Votes at 16 is Starmer’s most cynical ploy yet

Labour’s push to give teenagers the vote proves that it still holds the electorate in contempt.

Fraser Myers

Fraser Myers
Deputy editor

Topics Politics UK

Want to read spiked ad-free? Become a spiked supporter.

Sir Keir Starmer has, once again, shown that he has no political convictions beyond wanting to get elected. Confident he will secure a victory in this coming General Election, now the Labour leader has hatched a plan that – he hopes – will keep him in power after the next one: reducing the voting age to 16.

On the campaign trail on Saturday, Starmer announced that he ‘wants to see 16- and 17-year-olds voting’. Naturally, he tried to claim that giving teenagers the vote is simply a question of fairness. If they can work, join the army and pay taxes, then they should get ‘a say over how those taxes are used’, he said.

So is Sir Keir just standing up for democracy here – extending the franchise to an unfairly excluded group that is clamouring for its right to be represented?

Of course not. In the UK, there is no notable grassroots campaign by and for 16-year-olds to have the vote. There have been no Peterloo-style uprisings of teenagers or Suffragette-style stunts by Gen Zers for votes at 16. No sixth-former is getting out of bed to fight for his or her apparently inalienable right to put an X in a box on polling day.

The push for votes at 16 is entirely cynical. As the National Centre for Social Research makes clear, ‘age has become the biggest demographic divide in British politics, with younger people being more likely to vote Labour’. This is Starmer’s one and only consideration.

If it were not for the partisan advantage, then giving votes to teenagers would make no sense at all. After all, it is clear that the Labour Party – like every other major party in Britain – does not consider 16- and 17-year-olds to be full-on adults, deserving of the rights and responsibilities that come with crossing the age of maturity.

After all, is the Labour Party campaigning to allow 16-year-olds to leave school? To enjoy a pint in a pub? To get a tattoo or lie on a sunbed? To consume pornography, watch explicit films and play violent video games? To sign contracts and own property? To not just join the army, as 16-year-olds can currently do, but also to serve in active combat, which they cannot? Labour does not want 16-year-olds to do these things because it considers them to be children.

Indeed, over the past decade or so, there has been an infantilising trend towards raising the age at which the young can start to dip their toes into adult life. The school-leaving age and the smoking age were both raised from 16 to 18 by New Labour. As of 2023, it is illegal for 16- and 17-year-olds to marry, even with parental consent. The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act passed with cross-party support. A government press release claimed this law is necessary to ‘protect vulnerable young people’ and prevent ‘children’ – yes, children – from being ‘manipulated… into marrying under-age’. Yet we are supposed to believe that these same teenagers will suddenly become wise beyond their years when handed a pencil and a ballot paper.

Votes at 16 may be little more than a cynical and opportunistic ploy from a cynical and opportunistic politician, but that doesn’t mean it won’t have grave consequences for our democracy. Indeed, it is no coincidence that those most enthusiastic about letting teenagers have the vote are the least enthusiastic about democracy itself. Keir Starmer, the architect of Labour’s grotesquely anti-democratic, anti-Brexit second-referendum policy, is a case in point.

Throughout the Brexit wars, the Remoaning classes continually sought to contrast the alleged ‘wisdom’ of the Remain-leaning youth with the supposed idiocy and prejudices of the Brexit-backing older voters. Handing the franchise to teenagers was repeatedly raised as a means to unfairly tip the balance in Remain’s favour in any re-run of the EU referendum. The youth were treated as a stage army for the designs of an establishment determined to ride roughshod over democracy.

The demos has continually let the Labour Party down over the past 14 years. It has voted for the ‘wrong’ governments and it ignored Labour’s stern advice to back Remain in the EU referendum. So perhaps it’s no wonder that Starmer, to paraphrase the great Bertolt Brecht, is looking to ‘dissolve the people, and elect another’.

The votes-at-16 campaign has nothing to do with democracy, and everything to do with generational gerrymandering. Anyone who truly believes in the right of citizens to steer the nation should reject this transparently self-serving wheeze.

Fraser Myers is deputy editor at spiked and host of the spiked podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @FraserMyers.

Picture by: Getty.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics UK


Want to join the conversation?

Only spiked supporters and patrons, who donate regularly to us, can comment on our articles.

Join today