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5 November 2019

Votes at 16 are all very well – but why not disenfranchise state pensioners like me?

Bookended suffrage. There, doesn’t that look neater?

By Ian Martin

Should the voting age be lowered to 16? Some entirely reasonable people argue that this would widen and invigorate our democracy, but I reckon that entirely misses the point. Giving the vote to 16 year-olds is a hilariously good idea that would piss off all the right people.

Just imagine the eye-popping, finger-jabbing cardios on Question Time, spraying spit over the row in front. You sir. Gentleman at the back, looking like a Francis Bacon painting. “Kids, voting? What next – dogs voting, I suppose! So-called ‘emojis’ voting! On and on it goes, the list is endless!”

There’d be no shortage of back-up. Everyone’s seen the pictures on Facebook. We know exactly what happens when you go away for the weekend and teenagers hold a political party, with their demographics and their alcopops and their laughing gas balloons and their lack of respect for private property.

Teenagers versus Pensioners. Could they ever be reconciled? Perhaps Channel 4 will commission a controversial series, bringing these two tribes together, exploring one another’s realities. “Basildon, Essex. In a sheltered bungalow a traumatised young Sophie and her mates are presented with a bleak but easily digestible TV dinner at 5pm before bingeing four hours of Escape To The Chateau, then bed at nine.

“Meanwhile Doddery Roger and his OAP posse see how far they can get through rush-hour traffic on Deliveroo bikes, with grime and drill banging in their ears.”

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But wouldn’t votes at 16 throw the electoral profile out of whack? Skew Britain’s profile, making it younger at one end? Hmm. Well: yes it would. Good point. Britain’s profile would need rebalancing. We need to make it younger at the other end, too, by withdrawing the vote from anyone in receipt of a state pension.

Bookended suffrage. There, doesn’t that look neater?

Don’t get me wrong, boomerphobes. I’m very grateful for my state pension and the right to vote. But shouldn’t the state be saying, “You’ve had your go at destiny-shaping – bang-up job on that, by the way. Maaaaybe, as you sit there staring in bafflement at a prompt for ‘two-factor authentication’ or even frankly ‘your memorable word’ it’s time to put voting entirely in the hands of those who actually have to live with the consequences.”

Because let’s face facts. There’s a grim symmetry in bookending suffrage. Sixteen is the absolute youngest you’d go for adulthood, right? And from birth to 16 is a fade-in. Everyone starts life incontinent, helpless, moving through toddlerhood, rationalising their environment, becoming less frail, building up mobility and knowledge and memory and empathy and social skills and that’s you set for life. What happens at the other end is basically the same, but in reverse. So let’s top and tail our democracy. Reset the profile of the electorate to “Economically Productive And Still All There”.

The first bookend – votes at 16 – may already be one the way. Sixteen-year-olds voted in Scotland’s independence referendum and can now vote in Assembly and local elections. That hasn’t hurt Scotland’s image, has it? Scotland’s looking quite progressive, isn’t it? Quite…“European”.

So yeah, suffrage at the age of consent seems a pretty solid punt. At 16, you can get married or enter a civil partnership. You can leave school (terms and conditions apply) and enter the gig economy to be serially shafted by a wide spectrum of zero-hours shitbags. You can join a union – if by some miracle collective bargaining is tolerated within the flapping canvas walls of whatever hellish pop-up you’re working part-time in, for cash. And if you’re eligible to pay tax and national insurance at 16, surely the state should acknowledge your notional economic productivity and give you a say in how things work.

Also, hello: the concept of “16” been thoroughly redefined by the most famous 16-year-old on the planet as she continues her intoxicating war on fossils. The death stare that Greta Thunberg gave America’s Cronut-in-Chief launched a thousand demos. Cities everywhere were thronged with Thunbergs. I’m sure they’re not all there, as renowned anthropologist Brendan O’Neill insists, because they’re middle-class and are being manipulated by bad teachers and the wrong sort of parent.

Once we’ve youthenised one suffrage bookend down from 18 to 16, can it really be long before we snip off the deadwood at the other end? I appeal to my fellow state pensioners. Come on, we’ve had our go. Some of us cast our first general election vote in back-combed hair, a tie-dyed grandad shirt and satin bell-bottoms. Our entire adult life has been punctuated by democracy’s recurring madrigal, as we demurely shuffled in and out of dim, ghostly parish halls haunted by Weight Watchers and Cubs.

Oh, you say, but I am a lively 85-year-old, still bagging Munros and ballroom dancing. I can bite into an apple and stand on one leg. Congratulations – but with respect, that’s your bonus not, strictly speaking, ours. Let it go, let’s be fair.

And by the way, boomerphobes, this proposal to take the vote away from me and my mates isn’t an acknowledgement that our generation is responsible for the shitshow that is contemporary politics. We’re all complicit in that, thanks very much. It’s merely skewing power back where it belongs, with people facing the long-term consequences of social policy-making.

We who are stardust and golden can still campaign, still deliver leaflets, still urge anyone with a conscience to hose this nerveless fucking bunch of crooks and clowns out of office. But let the people who have to live with it actually decide.

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