It’s almost 50 years since Harold Wilson lowered the voting age from 21 to 18, and one hears much clamouring for it to be lowered even more.
Now, any argument has a ‘what’ and a ‘how’ aspect: the issue at stake and the rhetorical mastery with which it’s put forth. What these days tends to vex me especially isn’t so much the former as the latter.
All of us have at one time or another supported an untenable proposition, especially when young. I for one blush at some beliefs I held in the Russia of my teens, although mine never included what Lenin so aptly called “the infantile disorder of leftishness”.
The tendency in the West, however, is for the young to reach out tropistically for liberal panaceas, whereas the old know there are no panaceas, and if there were, they wouldn’t be liberal (in the newfangled sense of socialist).
This is nothing new, as Edmund Burke pointed out in his masterly decortication of the French Revolution: “He who is not a républicain at twenty compels one to doubt the generosity of his heart; but he who, after thirty, persists, compels one to doubt the soundness of his mind.”
One might question the first part of the aphorism, but, if the experience gathered over millennia is anything to go by, not the second. This, to me, ends the argument about the voting age: it should be raised, rather than lowered to make sure more voters are sound of mind.
Those who, for some unfathomable reason, are interested in my thoughts on the ‘what’ of the issue can tap ‘paedocracy’ into the SELECT feature in this space. However, the issue that most concerns me these days is the ‘how’, which is to say the puerile inanity that these days passes for rhetoric.
Unless they themselves are young, champions of paedocracy argue not from ideas but from ideology. That would be fine, provided they were honest about it. But they aren’t.
They should take heed from Peter Mandelson’s frank cynicism on the subject of the unlimited Muslim immigration he and his boss Blair had fostered. Rather than laying a smokescreen of verbiage about humanitarian concerns, Mandelson admitted nonchalantly that such migrants had been welcomed because they would eventually vote Labour.
One suspects that the same rationale impels those who insist on a lower voting age: the younger people are, the more likely they are to gobble up the leftie pie in the sky that many older people find indigestible.
But our paedocrats don’t own up to their motivation. Instead they try to offer arguments that invariably sound as if they come from the mouths of babes.
Cue in Ed Miliband, who in 2013, when he was leader of the Labour Party, voiced the usual inanity: “The future of our society is going to affect young people the most. When you get to the age of 16 you can join the Army, you can get married, you can pay taxes. I think you should be able to decide the country’s future.”
That’s like saying that a lad who gets a job stacking the shelves at Waitrose is qualified to sit on the John Lewis board. Or that a recent graduate of a football academy can manage a Premiership club. Or, closer to the point, that a youngster who pays a nominal tax is fit to determine the government’s fiscal policy.
Of course, for chronological reasons, youngsters stand to gain or lose the most from today’s political decisions. By the same token, a tot’s future may be affected by his parents’ decision to move house. But that doesn’t mean sensible adults should let a six-year-old make or veto that decision.
Or should they? Enter Prof David Runciman, the head of politics at Cambridge University. Allow me to clarify: Prof Runciman holds one of the world’s highest academic positions to which a political scientist can ascend.
One would expect that, whatever his innermost convictions, someone with his credentials would be able to support them with sound arguments. Alas, that expectation would be forlorn: I’ve heard better political rhetoric around closing time at the King’s Head.
Prof Runciman doesn’t feel the proposal to lower the voting age to 16 goes far enough: “I would lower the voting age to six, not 16. And I’m serious about that.” I’m sure he is. That’s the trouble.
What’s amazing here is Prof Runciman’s lamentable ignorance of the basics of his chosen discipline. To wit: “You should never, never interfere with the basic principle of democracy, which is one person one vote. And you should never take votes away from people.”
The basic principle of democracy is that some people elect their governments – not that all people do that. For example, only about a third of Britain’s population had the vote in 1927: women were disfranchised, as were both sexes under age 21.
Does this mean Britain only became a democracy the next year, when women got the vote? Or did she gain that status only in 1970, when the voting age was lowered to 18? Or do we still have to wait a while longer, when Prof. Runciman’s proposal has been acted upon?
Actually, even by his logic a democratic deficit will still exist: what about the little ones between ages zero and five, who have even more at stake than six-year-olds? Provided they can talk, shouldn’t they vote too to conform to Prof Runciman’s illiterate notions of democracy?
Lest he might be accused of scholarly impartiality, Prof Runciman then let his guard drop: “If 16- or 17-year-olds voted in the 2017 general election, there is a chance that Jeremy Corbyn would now be prime minister,” he wrote with a distinct longing.
For once I agree. He probably would be. Which is the best argument for raising the voting age to 25 at least – 30 would be even better.