Thursday, 24 January 2013

Votes at 16 gets House of Commons support

Eleven years ago, I was working for the Electoral Reform Society and started on a project with an incredibly motivated woman called Louise King of the Childrens Rights Alliance for England. Together, we set up a campaign called Votes at 16.

We got a wide range of different organisations on board - the big four childrens charities; political parties, the National Union of Students and UK Youth Parliament, British Youth Council, Care Leavers Alliance and Black Youth Forum. We ended up with a coalition of more than 30 organisations. Most of these groups had little in common except a desire to see the voting age lowered to engage young people in politics and reflect the age at which they take on a wide range of responsibilities.

We succeeded in convincing a House of Commons Select Committee, the Welsh Assembly and even the House of Lords to back our cause. The Electoral Commission even carried out a review and the majority of consultees agreed with us (although the Commission declared that the time was not yet right).

Since that time countries like Austria have changed their voting age, as has the Isle of Man. And 16 and 17 year olds are being lined up to vote in the referendum on Scottish independence.

Today, for the first time, the House of Commons also backed the case to lower the voting age.

Lib Dem MP Stephen Williams had a backbench debate on the issue and it was agreed by 119 votes to 46 that the voting age should be lowered to 16 for elections and referendums in the UK. Although non-binding, this is a huge step forward and puts pressure on Parliament to debate a bill which could actually change the law.

I'm incredibly proud of Stephen and all the MPs who supported this, as I am of the UK Youth Parliament and British Youth Council who currently run the coalition I helped to found and led the lobbying campaign.

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