There is no principled reason to support votes for 16-year-olds

EU Commission, October 2007, Amio Cajander

There is something a bit weird about a 16-year-old that is interested in politics.

In fact that’s true of most age groups. However near you are to God’s waiting room, politics is a minority pastime practised by the few and enjoyed by the fewer. Whilst the art about politics tends to focus on inspirational revolutionaries the reality is drabber: a schedule of committees on road marking regulations and evenings spent stuffing envelopes.

As such it seems a fair guess that teenagers would rather spend their free time shagging or acquiring a taste for hard liquor. But you wouldn’t know that from the fury of electoral reformers angry that 16-and-17-years-olds won’t be voting in the referendum on whether Britain should stay in the EU, under plans announced by the Tory government.

The decision follows what was dismissed as a cynical Scottish Nationalist move to include more of the yoot in the ballot on Scottish independence last September. According to a poll by Michael Ashcroft, a Conservative peer, 70 percent of the 100,000 16-and-17-year-olds who turned up backed independence, though it did not shift the result enough to matter.

Now both Labour and the Scottish Nats are hoping to amend the EU referendum bill currently going through Parliament, either by convincing enough Tory rebels to scupper it in the Commons, or by achieving something similar in the Lords.

From my vantage point there is no strong principle that would exclude or include 16-or-17-year-olds in any vote. As the law stands distinctions are made between someone of 16 years and someone of 18 years on all sorts of issues: from what minimum wage you are given to whether you can serve on the front-line during war.

Right now there are bad arguments mustering on both sides of the debate. On the side of the yoot are those who claim “It’s their future too” – a principle that would surely oblige you to include anybody who had left the womb – and on the other are those that claim 16-year-olds lack the necessary experience, though it is not obvious why they have drawn the line at 18.

Indeed few seem willing to admit that the voting age is mostly arbitrary. It is a line we draw as a matter of judgement rather than principle, and what you advocate is often determined by electoral advantage more than good argument.

Should we have more young’uns voting it seems a fair bet that will improve our odds of remaining in the EU. Indeed a study commissioned by the government in 2013 found that only a quarter of young people want to leave the EU, compared to roughly half of the general population at the time.

What this all means is that the cynicism of referendums has begun in earnest. Expect much more over the next two years.

Header Image – EU Commission, Amio Cajander

Equalities minister praises LGBT rights after voting against them

Gay Pride, IDAHO in Toronto, May 2014, Karen Stintz

Despite winning a majority in the Commons off a campaign that focused on the economy and his opponent’s inability to win a bacon sarnie, prime minister David Cameron has lost little time in interpreting his victory as a chance to form the most right-wing government since Margaret Thatcher of milk-snatching fame left the premiership in 1990.

Aside from telling Theresa “Jackboot” May to enact the Snoopers’ Charter and bringing Michael Gove back in from the cold as the human rights abolition secretary, DVD Dave has also appointed Caroline Dinenage as equalities minister.

Those of you unfamiliar with Dinenage’s previous work should know she voted against the legalising of gay marriage back in 2013. Other highlights include a long record of slashing welfare spending for disabled people, and votes in favour of raising VAT, a regressive tax that hits the poor harder than the rich.

All that in mind, it must have been jolly inconvenient for our heroine to wake up on Sunday and find out International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (Idaho) was taken place. Whilst many of these celebratory days are little more than an excuse for various pressure groups to engage in public onanism, they do allow governments to comment on what they have been doing within their field.

So what did Dinenage say?

“I’m proud that the UK has just been named the most progressive country in Europe for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights for the fifth year running, but far too many LGB&T people around the world continue to experience discrimination. We need to tackle that and to create a fairer society for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.”


Header Image – Idaho in Toronto, Karen Stintz

Scots sceptics on independence after SNP surge

Edinburgh Castle, Apr 2005, Stuart Caie

Much has been written about the possibility of the Scottish National Party pushing for another referendum on independence should they augment their recent surge in Westminster seats with a victory in the Scottish parliamentary elections next year.

This is despite reports that the Scots could lose out financially if they claimed fiscal autonomy for themselves because of tumbling oil prices. Perhaps for that reason many of them are sceptical that Scotland will become independent before the next general election (currently scheduled for 2020) – though the English are not so sure.

Figures from a recent Survation poll, which included people from across Britain, show that a third of Scots think their country will be independent by the end of this parliament. Though this gives unionists cause for optimism the English seems to view divorce as more likely, with 43 percent predicting Scotland will break away within the next five years.

“It’s interesting that Scotland is split pretty much down the middle on whether independence will happen, even within a decade, while more people in England think it’s already lost,” says Sunder Katwala, director of the think-tank British Future, which commissioned the online survey of 4,000.

Long-term pessimism of the fate of the United Kingdom, which has existed for more than 300 years, is more rife than the short-term kind. Almost three-quarters of both English and Scots predict that this may be the last united British generation, with both groups expecting dissolution of the Union within 25 years.

“That’s a long-term challenge for unionism and an opportunity for Nicola Sturgeon to play the long game,” Katwala added. “Up to a third of that 72% will be ‘No’ voters who are resigned to independence, and her task will be to convince them that it’s all going to be alright.”

Header image – Edinburgh Castle by Stuart Caie

Labour voters split as public demands centre

Labour’s contest over the leadership and future direction of the party is highlighting that age-old split between what the party wants to achieve and what the country wants from them.

Following Chuka Umunna’s surprise departure, which despite rumours of a major Sunday newspaper scoop appears to have been based on a sharp rise in media scrutiny over his family, the field is now left open to former Labour ministers Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper, as well as rising stars Liz Kendall, Tristram Hunt and Mary Creagh.

Yet already questions are being asked as to whether the internal politics of the party are likely to hamper its electoral chances the next time the country goes to the polls. A survey conducted by the pollster YouGov on behalf of The Sunday Times has revealed that while the public want Labour to move to the centre, the party membership is not so sure.

Labour political spectrum, GE2015, YouGov

As you will note from the graph above, Ed Miliband is perceived as being to the left of where his party was, even though public want only a slightly more centrist stance from Labour as a whole. Will Dahlgreen and William Jordan give more detail:

In a question that directly asks where the next leader should take Labour, 40% say closer to the centre and only 21% say further to the left.

The views of Labour voters are more equivocal:

Labour voters are unsure – 30% choose the left, 35% the centre and 10% where they are now.

Last time the Reds voted for a chief the unions managed to swing it for Ed Miliband, whose perceived incompetence and attacks on predatory capitalism are credited for Labour’s thrashing at the polls.

As many have warned, Labour’s new voting rules may have inadvertently handed even greater powers to the unions, who can enlist their members for free for the leadership ballot. Whilst last time they made up for a third of the vote in an electoral college system, this time under One Member One Vote they could have half the voting power.

If that happens we could have, as former prime minister Tony Blair correctly said of this election, a contest “in which traditional left-wing party competes with a traditional right-wing party, with the traditional result”.

Header image – Voting Labour Badge by Simon Speed

The Left hates Tony Blair, but to win another General Election it must copy him

10 Downing Street, 21 Feb 2013, Sergeant Tom Robinson RLC

At the start of this year the former British prime minister Tony Blair forecast the General Election would be one “in which a traditional left-wing party competes with a traditional right-wing party, with the traditional result”.

It was a prediction that proved, unlike the polls that most pundits (including me) believed, to be bang on. Not only did the Tories surge to a majority against all expectation, the Liberal Democrats were massacred in the polls whilst Labour’s usual haul of Scottish seats were siphoned off to the Scottish National Party. The Right consolidated; The Left fractured.

Event if Blair’s cliché looks good so far, it is his legacy at the turn of the millennium that complicates things. Provided one accepts he is leftwing, Blair remains the most successful politician of the Left for the last century, having managed the singular feat for Labour of winning three elections on the trot.

Unsurprisingly his example is causing a rupture in the party that has lost two general elections since he left in 2007. Indeed the incoming list of Labour candidates are being judged largely on whether they follow Blair or the recently departed leader Ed Miliband, himself a disciple of Gordon Brown, the last Labour prime minister.

Who ultimately triumphs in the contest – which includes former health secretary Andy Burnham, former work and pensions secretary Yvette Cooper, and newcomers from the 2010 intake such as Chuka Umunna and Liz Kendall – is less important than what philosophy they represent: New Labour or Old.

It is a dilemma echoed in a similar contest taking place within the Liberal Democrats. Long seen as a “none of the above” option for ambivalent voters, the party forfeited this role by agreeing to go into coalition with the Conservatives in 2010. Now returned to opposition, it will have to compete with the SNP, the Greens and the UK Independence Party for the protest vote it once owned.

Whilst the former leader Nick Clegg provides a model of how the Liberal Democrats can effect change in government, the other wing of the party was alienated by collaboration with the hated Tories, whom many Liberal Democrat voters explicitly wanted to keep out of power when they cast their ballot.

Even if the Liberal Democrats and Labour are founded on different visions of the Left, they are both stuck between centrist and extremist competition. A turn to the left could lose them even more of the centrist voters who turned Conservative at this election, whilst a turn to the centre could see their ranks depleted by the Greens and the SNP.

This is one reason why many of the prospective Labour leaders have spoken of bringing together a broad coalition of sensibilities under a new direction. “Our challenge is not to go left or right, to focus on one part of the country above another, but to rediscover the beating heart of Labour,” Burnham said as he launched his campaign online.

The trouble is that civil war is a speciality of the Left. Ideology weighs more on the minds of idealists than it does the pragmatists that are more common on the Right. Indeed the protean nature of conservatism is what has ensured the longevity of the Tories over the last 200 years, and played a part in sealing their victory last week.

Blair’s talent was to provide a plausible promise of change that could gather voters from the centre whilst inspiring the party faithful. Plenty has changed since he last occupied Downing Street, but the fundamental arithmetic remains. Unless the Left wants a traditional exile for the next generation, it would do well to remember that.

Header Image – Sergeant Tom Robinson RLC