When I joined the Liberal Democrats, I knew I had joined a movement that, from 1678 onwards, has always been the first to fight for progressive change. We opposed the Corn Laws. We passed the People’s Budget. We proposed the Beveridge Report. We supported gay rights. We understood climate change. We voted against Blair’s butchery in Iraq. Now, following in this fine tradition, a bold Bristolian Member of Parliament is about to trek across a snow-covered land and open a debate in the Commons on a resolution to lower the UK voting age to 16.
Walk round any Sixth Form College, and talk to the students there, and you will find that enough of them have the political nous and know-how to vote on how they want to be governed. Not only does the curriculum itself (with the addition of subjects such as PSHE and Citizenship) enable young people to make judgements about their place in society, but their generation- our generation- are digital natives, with reams of information at their fingertips should they need information to guide the decision-making process.
That is not all. 16 and 17 year olds can work, pay taxes, join the Army, drive a car, have sex, join a union, have full rights to medical treatment, and so on. Even better, they can join Liberal Youth! And yet they are denied a say in elections which decide who runs their country. As I have said before, this is unfair and unjustifiable. The Isle of Man has lowered its voting age, as have the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey. The Welsh and Northern Irish Assemblies would do so with Westminster approval. 16 and 17 year olds are to be allowed to vote in the Scottish independence referendum. It is time the UK Government does the same.
In November 2005, Stephen Williams, Liberal Democrat MP for Bristol West, went to the House of Commons with a Bill lowering the voting age for all elections and referenda. It was defeated by eight votes. This Thursday he returns, his head bloodied, but unbowed. I’ve written to my MP, asking him for his support. You should do the same. Tell them that swathes of our youth are voteless and voiceless. This can be changed. This will be changed.
Reece Edmends is the newly-elected Non-Portfolio officer on the Liberal Youth exec. He is from Stafordshire and formerly studied at Newcastle-under-Lyme School and will be taking up a place at university in 2013. He enjoys politics, literature, history, music and golf.
Please, take the time to talk to your MPs and encourage them to support Stephen Williams’ fight for Votes at 16!