‘We have to move with the times’ - votes for 16 and 17 year olds backed in West Sussex

West Sussex Youth Cabinet members celebrate the success of their 'Votes at 16' campaign
West Sussex Youth Cabinet members celebrate the success of their 'Votes at 16' campaign

Opposition to 16 and 17-year-olds being given the vote has been compared to the resistance faced by women more than 100 years ago.

A lengthy discussion at County Hall in Chichester on Friday, saw West Sussex councillors vote to support the idea and pledge to call on MPs and the government to do the same.

It was a close-run thing, though. Members were given free rein on how they voted, with 29 in favour, 24 against and two abstentions.

A Notice of Motion was written by the West Sussex Youth Cabinet as part of their Votes at 16 campaign and tabled by Dr James Walsh (Lib Dem, Littlehampton East).

Dr Walsh joked that because ‘we are all past our prime’, councillors should be planning for the next generations to succeed them.

Speaking about the women’s suffrage of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, he said: “There was a huge opposition to that at the time and, as with any changes to the voting system, or anything like that, there is always an entrenched conservative – with a small c – opposition, who think things tick along very well as they are.

“But we have to move with the times.”

The Notice of Motion pointed out that Scotland had lowered its voting age to 16 in 2015, while the Welsh Assembly is considering the change by 2021.

This was a point picked up by Michael Jones (Lab, Southgate & Gossops Green) who said: “How can any of us defend a situation where Welsh and Scottish 16 and 17-year-olds are deemed able to cast their vote but English counterparts aren’t?”

Speaking against the idea, Duncan Crow (Con, Tilgate & Furnace Green) suggested Scotland had only made the change ‘because polling had shown at the time that 16 and 17-year-olds were more likely to support Scottish independence’.

Pointing out the various legal protections in place for under 18s, he added: “If you believe in reducing the voting age, it is inconsistent not to believe in reducing the age of adulthood.

“These two things go together.”

Stating ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’, Mr Crow wondered how many young people would include ‘voting in the West Sussex elections’ on their list of things to look forward to when they turned 18.

Amanda Jupp (Con, Billingshurst) disagreed, saying she could understand some of the ‘frustration’ felt by young people, particularly given the ongoing Brexit saga.

Mrs Jupp added: “I would claim that some people over the age of 18 probably don’t have much knowledge of politics or wish to engage.

“I don’t think it’s an age thing. I think it’s how young people are encouraged to become involved.”

While supporting the idea, Mrs Jupp pointed out that, until the government brought about a change in the law, there was nothing the county council could actually do.

Speaking after the meeting, Ellie Roberts, chairman of the Youth Cabinet, said: “It’s so important that our Votes at 16 Campaign has been heard and supported by councillors, it shows that the voice of youth matters in West Sussex.”

The topic generated plenty of debate on the Observer’s Facebook page, with the majority opposing lowering the voting age to 16.

One reader wrote: “They are children and should be left as children until they’re 18. Leave them to enjoy the lack of responsibility and any remnants of childhood.”