Owen Meredith, Chairman of the Tory Reform Group wrote this piece for our pamphlet Civic Duty The Conservative Case for votes at 16 and 17.
In 2015, the TRG put together the Conservative case for Votes at 16, with contributions from Ruth Davidson MSP, Sarah Wollaston MP, and Damian Green MP.
In that publication, we sought to address some of the many reason why the Conservative Party should be the one to grant 16– and 17–year–olds the right to vote.
Time has moved on, and so have the arguments. Many of those very 16– and 17–years–olds who read that TRG publication with hope will have found themselves with an earlier than expected opportunity to vote when Theresa May called an early General Election in June 2017.
That in itself I find one of the most powerful argument for the cause. While at 18 we acquire the theoretical right to vote, in truth very few of us really have the opportunity to exercise it. Turning 18 shortly after a General Election means your first chance to vote for national government, under the Fixed–Term Parliaments Act, is more likely to come aged 23.
In 2015, Ruth Davidson relived the Scottish referendum (where 16– and 17–years–olds could vote) and how that experience changed her mind on the issues. She found younger voters were more willing to engage in the argument, and hungry for information about the decision in front of them. Far from set in their ways, or following orders from elders, those younger voters took pride and responsibility in voting, understanding the gravity of their ballots.
I myself have been on a journey with this issue. There has to be a cut–off point at which the right to vote is granted. When successive governments have sought to change the age of majority in recent years, it has nearly always been to take rights away from younger people – not to grant them. Indeed, increasingly it seems like governments are less inclined to trust young adults to make decisions for themselves.
Yet as Sarah Wollaston argued, young people will live the longest with the consequences of decisions made by governments in their name. With governments increasingly having to make decisions about the balance of equity between generations as our population lives longer and places greater demand on healthcare resources, it is surely right that young people have a say in those debates.
In moving the floor in the voting age to 16, we would – I hope – see more young people engage in the politics that will shape their lives. By extending the voting age to 16, we will simply achieve what most already assume to be true, lowering the average age at which we first vote closer to 18.
We are pleased to be backing this new addition to the debate – to ensure we have a united suffrage which is fit for the 21st century.
Read Civic Duty - The Conservative Case for Votes at 16 and 17