October 20, 2023
Labour Party likely to lower voting age in the UK to 16 on election victory
February 17, 2023, London, UK. Youth Action Group demonstrates at Westminster Square.
The main opposition, the Labour Party, which leads in polls before the general election scheduled to happen no later than in January 2025, floated the idea of lowering the voting age to 16 if they take the power from the Conservatives.
This will allow 16 and 17 year-old Britons to cast a ballot in future general elections, the next of which is scheduled for 2030 at the latest.
The idea, included in Labour’s National Policy Forum proposals, would allow 1.5 million people aged 16 and 17 to vote.
This number may be higher in the result of the second proposal, which is to allow migrants who live in the UK permanently to vote if they pay taxes. It is still unclear, however, whether foreign nationals aged 16 and 17 would also be covered by the expansion of suffrage.
The Labour Party claimed that allowing more people to vote strengthens democracy. Jonathan Reyonds, a Labour MP quoted by The Guardian, argued that his party was “always looking at ways to strengthen our democracy to involve as many people as possible.”
The plans have not yet been confirmed, as the general election manifesto will be announced at a later date. However, if Labour’s goal was to be implemented, this would be the largest expansion of the voting franchise since the voting age was decreased in 1969 from those aged 21 to 18.
This is not the first time the Labour Party has explored the idea of lowering the voting age. In the manifesto published under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn in 2019, the plan to reduce the voting age was present. It was never put in action, as Corbyn suffered a devastating defeat from the Conservatives led by Boris Johnson.
The plan however raised some controversy in both the Labour Party and outside of it. Labour MP Graham Stringer told a conservative-leaning tabloid The Mail on Sunday: “We have to draw a line somewhere on the voting age and I simply believe most youngsters at 16 are not mature enough.”
2019 General Election Polls
Labour Party voting demographics
Clare Foges, a columnist for Daily Mail, argued that the Labour Party’s plan is to gain new voters, as the young teenagers will most likely vote for the Labour Party, describing the change as a ‘calculating move’.
Evidence for youth support can be seen in the at the 2017 election, where Jeremy Corbyn’s performance was fuelled by the highest turnout of young voters since 1992. Poll analysis from the 2019 general election also supports this pattern.
Cressida Anness Lorenz, a 17 year-old student from the UK, believes that Labour’s plan on decreasing the voting age is a good idea: “Any younger than 16 is too young to make informed decisions, but 16-17 year olds are more capable than most think.” And in the scenario that changes were to be implemented, she added that “voting awareness should be taught widely at school.”
Cressida told Harbingers that she agreed with some of the arguments presented by the opponents of Labour’s idea — in her opinion lowering the voting age would benefit the Labour party but dismissed it as decisive arguing that she perceived it “less as an issue of maturity and more of an issue about the fundament of democracy.”
If Labour included lowering the voting age in its manifesto, the change seems to be only the question of time.
Labour is now leading in polls — according to a survey conducted by YouGov for The Times, Labour would clearly win the general election with 44% of votes, significantly ahead of the Conservative Party with a predicted 28%.
A former Conservative chancellor George Osborne, who supports the idea to lower the voting age, went on to argue that Rishi Sunak’s Conservative government should quickly embrace the idea, because the only alternative is to suffer political losses for no gain.
The UK’s debate is not unique. Scotland lowered the voting age to 16 before the 2014 referendum on independence and now, it is now one of the countries which has the youngest parliamentarians in the world.
Austria was the first country to lower the voting age to 16 in 2007. New Zealand has also planned to lower the voting age, as the Supreme Court in Wellington found the threshold of 18 to be discriminatory against New Zealand’s youth.
The idea was also debated in Canada, but activists – including 13 young people who sued their government over the issue – suffered a defeat when ACT Labour joined the Canberra Liberals and denied the reducing of the voting age.
The debate in Canada is ongoing — Act Greens Spokesperson for young people Johnathan Davis condemned the outcome and argued that young people are more than capable of voting: “It’s wrong to deny them the right [to] have a voice in this future.”