National Democracy Week: The Conservative case for extending the franchise is stronger than ever

Guest Author, the views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Electoral Reform Society.

Posted on the 3rd July 2018

The following piece is a guest post by Owen Meredith, National Chairman of the Tory Reform Group.

This inaugural National Democracy Week, we should take a moment to remember the sacrifices made by millions to protect our democratic freedoms.

We should also celebrate the 90th anniversary of the Equal Franchise Act and remember the fight to achieve equality for men and women in the ballot box.

As we #TalkDemocracy, it is also timely to look to the future and how we can protect and develop democracy in a time of great turmoil and challenge both at home and around the world.

One issue the Tory Reform Group (TRG) has been keen to explore is extending the franchise and ensure more citizens participate in our great democracy.

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. That’s why next week, the Electoral Reform Society will publish a new pamphlet on the Conservative case for votes at 16, with contributions from the Tory Reform Group and leading Conservatives.

Many of the 16 and 17 years olds who read that TRG’s 2015 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 way, 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 decision made by governments in their name. With governments increasingly having to make decisions about the balance of equity between generations as our populations lives longer and places greater demand of 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.

[bctt tweet=”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.” username=”electoralreform”]

We are pleased see a new addition to the debate from the ERS, with contributions from TRG Patron Nicky Morgan MP, Sir Peter Bottomley MP, and voices from Scotland, Wales and young people themselves.

‘The Conservative Case for Votes at 16 & 17’ will be launched next Tuesday here. Sign up below to hear about it first.

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