With cross-party support, we can secure a fair franchise for young people

Robert Cox
Author:
Robert Cox

Posted on the 11th May 2018

Today MPs will debate a bill which could step our democracy up a gear.

Dr Peter Kyle’s Representation of the People (Young People’s Enfranchisement) Bill would extend the vote to 16 and 17-year-olds.

But whereas many bills brought to the House by opposition members are destined to fail, this one just might be different.

The reason is the impressive list of supporters which appear on the bill.

Backers include Conservative MPs Nicky Morgan and Sir Peter Bottomley, the Green MP Caroline Lucas, and a number of Labour MPs. 

Conservative MPs Nicky Morgan and Sir Peter Bottomley, the Green MP Caroline Lucas, and a number of Labour MPs all support extending the franchise Click To Tweet

The SNP and Plaid Cymru are also longstanding Votes at 16 supporters, and Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb is also on the list of names.

Votes at 16 and 17 is a policy which the Electoral Reform Society has supported for some time. When turnout is as low as it is in the UK, the benefit of creating a voting habit from a young age is obvious.

Many of those who had doubted the merits of extending the franchise have had their view changed by the experience in Scotland where 16 and 17-year-olds are already entitled to vote in local elections and Scottish parliament elections.

And they also played their part in the Scottish independence referendum campaigns, when again they were able to vote.

People who watched the campaign reported the maturity with which they engaged with the issues, and the figures around turnout were strong. It forms part of the solid evidence that when this age group is able to take part in politics, they do.

What we are left with however is a strange democratic anomaly whereby 16 and 17-year-olds in Scotland can vote in some elections, but not all.

Equally, their counterparts in England are denied the vote while watching their peers in Scotland enjoy this basic right.

Today marks Dr Kyle’s bill’s second-reading. And while it is still a long way from becoming legislation, we hope politicians from all parties will let young people take their rights as citizens and join the debate.

There is growing momentum for a fair franchise – among people of all ages. Let’s embrace it and step our democracy up a gear.

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