Why Ed is right to promise 16 year olds the vote

pollingstation2I am delighted that Ed Miliband has announced that the next Labour government will extend voting rights to 16 and 17 year olds.

Young people have been disproportionately affected by the crisis, with one million unemployed in the UK alone. In countries hit even harder, such as Greece and Spain, the youth unemployment rate is over 50%. So it really matters to young people what decisions politicians make on their behalf, in Westminster and Brussels. After all, those decisions will have far-reaching effects on the next generation’s career prospects.

Something that I have been campaigning for is an EU Youth Guarantee Fund, to provide a job, training or apprenticeship to young people after leaving education or becoming unemployed. Recently this fund was approved with a budget of €8 billion. This is the kind of policy that young people will inevitably have something to say about.

Another example of an EU scheme that directly affects young people is the Erasmus Programme, the most successful exchange programme in the world, which gives university students the opportunity to study in a different European country. The rules for Erasmus are currently being adapted, and 16 and 17 year olds thinking about further education are bound to have an opinion about this. Or take environmental policy, where in the last few months MEPs have voted on whether to save the EU’s carbon trading scheme, and on the future of biofuels. Young people should have a say over these policies which will affect their generation more than anyone else.

But getting young people involved isn’t always easy. We face a crisis of political participation among young people, with only 44% of 18-25 year olds voting in the last general election, compared to the overall average of 65%. Lowering the voting age can help solve this crisis, by giving teenagers a reason to be interested in politics whilst they are still in school or college. Many may argue that anyone at the age of 16 is unlikely to know enough about politics to make an informed choice. It’s true that we need more political education in our society, but that’s the case whether the voter is sixteen or sixty. And if including young people in our democracy means we have to increase political education, that can only be a good thing.

Ed Miliband’s conference speech was fantastic. Not only did he show the kind of leader he would be for Britain, but he announced concrete policies he will implement as the next Prime Minister. Whilst households struggling to pay the bills will be delighted about the prospect of an energy price freeze, we should all welcome the news that our democracy will become more inclusive for the next generation.

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