Votes At Sixteen is the big splash in the The Independent today, a move that will allow many young people to have the opportunity to have a say in the democratic process, a process which considering how much you can do at sixteen (age of consent, joined an armed force, pay tax and get married with consent) doesn’t still allow them to vote in elections and that does seem unfair. However as much as I support the enfranchisement of as many people who can make a rational choice about who they want to run the country, however there’s still the problem of citizenship education and how many students can make a good choice – and not just in people’s opinion, but their own and also how much students still know about how democracy works – school councils aren’t always beacons of democracy and the teaching of citizenship is sometimes good and sometimes bad – I learnt about politics at home and at A Level and that shouldn’t really be the case.
In the 2010 general election more under twenty-five’s didn’t vote than those who did, and there is definitely a need for this to change as young people are now becoming the worst affected group when it comes to cuts, benefit changes and changes to their curriculum, housing and jobs – this list could go on for a bit, and their participation in democracy is necessary. Changes to housing benefit making it harder to move out from parent’s houses, changes to the education system, joblessness for those without work experience and cuts have removed vital local services to local young people, careers advice, youth services and Connexions (though not always perfect it was access to free advice) this current government has made it clear that young people are not their priority making votes at sixteen important but also making sure people know what’s happening to them around them has become more important too.
Research between 2009 and 2012 found that the curriculum though in place in schools left gaps of knowledge and gave young people in primary schools little knowledge about the democracy and teaching was poor in many schools visited and lack of planning didn’t help much, however citizenship is still quite a young subject in schools and still needs time to grow – however, if Ed Miliband is serious about Labour bringing in votes at sixteen, the quality of citizenship education has to improve and policies have to get clearer – this is no time for convuluted politics, this is the time for clear and transparent policy that will help everyone, the biggest tent in politics is nigh if sixteen year olds can vote – and if Blair did something right in 1997, it was to make the his policies easy to get to the public, who doesn’t remember ‘education, education, education’ or ‘tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’ – these things no matter how old you are will be remembered – something people need to learn from the past.
There are great campaign groups working towards better citizenship in schools and those groups would be a great benefit to improving CE, however there needs to be a better way of getting the message to young people and making it relevant to them, making it clear just how this government has affected them, a handy flow chart of calamities that affect young people in this country – and actually asking them about their concerns, working with organisations like the British Youth Council and UK Youth Parliament and other young people – you have to care about their views and more so the ones that aren’t involved with democracy as that will be where the votes for parties that are preying on people that are estranged and cynical about the political process, by reaching these people we’ll know CE is doing it’s job and we’ll know our polcy is reaching people – no matter how old they are.
Increasing the voting population is a good thing, but making sure that the population is well educated about democratic participation and more importantly what political parties are representing is important too – Von Goethe said ‘there is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action’ and after the European elections and the success of UKIP I am well truly done with being frightened by the people voted to represent us – but we need to take the argument to those young people when the opportunity arises, get young people registered and get them voting, cos no matter who they’re voting for with such disappointing figures from the last GE, at least they’re voting.