Let youngsters vote at 16 and listen to what they have to say

Should the voting age be lowered from 18 to 16? Photo: Rui Vieira/PA Wire

Should the voting age be lowered from 18 to 16? Photo: Rui Vieira/PA Wire - Credit: PA

In 1992, Sir Ralph Howell was doing a North Walsham walkabout during the General Election campaign.

I was a student at Paston Sixth Form College, aged 18 and deeply concerned about politics. The prospect of voting for the first time filled me with excitement.

Many of my friends were the same and we approached Sir Ralph to have a conversation – to ask him why he deserved our vote.

His team did not let us near him. We were talked down to and knew full well that we weren't considered old enough to be taken seriously.

That hasn't changed. Even today, younger people are made to feel that they should be not seen and not heard.

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That must be how many are feeling at the moment, in the wake of an EU Referendum result that has blown a storm-cloud of uncertainty over their future.

This is not a column designed to debate the rights and wrongs of the result.

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There's already been enough of that to choke us.

Instead, this is a plea to lower the voting age from 18 to 16, sending a message that young people are respected and listened to – not brushed aside and patronised.

In conversation with my sons, aged 15 and 17, I heard passion, knowledge and understanding about the EU debate.

They had clear, well-argued views – as have so many of their friends and peers.

In conversation with some older people, I have heard far less intellectual rigour, with opinions based more on fear and prejudice.

When you reach 16, you can: get married or register a civil partnership; drive a moped; consent to sexual activity; drink wine or beer with a meal; get a National Insurance number; join a trade union; work full-time; pilot a glider; choose a GP; change your name by deed poll; join the armed forces with parental consent; and leave home.

All of the above makes a 16-year-old a responsible, tax-paying member of society. So surely it is a nonsense that they cannot exercise a right to influence the society they contribute to by voting.

Some will argue that they are not mature or knowledgeable enough to be trusted with a vote. I argue that many young people are both of those things and more – while there are adults of all ages who are neither and less.

We hear much about how younger people are not engaged in politics and not interested in much beyond their mobile devices.

It's a shallow and prejudiced view, but one that will not go away.

If we want to do something about, making a gesture that shows young people that they do matter, we should broaden the franchise to include 16- and 17-year-olds.

Not doing so feels like the brush-off I received in North Walsham 24 years ago.

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