Debating the voting age

votingI took part in a Question for Short Debate (QSD) in Grand Committee last Wednesday on the issue of the voting age.  Lord Tyler was pursuing the case for lowering it to 16.  Because of the number of peers wishing to speak, we each had 5 minutes (other than Lord Tyler and the minister).  You can read the debate here.

I used my time to put the case against.  As I argued, the argument for lowering the voting age derives from a false premise.  Voting is a consequence of political interest, not a cause of it.  We need to be in engaging in more serious debate about the actual causes of political disengagement and lack of trust.

In arguing against, I was joined by my former colleague, Professor Lord Parekh.  It is notable that those arguing for lowering the voting age just regurgitated arguments made before and did not engage with the points I and Lord Parekh advanced.

About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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12 Responses to Debating the voting age

  1. ladytizzy says:

    Who gets to vote for whom, when, and where is getting an unusual amount of interest, so much so that one can’t help wondering if the established electorate are not being trusted to pitch up and vote properly.

    There are many ‘coming of age’ junctures, each as artificial as the measure of alcohol in a standard drink and its effect on a person. Given the topicality of inept jurors, what does the Lib Dem peer propose to get around the 16 year-old who will miss, at least, school time if not the whole of his/her GCSEs? Exemption?

  2. maude elwes says:

    From my point of view, this proposal regarding juvenile voting is another abuse against the ‘child.’ On the one hand those in power want to increase the age level of responsibility by arguing for older and more mature expectations of individuals in respect of their sexual rights. Which is cruel in many ways, as this is determined by nature and physical advancement, which is presently promoted by earlier sex education and intervention in the code of childhood innocence.

    Yet, when these young people, on the verge of adulthood with raging hormones, are at their most confused, disoriented and vulnerable, rulers want to exploit their immaturity by questioning them on what they expect from politicians. Who, in the main, are dishonest in the direction they intend to pursue and int the way they sell the ideas they have.

    This action of asking their views on matters they rarely understand or have the experience to judge aaccurately is exploitation in the extreme. And it’s being floated simply because it’s felt there will be ways to advertise policies that appeal to the young, whilst in reality, having no intention of following the path they are selling.

    Frankly, it is similar to junk food advertising. The latest of note being added chocolate to breakfast cereals.


  3. Lord Norton,
    I often think that the modern age has a great aversion to introducing new gradations when they can be very useful.For example adolescents might be allowed to elect on person to a council from among themselves, the next year vote in all council and special elections and then for an MP or MEP the year afterwards. That would have a lot of advantages it sees to me. Most probably would not vote until the year that all stages were legal and many would not vote then, However, the others would be educated in civic duties in a way that a school alone cannot educate. I have proposed and even seen small victories in this direction in other places and proposed versions applicable here to that approach. It might be easier to work out in our system then yours because of theories of sovereignty and federalism. Nonetheless, people would have a chance to develop a sense of civic community…

  4. “We need to be in engaging in more serious debate about the actual causes of political disengagement and lack of trust.”

    I think that is so true.

    I disagree with those who argue that lower the voting age would make young people more interested in politics. They seem to make the assumption that young people are a species apart from people old enough to vote and that they are disengaged simply because they lack the opportunity to vote.

    I believe that those young people who are disengaged feel that way for exactly the same reasons other people do. They don’t think they can get anything out of the process and they don’t feel there is anyone who represents them.

    In the dim and distant past when I was a young person, I remember the ‘young people are disengaged’ drum being beaten over and over and I believed it because not many of my acquaintances where party political. Now when I look back I realise that was a misjudgement. There are so many ways to be politically active, it’s not just about joining a party or voting. I think most of the people I knew had at sometime written a letter, signed a petition or given to a pressure group about an issue they cared about. I think politicians tend to overlook this.

  5. By the way according to Wikipedia it is your birthday tomorrow. However I do recall your Wikipedia page once said you had a secondary career as a rapper and went by the moniker MC Norty-P, information which now seems to have been removed.

    I’m going to assume that your Wikipedia page is no longer the subject of jestful alterations and wish you many happy returns of the day for tomorrow.

    • Ilona Wheldale England,

      This is a kindly notice for the rest of us. I hope to post again tomorrow but if I fail may Lord Norton know I second your felicitations.. I also thank you for the reminder.
      PS. You really haven’t heard the MC Norty-P Disc?

    • ladytizzy says:

      My very best wishes for another happy birthday, LoNo.

      (MC Norty-P; a possible explanation for why so many students turn up to his lectures?)

  6. Lord Norton,
    Best wishes for a fine day and year. I also wish you many happy returns of this day.

  7. D F Rostron says:

    It could be there is a lack of interest due to not being able to vote.

  8. maude elwes says:

    Belated but heart felt:

  9. Lord Norton says:

    Many thanks for the comments on the voting age and also for the birthday good wishes – it was indeed my birthday on Tuesday. I presume that, yet again, ‘The Times’ forgot.

  10. Mark Astbury says:

    Thank goodness some sensible thoughts on the age of franchise. I think the reduction to 18 in 1969 was to reflect the change in society when (mainly male) 18 to 21 years old were no longer indentured apprentices so open to manipulation by their masters and the replacement of traditional apprentices by Training Boards.
    The Scottish Nationalists seems to have introduced voting for 16 and 17 year olds in last years referendum as a cynical ploy to add to the electorate those who might be taken up with the idealism of independence.
    The right to vote must imply an achievement of a persons majority, unfortunately 16 and 17 year olds for good policy reasons cannot purchase tobacco, have a very limited ability to purchase alcohol, in England and Wales marry without parental consent, enter into legal contracts, own real property, join the armed forces, drive vehicles and the list could go on.
    If at this age you cannot do, access or consent to so many other aspects of life how can you freely exercise the franchise.

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