The 2023 local elections happened in England on 4th May and Northern Ireland on the 18th May. People in many parts of England aged 18 and older had the chance to vote for their local councillors. These elections were crucial in deciding who ran our local councils. Local councils are in control of services like social care, schools, housing and planning and waste collection to name a few. These services are a big part of most people’s everyday lives. That’s why it was deeply disappointing to see such low turnout to vote across the country. An example of this low voter turnout can be seen in the Macclesfield Hurdsfield Ward in Cheshire East, where the voter turnout was only 27.17%.
There have been many theories as to why the voter turnout was so low. Some blame general voter apathy, which has been increasing steadily over the past ten years, but I believe that a main problem was the controversial introduction of Voter ID. There were groups of Members of Parliament (MP) from all parties that opposed the introduction of voter ID. For example, Conservative MP David Davis suggested that Voter ID was an “illiberal solution to a non-existent problem” and Labour MP Jess Phillips shared her concern that introducing compulsory voter ID could stop “large portions of the migrant community” from voting.
Alongside people from the migrant community there was also a lot of concern from politicians and the public that Voter ID could stop a lot of young people from taking part in the democratic process. This was because there were certain restrictions on what type of ID you were allowed to use when you went to vote in person. MP Clive Betts pointed this out in the House of Commons when he questioned local government minister Lee Rowley MP. He stated that his Older Persons’ Bus Pass would be accepted at the polling station, but a younger person bus pass wouldn’t be accepted, a move many viewed as a barrier which prevented young people, who may not have access to forms of ID such as a passport or driver’s license, from voting.
Yet again this shows that younger people are being left behind in politics. From not being offered political education pre 16 in schools, to now being limited in how they can vote,it feels like those in power don’t want to hear our voices. Things needs to change sooner rather than later.
While it may appear that young people are being pushed away from the democratic process, we’re fighting back. Members of the votes at 16 youth action group (a group made up of 16–18-year-olds who are passionate about equalizing the voting age nationwide) have created a manifesto which calls for drastic change to make our democratic system fairer.
Alongside lowering the voting age, the manifesto calls for the education system to change so that young people are better educated about our democratic system. It poses other suggestions such as a youth minister to better represent young people’s interests at cabinet level, eliminating barriers to voting such as voter ID and making the process more accessible (by introducing online voting, for instance, or leaving polling stations open for longer). The manifesto caught the eye of a lot of influential people including former spokesman for Tony Blair, Alistair Campbell. In May, he joined Chair of the votes at 16 Youth action group Lucy Hulme on a Twitter Space organised by The Body Shop discuss the importance of giving 16-year-olds the vote.
The case for votes at 16 is beginning to get more and more support from people across the political spectrum. From The Father of the House Sir Peter Bottomley MP supporting giving 16- and 17-year-olds the vote to The Labour Party’s National Policy forum (NPF) calling on the leadership of the Labour Party to put giving 16-year-olds the vote.
You may be wondering what can you do to support the case for votes at 16 cause. There is a petition on The Body Shop’s website that we would love you to sign. If this petition gets 100,000 signatures, it will bring our cause to the House of Commons for debate, demonstrating this is an issue with significant public interest.