Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate for Reading West Meri O’Connell writes…
At RBC’s January Council meeting members of Reading’s Youth Parliament asked Councillors to show their support for lowering the voting age to 16, only the Conservatives refused to do this. I would challenge those Councillors who think that 16 and 17 year olds don’t have the knowledge or life experience to fully engage with politics to come and speak with 6th formers at Theale Green School. I reckon it might make them change their minds.
I attended their cross party Question and Answer session before half term. The quality of the questions was impressive – they didn’t just focus on what people might think of as ‘youth issues’ – they wanted to know about the deficit, gender equality and our views on immigration and the EU.
The Theale Green 6th formers weren’t impressed by petty political point scoring – they asked straight questions and wanted straight answers, not a squabble that apportions blame but offers no real way forward. They are still open to new ideas and, if they were allowed to vote, their fresh take on the world could really help to shake things up and make ours a fairer and more equal society.
I would be more than happy to return to their school, or any other, to talk about the importance of engaging in our democratic process. I’m really concerned about our current low youth voter registration. Changes to the registration system means that the main householder (normally Mum or Dad) can no longer register young people turning 18 to vote. They have to register themselves.
I don’t agree with Russell Brand. Not voting is not a protest – it sends the message to Westminster that you are content with the status quo and don’t want to change anything. The students at Theale Green reinforced by belief that young people care passionately about what goes on in the world around them, let’s give them the vote, get them registered and listen to what they have to say.