Is the right to vote wasted on youth?

Is the right to vote wasted on youth? That’s the question that I am asking this week, and my gut reaction is: yes. 18 year olds do possess the right to vote. The vote is a basic human right, irrespective of age.

It is important for young people to be able to have their say in the way that their country – yes, their country – is run. Young people’s opinion does matter. They are the youth of today, the future generation who will be most affected by the choice of government. Age is the traditional and only viable cut off point for voting. Yet as society becomes more sophisticated and politics becomes more accessible, the age which we can realistically expect a citizen to hold valid views on the government should surely fall, not rise.

After 18 years of age, the government classes young people as adults for tax paying purposes – and as an adult we are entitled to have our ‘vote’.

To raise the voting age would be ridiculous. If the voting age had not been lowered to eighteen, it would have meant that although we eighteen year olds are old enough to get married and bring a child into the world, they could not choose the government under which it grew up. It would have meant that although they paid taxes, they couldn’t choose how they were spent. And although they could go to war, they could not choose the government that sent them.

18 year olds should have the right to vote. Surely every British citizen has this right and so perhaps we should be arguing for the reduction of the voting age even further? The right to vote is the right to choose the society we live in. In 1989, in Tiananmen Square, China, between 1,500 and 3,000 young people were killed by the Chinese government simply because they wanted the right to live in a free and democratic society. Young people, 18 year olds globally have died for the vote. To tale the right to vote away from 18 year olds, would only serve to say that these thousands of young and not so young people have died in vain for the vote. Just over 10,000 years after the horrific and appalling images and events of Tiananmen Square we cannot be saying that the right to vote is wasted on 18 year olds.

The vote is a basic human right, just because it is not fully utilised does not mean it is not necessary for democracy to function properly. The wider the spectrum of opinion and more diverse the experience of the electorate, the more democratic the electoral system will be.

Some argue that young people should not have the right to vote; it is wasted in them given that the 2010 general election saw a staggering amount of young people not bothering to use the vote that others have died for. These cynics argue that voting is a right which 28 year olds take for granted – so much so, that many don’t even bother to use it.

Yet just because young people don’t use ‘the vote’ does not mean that we do not have the right ‘to vote’. Indeed choosing not to vote, is as much our democratic right as the right to vote: the only difference being that if you don’t take up that right to vote, then you don’t have the right to start complaining about the situation.

It would appear that young people seem increasingly to shy away from the political mainstream. However this does not mean that we should be denied the right to vote. It does not mean that eighteen year olds are not mature enough – or that they do not care. It has far more to do with young people’s disillusionment with the political system.

Case in point? I grew up under a Tory government and looked forward to the air of change that New Labour would bring, only to discover my saviours were exactly the same as their Tory predecessors, but with a double helping of discriminatory youth policies. For instance the abolition of grants, the introduction of tuition fees and top up fees – and a lower minimum age for the under 20s. So, if 18 year olds shy way from voting, do not blame then and deny them their ‘right’ to vote. Blame the politicians and political parties who alienate them – the youth of today – the eighteen year old voters.

Do not take their right to vote away from them, for this would not solve the problem. How can young people be expected to pledge a vote for one of the mainstream political parties when these parties do not attempt to address the problems that deeply concern the young?  Problems such as human rights, racial and sexual equality and the environment?

The right to vote is not wasted on youth: they want to be politically active. They are not politically ambivalent but instead recognise that their vote is precious. It counts. They, the youth of today, do not feel that the main parties are worthy of their vote and by not voting they are making a protest. 18 year olds deserve the right to vote but many of the main parties do not deserve their vote. Instead of youth friendly policies, they get patronising scenes – think Cameron and his insistence on being called Dave.

Who can blame 18 year olds for opting out of a system which feels they are foolish enough to be taken in by not very slick PR campaigns instead of simply recognising their needs?

It is not the 18 year olds who need to be examined and criticised. It is the political system which causes many young people to abstain from voting that needs close analysis. It is time to come clean. Politics has become tasteless and vulgar; full of sleazy behaviour and blatant U turns over policy. Is it therefore surprising that 18 year olds opt not to vote? Yet does this mean that we should not have the right to vote?

As British citizens who have come of age, 18 year olds have earned their right to vote – and it is up to the political parties to earn this vote. Policy counts more than personality at the end of the day. The coalition has only been in power for 18 months yet already there has been scandal, resignations and backstabbing. They may have been fun but Downing Street is right: they are not what matters to young voters.

What matters is policy and it’s essential that the Tories and Lib Dems now work together and begin to demonstrate that they are delivering on the promises which brought them to office. Showing a united face, talking tough and listing all their plans is the easy bit: delivery is far harder.

Hopefully by the next election, Cameron, Clegg, Cable and co will have fulfilled their promises – and in the process ensured that 18 year olds do not waste their vote. If Cameron fails, then hopefully a worthy future Prime Minister (I’m not pinning my hopes on Red Ed) will have emerged from another party so that young people are able to use their right to vote.

Labour campaigns based on attacking Conservative campaigns do the left no favours. They would be better off focusing on their policies rather than those of the opposition. For policy will, in the end, always be more important than personality in politics.

18 year olds have the right to vote. The average 18 year old can draw upon a palette of experience inaccessible to their elders. They were at school more recently and so are better qualified to talk about education. They hold demonstrably different views on sovereignty, European integration, the environment and the welfare state to the generations raised in the shadow of the world wars. 18 year olds want to vote so politicians please offer them something worth voting for….