Burnley MP backs move to give 16-year-olds the vote

MP for Burnley Julie Cooper (s)
MP for Burnley Julie Cooper (s)

Giving 16-year-olds the vote would boost democracy by replacing apathy with enthusiasm, according to Burnley MP Julie Cooper.

The House of Lords has backed a Bill that would see the voting age for council elections cut from 18 to 16.

They have all the responsibilities of adults, but don’t have all the rights.

Julie Cooper

It will now be debated in the Commons and Mrs Cooper would vote in favour of such a reform, as she believes 16-year-olds deserve that right in a society that already treats them as adults.

She said: “Sixteen-year-olds can do nearly anything else – pay taxes, consent to sexual intercourse, be a director of a company. There is not much they can’t do. They have all the responsibilities of adults, but don’t have all the rights. They are denied the democratic right of having a say in the future of this country.”

The voting age is 18 in England and Wales, though 16 and 17 year olds were allowed to vote in last year’s Scottish independence referendum. A survey by ICM Research showed 75% of that age group voted in the referendum, compared with 54% of 18 to 24s and 72% of 25 to 34-year-olds.

“There is a precedent in the Scottish Referendum. I know from colleagues who helped that they gave the issue a lot of thought and their youthful enthusiasm was really evident,” said Mrs Cooper.

But she believes that more needs to be done to educate young people about politics, and that creating understanding and encouraging participation would help sustain their “youthful enthusiasm” throughout their voting lives.

“Research from the Institute for Public Policy Research shows that when people vote for the first time they go on to develop a lifetime habit of voting,” she said.

“There is so much apathy generally in the population and lack of understanding that it actually affects their lives. I would like to see more in the school curriculum around the democratic process, not from the point of view of a political party but as a citizen.”