• Huw Irranca-Davies

Votes at 16 under a future Labour government

I am delighted that Ed Miliband has made a formal commitment this week that the next Labour Government will change the law so that 16 and 17-year-olds can take part in elections from May 2016.

This legislation will be introduced in the first session of the next parliament so that 1.5 million young people will be given the vote in time for 2016 elections.

Giving 16 and 17-year-olds the vote is a cause which I have whole-heartedly supported for many years. The fact that the Labour Party has given a firm timetable for introducing this important legislation is an encouraging step forward.

It is my belief that 16 and 17-year-olds have a unique experience and view point that needs to be reflected in the UK’s democratic processes. Giving young people the right to vote at 16 will help to improve Government accountability in those areas that predominantly affect young people. These are the individuals that are best placed to voice a view on the success of the Government’s most recent change to the national curriculum, or how well the Government is supporting young people to get into work. The voices of 16 and 17-year olds are informed by their own experiences of public services. Giving these individuals the vote will ensure that this voice is heard and will allow Government to better serve the needs of young people in the UK.

However, passing legislation that gives 16 and 17-year-olds the right to vote is not enough. We need to ensure that these young people are actually registered to vote in order to guarantee that their voices are heard.

Alarming new evidence suggests that the Government’s reforms of the electoral roll have caused a sharp fall in the number of young people registered to vote. The Government is introducing individual electoral registration, which means that from now on voters will have to register individually, rather than by household. There has already been a dramatic drop in the number of registered voters, especially first-time voters and students who are new to the register and highly transient. In Liverpool alone 20,000 people have dropped off the electoral register.

This is why the next Labour Government will work with schools, colleges and universities to do everything possible for students to be registered to vote.

The decisions made by politicians today will affect the futures of young people. It is only right that 16 and 17-year-olds have a say in what this future might look like. I am hopeful that by giving young people the right to vote, and by ensuring that this right can be exercised, we can create a more active electorate overall. Politicians will become more responsive to the needs of young people and so young people will no longer feel ignored or side-lined by their elected representatives. Young people who become engaged with political issues and who decide to vote are more likely to continue to take an active interest in politics throughout their lives.

To find out more about the campaign to give young people the right to vote at 16, visit:

http://www.votesat16.org/