Blaise Tapp: Let’s engage young people in democracy

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When we look back on our teenage years, many of us do so with a mixture of misty-eyed nostalgia and a hefty amount of disbelief.

The crazy, reckless capers which punctuated the formative years of the majority of today’s adult population are something which I personally reflect upon with a great amount of satisfaction - largely down to the fact that I find it hard to believe that I actually survived to tell the tale.

The casual approach to both my personal hygiene and safety made for an interesting few years and I am especially grateful for the fact that my teens occurred long before the advent of social media. The digital evidence, if it existed, would be damning.

Much of it was a cliche existence: a diet of Super Noodles and Double Deckers, the odd dubious relationships and far too much risk taking but every single one of those experiences was invaluable.

Like most of my pals back then, I knew my own mind and at the age of 14, I boldly announced that I wanted to be a reporter, an ambition I achieved a good three months before my 20th birthday.

And like a lot of my young contemporaries I had far too much to say for myself and plenty of opinions which I was more than happy to share with anyone who would listen. Not much has changed has it really?

Which is why I have found the current argument about whether or not 16 and 17-year-olds in this country should be allowed to vote so perplexing.

A move by opposition politicians to lower the current minimum voting age by two years was last week thwarted by Conservative MPs who prevented a vote taking place in parliament by effectively ‘talking it out’. Tory opponents to the proposal argued that under 18s lack “the political knowledge or maturity required” to make an informed decision at the ballot box.

I have heard that old chestnut trotted out quite a lot in recent days, mainly from those over 50 who seem to be spooked by the prospect of allowing another 1.5 million teens the opportunity to exercise a basic democratic right, fearing that they would all vote for Jeremy Corbyn.

Firstly, it wouldn’t occur to huge numbers of teenagers to even register their right to vote, never mind dragging themselves away from the Xbox to get down to the polling station and who says anybody who is young enough to name three Taylor Swift songs is necessarily a raging socialist?

But it is the notion that 16 and 17-year-olds should be prevented from voting because they may not understand the complexities of politics or the issues which elected members tackle on a daily basis which has given me the biggest laugh of the week.

If we stopped people voting on the basis that they don’t have the knowledge to do so, then I would suggest that future electoral turnouts would be no higher than 10 per cent, such is the general level of ignorance among huge swathes of the population.

But thankfully, there are very few restrictions, other than age, on who can cast a vote.

The big complaint about the youth of any generation is that they are too busy enjoying themselves rather than making any sort of contribution to society. We can start by engaging them in democracy much earlier than we do.

CLASSROOM: There are some teachers you never forget.

Blaise Tapp: Today’s teachers need more support