As part of the government’s cherry picking of the low fat options that come out of the Constitutional Convention, that is, nothing that might actually take any power from the most over-centralised Cabinet in Europe, it seems that we may soon be faced with a referendum on votes for 16 year olds.
It’s not an issue that I’ve given, historically, a huge amount of thought to. Off the cuff, my gut instinct would be to vote Yes, on the basis that I’ve met plenty of adults who vote like 16 year olds anyway, so we might as well let those 16 year olds who think like adults have their say to balance the whole thing.
Will it make any difference? As with most of this government’s “political reforms”, almost certainly not. I’m not convinced that huge amounts of 16 year olds actually want to vote, but the ones who do (as I, as a convinced political nerd, wanted to) have probably given more thought to their preferences than most adults, so let them at it. Of course, statistically, it will almost certainly bring the turnout down, as most won’t bother. But that’s a minor detail.
One thing did occur to me, however. If 16 year olds can vote, shouldn’t candidates be allowed address them in the schools? I said this to someone recently who was shocked at the idea of “politicising” schools. Why? How can you have elections without politics or candidates?
As it happens, I suspect that letting candidates actively tout for votes of 16s plus in the schools, maybe with a day given over specifically, could end up being fascinating. If the schools played a role in registering all the students, it becomes a target rich and therefore unavoidable “Iowa Primary” for candidates. As well as that, given that young people tend to be a) less restrained than adults, and b) better with technology, imagine candidates getting a gruelling by thousands of young people who actually matter, and then upload those meetings onto the web.
We could all very well benefit from that kind of scrutiny of our political masters.