The insanity of ‘votes for children’: who cares what adolescents think about politics?

25 September 2013

3:31 PM

25 September 2013

3:31 PM

Should people who comment under YouTube videos be deciding the fate of our country? That’s the frightening scenario proposed by Ed Miliband, who wants to give 16-year-olds the vote because, as he put it, it will make them ‘part of our democracy’.

Or, in other words, the electorate’s opinion is no more important than a child’s. There is nothing progressive about allowing children to vote, any more than it is progressive to allow kids to sit on juries or take out mortgages. These things all involve the ability to make judgments, which is not sufficiently developed in adolescence.

Voting isn’t just a right that makes you feel ‘part of democracy’; it’s a responsibility and decision-making process. Because voters aren’t just numbers on a register, but judges, and certain things make them better at it. One is age, which confers wisdom (usually). Entering the workforce, owning property, marriage and children also help, giving people a stake in the country’s future stability.


Some voters are better qualified than others, although it’s a subjective measure and so simply easier if every adult has one vote; but expanding the franchise below the legal age of adulthood will reduce its value and, although child-enfranchisement may not decide elections — few teens will bother, anyway — it will not increase the quality of debate.

It’s also undemocratic because children, lacking the independence of mind to make decisions for themselves, are easily manipulated. All the worst political movements in history, from the Nazis to the Taliban, have been youth-heavy; which is no surprise, since teenagers are on average the least well-informed section of society and the most prey to simplistic interpretations, rather than understanding life as a trade-off between imperfect outcomes in which government cannot provide magic solutions.

A cynic might say that this is Labour’s motivation, although it’s also part of a wider trend of pandering to the young, of politicians pretending to believe anything they think is important or interesting, when it isn’t.

But worst of all Labour’s stance is unscientific, because most of the research suggests that humans do not reach mental maturity until their mid-20s, and new guidance for psychologists states that adolescence ‘now effectively runs up until the age of 25’. Until then our frontal cortex has not developed sufficiently.

And the age at which we allow people to make judgments — such as whether to buy cigarettes or knives, or fight in wars — is going up, while the average age at which people acquire property or get married continues to rise. There are those who bemoan the infantilisation of men, but in the past many young people were forced into maturity; one thinks of Victorian orphans who raised younger siblings, or the subalterns just out of public school in 1914, wise before their years. It’s no bad thing that young people are not forced into those situations today. Let children enjoy their teens — but don’t pander to them by treating them like grown-ups.

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Show comments
  • terregles2

    There are a lot of intelligent and politically aware teenagers. There are also some who know nothing about politics but that is no different from many adults.
    The 16 year olds who are not interested in politics will probably be like the adults who are politically unaware they will simply just not bother voting.
    If 16 year olds pay income tax they are entitled to have a say in which group of people spend their money for them and what they spend it on.

  • mrsjosephinehydehartley

    Well 16 year olds can still marry. And can one still go to work?

    If given the right to vote, we really must fix the service systems so that at age16 one is treated as an individual person – ie without recourse to routine use of private and personal information/resources belonging to one’s parent(s).

  • Teddy Bear

    Interesting that the BBC ran the report by the psychologists on adolescence going to the age of 25. I don’t think they realised yet it contradicted their and Labour’s agenda to promote the voting age to 16.

    It’s fairly obvious why Labour want to have 16 year olds with the ability to vote as they have no experience of the world, and they are gullible. Given the BBC power of propaganda they’re easy meat.
    Miliband has made a load of promises about how he’s going to do this and that to enrich the lives of people in the country, but hasn’t shown just how he plans to pay for it all. We know the damage to the economy the previous Labour governments did to promote their agenda, but the young weren’t personally hit by it.

    Shows that politicians have absolutely no regard for any real values for our society, just to promote their own desire for more power.

    What a vile bunch!

  • kwestion all

    Personally, I’d raise the voting age to about 21. What does a 16 year old know about life? This is also true for 17, 18, 19 even 20 year olds. Think about your own teenage years if you don’t agree. After that, well, we have to start somewhere, so maybe 21 would do.

  • Druth

    Teenagers voting, political boundary gerrymandering and postal voting. Spin, smear, play the man or rig the system. What ever happened to these are our policies and we expect to win the debate.

  • Ness5683

    Devil’s advocate: Why then are children in this county deemed criminally responsible at 10 then?

    • OraEtLabora

      They are not sent to adult prisons at 10 though; a person has to be 21 before being sent to an adult prison. Younger criminals aged 18–20 are sent to Young Offender Institutions, and those aged 15–17 to Secure Children Homes, Secure Training Centres and other Young Offender Institutions. Secure Children Homes are used for those under 15.

      In past years, the Children Act 1908 set the minimum age of 16 for execution and the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 raised it again to 18.

      Britain has long increased personal responsibility with age rather than employ a figurative switch with an individual instantly going from ‘child’ with no responsibility to ‘adult’ with all responsibility.

      Are those arguing for lowering the age for voting also arguing for sending 16–17 year olds into combat and to adult prisons (along with risking capital punishment, were it ever to be restored)?

  • Toby Esterházy

    What are the 16- and 17-year-olds, when we have Judeo- and Judophile Neoconservatives, being war-mongering pseudo-adults from London, Oxford, Cambridge, New York City, Boston, Washington, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem—complete with their own newspapers such as the Economist and the Financial Times—and all refusing to grow up and take responsibility when their war-mongering actions gone wrong!

  • Alex

    One word: Tax. They can/do pay tax. Should they have no right to say what is done with it?

  • Daniel C. Thompson

    So, your point is: wisdom increases with age.

    I disagree. There are wise children and there are clueless adults.

    Currently, things are mainly run by middle-aged men. And everybody is always complaining that the people running things are doing a terrible job. So why not add some children’s voices to the din?

    It’s also about representation, it seems absurd to exclude a large part of the population from decisions that directly affect them.

  • rtj1211

    As a right winger you should care, because most of them might be dewy-eyed socialists who vote for Microcensored.

  • Eddie

    Most 16 yr olds couldn’t give a fig about politics. A few do. When I was 16 I was a right socialist bore – that is because I hadn’t grown up yet and knew sod all.
    Most 16 yr olds wouldn’t use their vote; most of them what did would vote Labour (or pro Scottie to become Salmondland). But would their votes be significant? Nope.
    The bottom line is this: if 16 yr olds can marry, join the army and pay taxes, then they should have the vote. And so should British people living abroad.

    • HJ777

      They can’t marry before the age of 18 without their parents’ permission.

      They can no longer serve in the army (not in any combat role, anyway) until they are 18.

      Every child pays taxes when they buy sweets (i.e. VAT) and Labour passed laws which means that shortly every child will have to remain in education until the age of 18, so they won’t be paying income tax either (not that many currently do anyway).

      • Eddie

        Make 16 the legal age for everything. Simple, innit? Much better than faffing around with 16 for this, 17 for that, 18 for the other (and anyway, many 16 year olds are doing ‘the other’ anyway).
        Or make it 18 for everything.
        However, looking at mainland European countries, it seems 16 or even 15 is standard to gain adulthood there.

        • HJ777

          The minimum voting age is 18 in almost every European country.

          Presumably, you’d allow 16 year-olds to drive.

          • Eddie

            In an ideal world, the legal driving age would be 26 and all women would get extra lessons explaining the rules of the road to them (like the need to give way to a car coming up the hill, for example).

        • Ness5683

          Also, children in this country are deemed criminally responsible at 10.

        • OraEtLabora

          ‘A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds’ ( )
          Innit, bruv?

          Another simple idea would be restoring the property-based franchise; that has the additional merit of being tried and tested, and traditionally British.

          Eddie: ‘looking at mainland European countries, it seems 16 or even 15 is standard to gain adulthood there

          Minimum driving age for every Western European country apart from Hungary, Ireland and Iceland is 18 (some countries have 16 or 17 with parental supervision)—but why look to continental Europe as a guide when one can take our very own Guernsey (17), Isle of Man (16) and Jersey (17) as examples?
          Minimum age for military service is mostly 17 or 18 for European countries (although Switzerland has 19 for compulsory but 18 year olds can volunteer).
          Minimum age for voting is mostly 18, apart from Austria at 16 (and once again our Guernsey, Isle of Man and Jersey)
          Minimum age of drinking for some are 16 (e.g. Germany, Switzerland), and others 18 (e.g. Denmark, France):

          Do you notice something else about the above? For example, Germany with a minimum age for drinking at 16, military service at 17, driving with parental supervision at 17 and without at 18, and voting at 18? Different minimum ages for different activities are normal.

          • Eddie

            Your little mind ignores the fact that in many European countries the law is routinely ignored, and kids drive scooters legally from aged 12 too. How do I know? Well, I have visited almost every European country and lived in 3.
            To be honest, an intelligent 16 year old has more sense to vote than most adults, who just ape their parents anyway, or else conform to their local community’s social pressures (try being a Tory somewhere like Barrow in Furness; try being a Labour loyalist in a Home Counties village – no golf club membership for you then, comrade).
            As for driving – well, I’d be perfectly happy if the legal aged were raised to 26, considering the numbers of hotheaded hootwheeling lads on the road, all egged on by the girls of course, who love the boys showing off to impress them.

            • OraEtLabora

              Eddie: ‘Well, I have visited almost every European country and lived in 3.
              Do you think that you are the only person in the world to have done that? (En passant, the countries that you lived in—was that as an independent adult or tagging along behind your parents? You are fully conversant with the different processes that countries have, such as registering with the local tax office, registering as a resident and/or worker, and then deregistering before leaving?)

              Eddie: ‘Your little mind ignores the fact that in many European countries the law is routinely ignored
              Provide evidence that adolescents below a country’s legal minimum age are enlisting (outside of long-past major conflicts) or voting.

              Eddie: ‘ kids drive scooters legally from aged 12 too.
              I was, of course, referring to proper driving: in cars, lorries or (real) motorbikes on major roads, not scooting around a mall with engines barely more powerful than a lawn-mower. Now provide some evidence that the police of any country pay no attention to 12 year olds driving their parents’ BMW down their ‘Autobahnen’ or ‘autoroutes’ or ‘moottoritiet’, etc.

              As the saying goes: ‘The plural of anecdote is not data’.

  • terence patrick hewett

    Alex Salmond calculated that youth would vote for him: but they jumped in the other direction.

  • george

    I do, in the sense that I want them to have a respect for liberty and the institutions and attitudes that protect liberty. I don’t, in the sense that they are not adults and therefore have no experience of the difficulties or hardships of life that politics is there for and is meant to address.

  • Teacher

    Citizenship in schools is a stream of left wing propaganda which the illiterate and phone addicted children cannot challenge as they have not been educated to think independently. 16 year olds will vote for Labour mostly as they associate the left with their sentimentalised, ill informed notions of being ‘kind’ and good. That is if they can be bothered to vote – which their 18 – 25 year old peers cannot. They’ll be outvoted by the skeptical oldies who can be ‘bovvered’ to get up and place their X in the box.

    • rtj1211

      I don’t think you can be ‘educated’ to think about political theory. That’s because, although on the surface you can, political theory emerges from very complex forces which shape societies over decades. The majority only get to understand things by being grown up for 20 years and seeing how things pan out over a whole cycle.

      Power to the People sounds great, but if you increase your wages as a result, you give your foreign competitors an export opportunity. You give the housing market a price to inflate. You annoy the right wing cabals in America.

      Where in ‘socialism’ and ‘capitalism’ do you discuss a bunch of foreign oil oligarchs colluding to double oil prices overnight?? That’s got nothing to do with anything anyone does here, does it?? Short of One World Government, no political movement can stop that, they can simply react to it. Has anyone ever heard an adult debate of that once by our politicians in the past 40 years??

      • Teacher

        ‘I don’t think you can be ‘educated’ to think about political theory.’. Up to a point you are right and I have a nice illustration of your point.

        When I was teaching the PSHE and Citizenship lessons were overtly left wing biased and poured a constant stream of propaganda into the ears of students. The teaching staff in my school was left wing almost to a man and unthinkingly promoted these messsages as if they were the holy truth. Nevertheless, while the pupils would ‘go along with’ the message’, when push came to shove, they followed the right wing politics of their parents on every single issue that mattered. When a mock general election was held and the Conservative candidate romped in by a mile the teachers were astounded and the Labour candidate cried.

        I still, however, think it wrong to indoctrinate children in left wing (or any) dogma and then give them a vote before the age of rationality and before any life experience can teach them the consequences of choices and actions.

  • David Lindsay

    Do not worry about lowering the voting age, even if the Leader did surround himself with those truants who were presumably attending with their parents, including some boys who had not even been made to drag ties around their necks. It may be Brighton, lads, but this is still the Labour Party.

    Lowering the voting age is one of those things like changing how House of Commons boundaries are drawn, or changing how MPs are elected, or replacing the House of Lords. Waiting for Godot, and all that.

    Notice that while the people strategically positioned near the television cameras rose to their feet for this, much of the rest of the hall did not even applaud. It is never even going to be attempted.

  • Colin

    Hopefully some of those sixteen year olds will help the SNP to victory, next year. That way, we’ll never see the Welfare party in power, in England, ever again.

    • OraEtLabora

      I am ever mystified by the English separatist belief that destroying our historic nation—leaving the remnant weaker—will somehow magically usher in some sort of Little Tory English utopia. Of course, finding someone to kick is so much easier than the hard slog of studying a nation’s history, political institutions, economy, etc. and endeavouring to understand how our country was once—and might be again—so stable, safe, industrious, innovative, and one of the freest in history.

      Do you deem the Lib-Dems to be Right-wing? While not as Left-wing as those English who in 2010 stood or voted for Respect, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, Socialist Labour Party, Socialist Alternative Party, Alliance for Green Socialism, Workers Revolutionary Party, Communist Party, Unity for Peace and Socialism, Cambridge Socialists, Socialist Equality Party, Communist League, Socialist Party, Anti-Capitalists–Workers Power, Alliance for Workers Liberty, etc., their former leader plainly described the Lib-Dems as ‘a left wing party’. (Incidentally, a nation with so many extreme-Left parties standing seems an unlikely bastion of free market capitalism.)

      In the 2010 election, 10,785,010 English voted for more-or-less Right-wing parties (Tory, UKIP, plus various others), with 543,476 for the extreme Right. But 13,373,950 English voted for the moderate Left (Labour, Lib-Dems and Green), with another 56,644 for the extreme Left. 71,466 voted for separatists, which includes nascent Cornish and Wessex separatists, heralding a balkanisation of any independent England.

      It is a fantasy that the only thing holding back a free market, libertarian England (533 MPs and electorate of 38,300,110) is Scotland with its 59 MPs and electorate of 3,863,042. ‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves.’

  • Patricia

    Ed Milliband’s desire to brainwash sixteen year old students is vile and despicable.
    Didn’t the Communist Party of Great Britain like to catch them young, – getting them on the streets selling copies of the “Daily Star”, parroting phrases from Mao’s little red book etc. ?
    It’s worrying that sixteen year olds. still at the showing-off stage, might enjoy the “glamour” of parroting lefty views.
    Is there a Tory out there willing to counter Lefty ideology in our schools and colleges ? Thought not.

    • David Lindsay

      The Daily Star?

      • Patricia

        Ooopps – the “Morning Star” !

    • FrenchNewsonlin

      “Catch them young…” yes, as did others:

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      “Didn’t the Communist Party of Great Britain like to catch them young?”

      Sounds like the Catholic Church. Or the Muslamic ray guns.

    • Teacher

      Well you won’t find one in the state education system as it is set up to excise any right wing thought or person entirely.

  • V Hale

    ” All the worst political movements in history, from the Nazis to the Taliban, have been youth-heavy” – And now the Greens and RESPECT.

  • johnslattery

    I’d stop students voting too. Their political opinions are mostly worthless as they have no life experience and merely parrot whatever views are fashionable among adolescents. You need to have worked a bit and had some responsibilities to know where you stand on most important things.

    • Andrew Parke

      As a student who despairs of his contemporaries, I second this. Quite frankly, I’d disenfranchise myself just to stop one of my acquaintances who thinks George Monbiot is a “hero”. Actual quote…

  • sarah_13

    Apparently this was Mcluskey demand to Miliband, he has plans to sign up 16 year olds to the union movement and Labour Party by focusing on schools and colleges. So the vote of 16 year olds when in the hands of mcluskey may be very make a big difference.

  • sir_graphus

    It’s the most cynical political ploy of my lifetime. Milliband calculates they’ll generally vote Labour rather than Tory (if they vote LibLabCon), and there are a lot of them in marginal constituencies.

    • David Lindsay

      But they wouldn’t. Not at the end of a Labour term. As in 1970, anyone to whom four or five years is a long time will always vote anti-incumbent.

    • Wessex Man

      No it’s just a desperate follow on from The Fat Controller, who is also desperate and has introduced it for the referendum up there in 2014!

    • Damon

      “Milliband calculates they’ll generally vote Labour rather than Tory (if they vote LibLabCon)”

      Or rather, if they vote UKIP/Lab.