Peter Kyle: Why I’m backing votes at 16

Peter Kyle with the Mile Oak Primary School Council
Peter Kyle with the Mile Oak Primary School Council

Ever since I first became an MP in 2015, I have spent as much time as I could visiting local schools and youth groups in my constituency, listening to young people and hearing what they have to say about the world they will inherit from us.

During this time our country has been taking very big decisions about the future of our nation – on the way we collect tax, spend public money, do deals and break relationships with other countries and unions. These are things which are sure to have a profound impact on our economy and on our ability to travel and work abroad, which will in turn affect opportunities and life-chances for young people - and yet they have no power to influence it.

Peter Kyle

Peter Kyle

I believe it is wrong that the very people who are going to be most affected by these decisions are shut out from having a say on them, despite being fiercely engaged in these issues.

Right now our politics is missing out on the wisdom, insight, and experience of 16 and 17-year-olds, and our society is poorer for it.

I want to change this, and I believe there has never been a better time to do so. In the recent General Election, the youth vote rose to 57 per cent from just 40 per cent in the 2015 election, and more 18 and 19-year-olds turned out than ever before. Clearly, young people want a say over the issues which affect their lives, and they are ready and willing to get stuck into our democracy.

Of course, there will be people who will say that 16 and 17-year-olds do not have the maturity to be given the vote. But if they have the maturity to get married, enter work and pay tax like every other citizen, then they should also be recognised as being mature enough to participate in our democracy.

Older people have a worldliness which is important for public debate, but I believe that there is also room for youthful exuberance and innocence to balance out that debate.

This is why I have partnered with Lord Adonis to build a coalition of support to deliver this change which we believe would be truly transformative, for politics and for our society.

In the coming days and weeks we will be finding ways to introduce into the Commons and Lords legislation that will do three things: firstly, to lower the voting age to 16. Secondly, to have all young people automatically added to the voting register. And thirdly, for every educational establishment with a certain number of eligible voters to have a polling station sited there on election days.

Democracy is about balance, and right now it is not balanced. In fact, it’s stacked against young people. It’s time to change that.

Peter Kyle is the Labour MP for Hove.