Lower the Voting Age: A Guide for the Tories to Regain Young People's Trust (but they won't do it)
A few days ago, it was revealed that the Conservative party is allowing anyone 15 years old and above to vote in the leadership election.
The Tories have famously and consistently opposed the voting age being lowered to 16, as is the general suggestion from the opposition parties. As such, accusations of hypocrisy have been darting around the internet - though maybe not as much as we'd expect. I suppose it's no wonder, given that 0.2% of the population choosing our next Prime Minister is such a cause for outrage that it overrides any other egregious insult to our democracy. And in two days, we'll all have something more important to gawk at, jaws dropped, when Boris trots up to Number 10.
I really, really implore us to not forget about this startling double-standard - it is hugely significant to the discussion of lowering the voting age. It means that there can no longer be a party or ideological split in the debate.
Previously, lowering the age was seen as a cause solely of the opposition. The Lib Dems were the champions of it, and support for the idea gradually spread through the parties until 2017 when a Labour-led bill attempted to get the lowering approved by parliament. The Conservatives, however, showed near-universal opposition to it, the reasons presented being primarily concerned with 16- and 17-year-olds' lack of maturity and the need for 'drawing a line'. While these opinions were certainly held, it appeared clear to most the real primary reason for the Tories' opposition to the bill - polling consistently placed the significant majority of young people in support of Corbyn's Labour. To lower the voting age to 16 in the 2017 election would have been electoral suicide for the Conservatives.
So, we see this real reason exposed in the Tory leadership election. But this needn't be a negative thing, as long as the government is genuine and consistent in its trust in young people. Instead of an insulting double-standard, suggesting that left-wing teenagers are less mature or responsible than right-wing ones, lowering the voting age to 16 can become government policy. From a strategic standpoint for the Conservatives, this is perhaps the most intelligent time to do so - faith in the Tory Party certainly isn't high, true, but faith in Corbyn is the lowest it's ever been. Swathes of young people are becoming disillusioned with his leadership due to the persistent fence-sitting on Brexit and the antisemitism issue. Recall the last time you heard a crowd chant "ooooh Jeremy Corbyn!" - nowadays, most of us shuffle a little uncomfortably if a few voices begin belting it, and wait for it to fade into awkward glances of approval.
Were a general election to occur soon and the voting age lowered to 16 following the (enter the spin doctor) 'experiment' with it in the leadership election, a number of young voters would perceive the Tories as trustworthy, potentially gaining their vote, while youth votes for Labour diminish. Wait too long, however, and Labour may give us young'uns a reason to support them en masse again. With Boris as Prime Minister, it won't take much.