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The recent thought-provoking piece by Neena Modi, ‘Votes for a better future’1 argued the case for entrusting parents with an additional vote for each of their children. Though this, rather exhilarating, idea might take time in gestation, it takes no more than a simple extrapolation of the central hypothesis to infer that the natural first step in the process has to be a change in the current law around voting age.
The law is riddled with incongruities in this area: in the UK, the age of paid employment, legal sex, enrolment in the military among others is 16 years. This is a full 2 years before the time at which society deems that young people can responsibly cast a vote for those they wish to entrust with government. This stance is faintly (but not quaintly) anachronistic, out of step with 21st century thinking and a denial of choice to those with most to lose by misplaced or uncast votes.
There are precedents: young people aged 16 years already vote in several European countries; they were able to do so in the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence; the Welsh national assembly is likely to introduce the vote later in 2019 for local elections and the majority of political parties in the UK now endorse the move.2
Enough of the rational scientific evidence: what of the emotional and moral case? Teenagers have more enquiring minds, are more open to new ideas, are in many ways more resilient and perhaps most importantly less likely to be seduced by political promises which simply reinforce the predictable cycle of party politics. Parents indirectly benefit from their children voting, perhaps reinvigorating them from the apathy or fatalism to which they have succumbed.
I rest my own case here and hand over to my eldest son (aged 16) on the basis that his (and his contemporaries’) views on the subject are more germane, topical and frankly more important. Issues voiced include:
The feeling of a lack of control of one’s destiny.
The paradox of the political processes around voting being part of the taught curriculum, without the right to actually participate.
Issues around influencing policy on the higher educational fees, to which they will be indebted for years.
The paradox that they can drive and pay road tax to a government entrusted to spend it without any influence.
That secondary school entry age might be a more appropriate cut-off.
That we are even needing to debate this now, some 34 years after the landmark Gillick case and more than 90 after Emily Pankhurst’s death, feels like a generation of missed opportunity. Electoral reform is not normally considered to be part of the mission of paediatrics, but advocacy for children and adolescents is. Shouldn’t paediatricians, and the bodies that represent us, now be campaigning actively to expand suffrage to young people?
Competing interests None declared.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.
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