Sunday, December 10, 2006

Hello again

Thankfully the V@16 brigade haven't made any significant ground recently as I've been very busy, but this blog has had a surprising number of visitors in the meantime.

I'm just returning from the long hiatus to highlight an article on the BBC website today. It doesn't manage to go much deeper than the "but they're old enough to do X" and the "but we don't know enough about it all" arguments, but there are a couple of interesting parts...
"In Albania, for example, members of the country's youth parliament have successfully campaigned to raise the minimum drinking age from 16 to 18. They thought too many teenagers were getting drunk."
If all teenagers were so dispassionate when analysing themselves the world would be a very different place! Whilst I personally wouldn't necessarily disagree with a drinking age of 18 (although the gradual, Mediterranean way of introducing wine etc from a young age is a good way to avoid the binging culture in the UK/US), I'd say a majority of teenagers rightly or wrongly would - it's natural for people to want what they can't get.

I'd suggest that unfortunately this fascinating anecdote from Albania is an anomaly however - lowering minimum age restrictions for XYZ is a standard demand of "the voice of the youth". In my experience, the types who get involved in Youth Parliaments and become the token young people who get consulted about things by the Social Services often have the balance between opinionated righteous indignance and considered pragmatism heavily weighed towards the former.
"For thousands of years of human development, 15 or 16-year-olds have been considered as adults - but we treat them legally pretty much the same as a five-year-old or a six-year-old."
This grand statement by Alex Koroknay-Palicz of America's National Youth Rights Association is as vacuous as they come (how on Earth can the first part be quantified, and even if it could it doesn't mean that the young have always enjoyed the same political rights as elderly people - the opposite is closer to the truth), and like many V@16 statements is as much an argument for having no voting age than one for reducing it to 16.
"If you're 13 and you kill somebody, they say: 'Oh, you're a responsible adult. We're going to throw you in jail for the rest of your life.' Whereas, if you're 13 and you want to vote, they say: 'Oh, you're a stupid little kid. You don't have any rights.' So they only seem to treat people as adults when they do something wrong."
Alex again. Isn't being able to judge murder as being a bad thing a bit of a jump from being able to make an informed judgement on the future national economic policy?

"In most countries, the legal age of majority is 18. That's when the law recognises that you are an adult - that you are entitled, in law, to have control over your own body, your decisions and your actions. But that's not the same as what's called the age of licence, which is what you're allowed to do at any particular age: drink, marry, or drive a car, for example."

A welcome distinction made here by journalist Robin Lustig. 18 isn't an arbitrary age, it is when you are recognised as being autonomous, and responsible for all of your actions. Picking a different age for voting rights would, however, be a much more abitrary decision.

"Psychologist Helen Haste at the University of Bath says under-18s are perfectly capable of making the sorts of decisions that could entitle them to vote. 'They can recognise that we are part of a community and that we have to work together as a group of people in a community, whether that community is a school, a village, a town or even a country'."

Yes they can, but as with adults many under-18s are not socially conscious. Sadly that is something that can't be filtered out by any restriction.
"Many young people do seem to be much more capable than adults are prepared to believe. Many are already playing an active role in influencing the decisions made in their community. So what will the world be like when they finally take over? No-one can be sure - but I'm looking forward to finding out."
This closing statement seems to view under-18s as a unified group in a similar way to the V&16 campaigners who outrageously compare themselves to the suffragettes. Young people are just that: people who are young, who are still developing in every way on their road to maturity.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Gordon Brown advocates votes at 16

If you follow daily news you can't have missed the fanfare today that accompanied the publication of the Power to the People report. From some of the coverage you would have thought that there was a general election on the issue - The Independent devoted several of its front pages to the document. It's basically just another detached-from-reality policy paper from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
There were some interesting proposals in it, such as voters having the option to tick a box that will give their party of choice £3 worth of Government funding. However, it makes the same lame assertion of campaigners that lowering the voting (and candidacy) age is needed to engage younger people in the political process. Is there not enough work needed already with the 18-24yrs group, the age group with the lowest voting turnout? What would this do to the already flimsy Government mandate at general elections - Labour currently runs the country comfortably from the votes of 22% of the electorate (this touches on electoral systems which I don't want to get into).
I'll post again once I've read the thing properly, maybe it expands on the "16yr olds have the right to vote" mantra. Now that the "Votes at 16" campaign have got their biggest backer yet in the shape of the dour Scotsman, perhaps I should consider the potential problems with such a reform.
Would the logic of their slogans flip around to "I can vote but can't drink/drive, and need permission to marry/go on school trips."? Wouldn't it be simple if we just had one age where you were recognised as your own person in most spheres of life. Oh, hang on a second...
(Click here to download the full report)
Update: I've no idea why his article disappeared today!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

"Were Canada to raise the voting age to 21, the young would not be disenfranchised but rather would be given back their teeth"

Excellent article in Canada's Macleans magazine advocating raising the voting age there to 21. Most of the arguments equally apply to simply not lowering it. I was asked for an interview a while ago but I've been too busy recently unfortunately.

"Young people don't vote, a problem that's now discussed so much that our eyes can be forgiven for glazing over -- like a teenager's in a civics class -- whenever it's raised. In Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and elsewhere, there are high-profile campaigns to try and lower the voting age to 16 in the hope it will encourage young people to take part in the democratic process.

But there's a growing body of evidence to suggest that's a wrong-headed approach. Scientific, sociological and demographic evidence indicates that young people are, in essence, too immature and too detached from functioning society to be entrusted with the vote. What if the move to lower the age from 21 to 18 was wrong in the first place and ought to be reversed?

The idea of raising the age of suffrage isn't that far-fetched. It was only in 1970, after all, that the federal government hit upon18 as a good age to start kids voting. But kids today aren't what they were in 1970 -- not the stakeholders in the political process, nor the models of civic engagement their boomer parents once aspired to be. Many today still live at home, more remain in school longer, and more move willy-nilly from job to job before settling on a career. In 1971, 22 per cent of Canadians between 15 and 19 held full-time jobs, compared with just 13 per cent in 2001, according to Statistics Canada. "The traditional adulthood of duty and self-sacrifice is becoming more and more a thing of the past," James Côté, a sociologist at the University of Western Ontario, explains. In 1970, adolescence ended abruptly after the age of 19; now it languishes well into one's 20s or 30s."

Read more -->

P.S. Has the Votes at 16 site gone down again?

Thursday, January 12, 2006

From Cheddar to Stilton

"Young people are much more mature now than they were when I was 16" says Eric Martlew, MP for Carlisle, in support of a recent Early Day Motion.

Did he genuinely mean this or was he appeasing the young 'uns with vacuous compliments? I wonder what evidence he has to back up his definition of maturity?

A dictionary definition offers "The state or quality of being fully grown or developed." As I've noted before, important parts of our brains are still developing at the age of 21. Many teenagers have their growth spurts around the age of 16 and after. Most 16 and 17 yr olds haven't experienced the realities of living independently, and as such, unlike in the 'olden days' often have no idea how to maintain a house, provide their own sustinance or look after a child. Rates of truancy, crime, drug use, drunkeness and violence are higher than ever. The yoof of today have not experienced the hard times of war, rationing and economic depressionthat our parents and grandparents have. What is Martlew's definition of maturity?

I listed Sudan as one of the only countries in the world to have a voting age lower than 18. Despite being a barely literate generation, I would be happy for 16 yr olds in that country to have the vote - the elder sister who has looked after her younger siblings since her parents died of AIDS, the young lad who was kidnapped for the army, escaped, and tried to make a living for himself in agriculture. These are the life experiences that matter, not that a 17 yr old so-and-so who likes their opinions to be heard can drive a car.

Maturity comes through time on this earth, but also through experiences. It's not something that improves in each generation because of better technology or an egalatarian education system. The 21st century teenager isn't forced to grow up too fast, he/she has the leisure to enjoy life during these educative, formative years without real responsibilities. This isn't a bad thing. It won't be long before they mature enough to hone good life skills and attitudes, and it won't be long before they will have the opportunity to vote.

"The right to vote starts at 16"

So says a campaign poster by the votes at 16 campaign.

I was initially impressed with the eye-catching nature of the advert, but the more you ponder on this sentence, the more absurd it seems. Which deity ascribes us the right to go to a polling station once we have been alive for 5844 days? If most of the arguments to reduce the voting age to this number of days of life are cogent, then why are 5843 day olds so inferior?

The only philisophically viable approach to voting age is to either have no voting age at all (I would respect talk of rights in this case), or to believe in a pragmatic starting age - the blatantly obvious watermark in this country being 18, the age of adulthood (although in East Asia, for example, you are not recognised as an adult until 21).

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A future alliance?

My main motivation for creating this blog was to provide some small balance to the issue of voting age in this country. It seems I am the main paladin at the moment, but I'm confident that more people will come out of the woodwork once the issue hits Parliament.

You may recall in the run up to the Electoral Commission publishing its report on voting and candidacy age, a similar blog was authored by Philip Cowley, although it hasn't been updated since the Commissions report almost fatally crushed the Votes at 16 campaign. The link for his very good 'Votes for Adults' blog is in my links section.

At the same time Professor David Denver, something of an expert on these matters, provided some solid intellectual weight against the weak premises of those wishing to reduce the voting age.

In terms of political parties, the Conservatives policy of both voting and standing at 18 was vindicated by the specialists at the Electoral Commission, but the Lib Dems, and their youth wing (note the other distasteful policies in that document!) still stand by the ill thought out idea of further reducing the voting age, and use the VA16 campaigns' mottoes almost verbatim.

As previously mentioned, whilst the vast majority of the public support the status quo on this matter there are no obvious groups to actively campaign against changing it - it's much easier to garner support for changing something than keeping it, especially on an issue that few can get passionate about! (well, the other side do like to compare their cause to the suffragettes, but that is both disrespectful to their noble cause and misleading in comparison - women were forever denied the vote whilst itching rebels-without-causes will get their right soon enough.)

In the near future, an alliance of like-minded people such as myself, Prof.Denver and Philip Cowley may well need to formed into a more professional voice for common sense on this issue - there's just too much at stake to let this proposal waltz through to legislation.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The bandwagon rolls on

The Early Day Motion advocating lowering the voting age has managed to get a hundred signatories from MPs (less than one in six). It is concerning that it has even got to that as there is a one-sided campaign targeted at MPs.

Few people outside of a metropolitan elite bubble would feel that the noise made in Westminster for this proposal is proportional to the feelings of most people. Or is that because they all want to keep those inferior 17 year olds at bay?

Only yesterday there were strong signs that the legal smoking age will rise to 18 from 16. If it wasn't so politically correct I'm sure one of the slogans of the Votes at 16 campaign would have been
"I can smoke but I can't vote" or perhaps
"I can damage my health to look cool but I don't have the God-given right to not bother to go to a polling station to vote for the party that says it will reduce the drinking age"

Wheres another poll showing clear public support for keeping votes at 18 when you need one!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Google fight

In an extremely close fight, Votes at 18 beats Votes at 16 in a key indicator of public opinion.
p.s. putting the phrases in quotation marks makes a huge difference, but we won't mention that ;)

Edit: It's now virtually neck and neck due to recent coverage!

Not the most serious of posts :)