Recently, much has been made of the proposal to lower the voting age to 16, but what would happen if, instead of having a lower barrier to enter, you had a ceiling to cap it instead.
Interestingly, such a suggestion came from the irreplaceable Jeremy Paxman, in an article for the Financial Times in late November.
The article is entitled: “cull the grey vote – it is an affront to democracy” and is a surprising line to take by a man that is openly a Conservative voter.
Paxman, who has made a living putting politicians through their paces, suggests something that none who have faced him would ever even contemplate, let alone publicly advocate. His proposal to cap the voting age is hugely progressive, and rather than continue to preserve the status quo would see the new generations leading the country into uncharted territory.
In a revealing and refreshing article, Paxman readily admits that “the political system favours the elderly”. He continues:
“There are fewer than 6m people aged 18 to 24 in Britain, but more than 11m aged 65 or older. Some scarcely know what day of the week it is, yet their ballot papers are worth the same as a Cambridge professor’s. And politicians know that older people are much more likely to vote — as one put it to me privately, “there’s not much else going on in lots of their lives”.”
Why such a suggestion comes as a surprise is because, as Paxman well knows, older voters are notoriously right of centre and opposed to change. A cap to the voting age would undoubtedly help the Left far more than the Right.
The Conservative majority in the last General Election was down to a number of factors; Miliband’s weak image as leader, Labour’s Tory-lite policies, the political earthquake in Scotland, but there were also more mathematical and statistical factors which helped to explain David Cameron’s success.
One is that despite the highest voter turnout in eighteen years, many Labour supporters decided not to vote at all. The decision by many traditional Leftists not to vote in the election, meant that all 20 of the seats with the lowest turnout, were won by Labour. Tristram Hunt, the MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central, received just 19% of constituents votes on his way to parliament.
If this pattern is repeated across the country, it is not hard to see why in marginal seats Labour struggled to defend against or overturn the Conservatives.
In stark contrast to Labour voters, the Conservative voters came out in force. And the demographic where the Tories got the highest proportion of the vote was the over 65s.
The Telegraphed analysed the results of the election and found that of the top 40 seats with the highest turnout of over 65s, Labour only one won.
Polls by Ipsos Mori show that 47% of the over 65s voted Conservative at the last General Election, which is over double the 23% that Labour received from that demographic.
More worryingly for Labour is that the over 65s were also the most represented at the General Election, with 78% voting on the day.
The over 65s then, with their sheer weight of numbers – some 11 million people, their high turnout in elections – almost four in five voted, and their tendency to vote Conservative – almost half did, give the Conservatives a huge advantage at election time. This is why I found Paxman’s suggestion so interesting.
If Paxman’s suggestion had been implemented at the last election, it would have meant – using some quick and dirty figures – that 4,136,000 votes would be lost by the Conservatives. In contrast, Labour would have only lost 2,024,000.
Such a change would have made a dramatic impact on the result of the election. Using official BBC election figures as a basis, it would leave the Conservatives on 7,198,576 votes and Labour with 7,323,304.
Due to the antique nature of our electoral system, with its inherent bias, such a result would not guarantee a Labour government, but it is more than likely that had this outcome occurred, Ed Miliband would currently be the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
I think Paxman’s suggestion to cap the voting age is a bold one. And though we sit on separate sides of the political fence, I would support such a proposal.
It is the younger generation who will carry the country, and the world, forward in to the future, and it is they who will be burdened with the failings of the previous generations (war, climate change, rising inequality etc). With both the future to build, and the past to rectify, it is to the young that we should now turn.
If, as seems to be the case, the older generations prove to be a roadblock on political progress then our democracy has to take that into account and make the necessary changes to ensure it is no longer the case.
If a cap on voting age were to be introduced, the rights of the over 65s must be protected and their needs catered for. Some may say that denying the over 65s the vote would result in substantial changes to the policies that effect them, but I don’t believe that to be the case.
The knowledge within every individual who passes a vote, that one day they will be that age, and in that situation, will be enough to ensure that they do not sabotage their own future. Already we clearly see that voters have as much an eye on the future, as they do on the present. Climate change, the NHS, public services, pensions, and university tuition fees are just some of the issues that demonstrate this.
It is a sad reality that at the age of 65 you become more concerned with preservation than progress. You have worked, you have bought and accumulated, and now you want to maintain that which you have acquired. This is what you have rightfully earned and it is in the twilight years of your life that it is also time to pass the torch onto those younger than yourself.
“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in”.
After some time to reflect, and following conversations with a number of people, I have since decided that capping the voting age is not a policy that I support nor encourage. Though it may produce a beneficial outcome for the Left, it is the wrong method with which to reach this result. To clarify, capping the voting age is not the solution.
For a follow up article on this topic, please see here.
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