds in 1969 and which would at least be a logical policy suggestion. Instead, those in favour of extending the franchise talk about ‘seeding respect for the political process’ and ‘increasing civic engagement’. Democracy is not a glorified lesson in Personal, Social and Health Education (or PSHE, as social classes are now called). If you maintain, as everyone seems to, that 16-year-olds aren’t qualified to sign a mobile phone contract, how can you possibly think them qualified to choose their government? Maybe the answer will become clear once I’m 21.
Charles Moore is slightly less convincing when excluding 16-year-olds from the electoral roll on the grounds that very few of them pay tax. Although the rising school leaving age will soon make it virtually impossible to be under 18 and a taxpayer, there are plenty of adults who are also net drains on the country’s finances. Does this mean that people who have never worked a day in their lives shouldn’t vote?
As for who will benefit from this, well, Labour thinks it can get a boost in the polls from this policy. But whether or not the average 16-year-old has sufficient political awareness to cast a ballot, they can certainly detect an attempt to use them as vote fodder.