BY MANDY BALDWIN
So, a general election has been called and immediately come the cries from fringe parties – notably the Greens and Lib Dems – for voting to be extended to sixteen-year-olds.
They seem not to realise that by calling for those who are still legally children to be granted the most solemn honour a democracy can bestow, they automatically brand themselves as being unfit for purpose in the eyes of adults. After all, what use in the real world are policies which only appeal to children?
A desire to side-line the mature and dominate the immature is the hallmark of every despot from Pol Pot to Hitler, of course, but in the case of British parties there is a cloying, creeping, damp-hand-on-the-knee unpleasantness – aside from political expediency – about their insistence that older children should vote simply because they don’t look markedly different from young adults: like dirty old men who excuse their fevered drooling by claiming that fourteen-year-old girls look sixteen.
However deliciously fresh and appealing all those unblemished young minds may appear to politicians, however inviting their green, sappy purity, and however powerful the urge of the corrupt, fringe politician to force his or her agenda upon them, sixteen and seventeen year olds must be kept safe from those jaded clutches as rigorously as we guard our children from being violated by other predators.
Oh, these politicians wring their hands and say the future belongs to the young and the young must therefore control it; and they say this with such carefully stage-managed passion. Their argument is nonsense: where does it end? By their reasoning, a five-year-old has more right to vote than a sixteen-year-old, a foetus more than a five-year-old. This argument is the sort of cynical attempt at manipulation which only a sixteen-year-old would fall for – which is precisely why sixteen-year-olds should be kept out of polling booths.
To be sixteen at its best has a unique, unforgettable magic. A sixteen-year-old has only been tested in the controlled environments of home and school, and can superficially appear immensely self-assured and opinionated. At sixteen, all things seem possible, and most things are: but there is always the fall-back of ultimate parental veto, the get-out clause of being under-age.
To name but one thing, a sixteen-year-old can fall in love, and legally have sex – but cannot legally marry without parental permission. So, First Love, with all its soaring joy and blinding anguish, can still be filed under Nostalgia, rather than as a divorce statistic.
To be sixteen years old is to be an adult in a child’s world: you are top of the ladder, and know how to manage that world. At home, you regard efforts at order and hygiene with condescension: you wouldn’t do things that way, and you could easily pay to have your own place – you’ve got a Saturday job, you just need to do the same stuff you do there, five times as often.
On the world stage, you know exactly what should be done, when, and in what way, and – without the benefit of humbling experience – can espouse some quite hideous or ludicrous ideas, ranging from the dangerously idiotic quasi-Communism called “Green” politics favoured by Natalie Bennett, to the desire to have everyone over the age of thirty-five euthanised and institute a dictatorship of the hormonally-challenged which would leave Artur Axman looking like a Quaker. And so, two years pass and you become eighteen.
To be eighteen years old is to be a child in an adult world: you have served the first weeks of an apprenticeship of life, and it’s been a long while since anyone spoke more softly to you because of your tender years, or spent time in a careers office in a familiar school building, discussing ways in which you would prefer to grace the commercial world with your presence.
If you are still studying, then the practical outcomes are discussed as well as your whims. If you are working, you are the dogsbody, bottom of the food chain. At home, more and more, you are aware that displays of temperament could lead to the need to pay your own way, and the idea of doing that Saturday job day in, day out, and living in the kind of place it would finance, makes your toes curl with fear. There’s no magic in being eighteen – there is instead a shattering of illusions which you are as yet too young to know will eventually regrow as genuine ideals.
Only then can you even begin to imagine what consequences your vote may have, and how a party’s policies may play out. Only then have you earned that hard-won right to stand as an equal of any man and woman in a polling-booth and make a mark on paper which will decide the fate of millions. Wait your turn, and see how you feel then, about that privilege being given to your immature baby brother and sister.
Mandy Baldwin is a freelance writer/Kindle author, born near Heathrow airport. She has lived in Buckinghamshire, Cornwall and France, returning to England in 2013. She has variously made a living – enough to support three children, solo – by working as a film-extra, selling fish and chips, running an art-group, tutoring home-schooled children, giving piano-lessons and selling her own paintings.