Peter Thompson is a businessman and Conservative Party activist.
Peter Bottomley has said that it is a “question of when rather than if” the Conservative party backs votes at 16. He has been supported by former cabinet ministers Justine Greening and Nicky Morgan, and now believes that the policy has enough backbench support to pass through parliament.
Supporters claim that embracing this proposal is a progression of liberal values. It would show the next generation that the Conservative Party has something to offer them. Votes at 16 was in the last Labour manifesto, and Peter Kyle, one of that party’s MPs, is promoting a private members bill. Some Conservatives say they will support the measure. But the case is flawed.
Laws around the choices young people can make are rightly restricted. Recent history shows that politicians from both major parties have not only supported that principle, but have extended it. The Labour Party is promoting votes at 16 for entirely partisan reasons. It has no basis in logic when we look at the age of majority in the round.
Until 2014, many young people were not motivated to continue education after 16. This led to higher youth unemployment and a more poorly skilled workforce. So a Conservative-led Government changed the law. In England, the age at which young people can leave full time education or training was raised from 16 to 18. This was done because research showed that those who carried on learning or training until the age of 18 earned more money, were likely to be healthier and less likely to be in trouble with the police.
The law protects minors from starting smoking to the extent it can. In 2007, a Labour government raised the legal minimum age at which tobacco can be bought from 16 to 18. This makes it easier for retailers to identify underage smokers in an age group so open to peer pressure. Young people are also protected from joining the armed forces without parental consent. And even once they have joined with consent, they are protected from conflict. The Sunbeds (Regulation) Act 2010 imposes a duty to ensure that no person under the age of 18 years uses a sunbed, or is offered the use of a sunbed. It is also illegal to tattoo young people under the age of 18. It is worth noting that these laws apply with or without parental consent. Their aim is simply to protect minors, regardless.
In Scotland, the bastion of votes at 16, body piercings without parental consent are probited. In the minds of the Scottish Government, minors are not mature enough to make such a decision. A strange twist of logic.
The list of things that we prohibit young people from doing is long and varied. If we are to argue that there has been a sudden evolutionary shift, with people maturing earlier, we would have to reconsider all of those beneficial changes we have so recently made.
If this new generation is mature at 16, then logically its members must not only be allowed to vote but to stand for Parliament, serve on juries, and get married without consent. Why should they be prevented from buying and appearing in pornography? Should they not be tried as adults and sent to adult prisons?
Why can they not adopt children, visit casinos, buy a gun or even a firework? Surely, they must be allowed to buy and drink alcohol in pubs and nightclubs. Well, let’s hope they make a will first – though we’d have to change the law to allow that too though. The idea that a 16-year-old is mature enough to vote but not to drive a car to the polling station bends logic beyond reason.
The logical fallacy of the votes at 16 proposal is 16-year olds as simultaneously adults and children, existing in a state of quantum superposition, like Schrödinger’s cat awaiting a random event – such as the triggering of an election which will collapse their youthful immaturity into a state of considered maturity.
I urge all Conservatives to oppose such a change: let’s allow young people time to be young people, before the burden of such responsibility is placed upon them.