Should young people be allowed to vote at age 16? That was the question British student journalists asked several members of Parliament, or MPs, ahead of their country’s national election on May 6. The students created the video for the news Web site Headliners.
After the election resulted in a rare coalition government where two parties share power, Headliners reporter Chinwe Izamoje re-examined the issues facing young people in his country and analyzed whether lowering the voting age is in the cards in the near future.
Much like the USA, politics in the UK is seen as a two party system. For most of the last century, power has changed hands between the Conservatives (a centre right party) and Labour (a centre left party). This year however, was different. Although the Conservatives won the most seats at the recent general election, they didn’t get enough to form a government. In order to become Prime Minister, the Conservative leader David Cameron has had to enter into a coalition with the third largest party, the Liberal Democrats.
The big issue for the Lib Dems is electoral reform. They want to change the voting system in the UK as they don’t feel the current one fairly represents the people of the UK. One of their proposals is lowering the voting age to 16. This is supported by some Labour MPs including the former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. For the Headliners video report I spoke to politicians from the major parties about the issue. They discussed their reasons for and against the change, and the potential effects it would have on politics and society. I wanted to communicate the opinions of young people, who would be most significantly affected by the change.
With regards the election result, I think what we have now is an opportunity for a new government to try something different and make improvements following thirteen years of Labour. The lack of a single party majority could be beneficial if parties compromise rather than adhere to ideological allegiances when negotiating. However, this is easier said than done. I think some Conservatives expected to win an outright majority and are disappointed to be in a coalition. Meanwhile many Lib Dem supporters do not trust the Conservatives and think they will try to block changes to the electoral system. This is just one of many divisive issues raising questions about how well this government will work.
Another notable point is the lack of ethnic minority and female representation in the new government. This is an indication of a lack of diversity and social mobility, and could discourage females and non-white people from engaging in politics; something I know is commonplace among young black and Asian people here in the UK. But for a lot of young people, more important than having minority role models in high power positions is finding a job. Unemployment is at 8%, and it doesn’t look like the new government will create opportunities for work, with job cuts likely to cause even more unemployment. They are pledging a reduction of immigration from outside the European Union, but this fails to address 80% of people coming into the UK, so this will remain a point of contention as pressure on public services like housing and health provision continues to grow.
Another worry is that the new government will try and get unpaid volunteers to fill the gaps left by the thousands of public sector job cuts that are going to be made. The ideal scenario would be more balanced. The new government should try to create employment opportunities, encourage people to work, and change the culture of welfare dependence which is endemic in Britain.
Only time will tell how well the new government will work. With pressing issues like defense, unemployment and the economy, I don’t think the topic of votes at 16 will be addressed in political discussion any time soon, particularly as Prime Minister David Cameron is against the idea of lowering the voting age.
This story was produced by Chinwe Izamoje, 18 from Headliners, a journalism programme for young people aged eight to 19. www.headliners.org