Tel. +44 (0)20 7287 4414
Tel. +44 (0)20 7287 4414
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

Bruges Group Blog

Spearheading the intellectual battle against the EU. And for new thinking in international affairs.

Should young people be allowed to vote?


In 1969 the UK lowered the voting age from 21 to 18, a move echoed in the Family Law Reform Act 1969.

Not everyone thought the change to the age of majority a good idea. Of the eleven members contributing to the Latey Report on Civil Law reform, two dissented: Geoffrey (later Baron) Howe QC and Mr John Stebbings, later President of the Law Society.

A 22-year-old Lord Feversham supported them in 'The Other Place', commenting:

The first argument claims that the young between 18 and 21 are more responsible and mature than their predecessors…

Personally, I do not believe that there has been much change in either direction. Youth maintains its level of responsibility to meet the demands of the age it lives in. In so much as those demands have increased, then the level of responsibility has risen to meet it. Victorian youth was equipped to meet the demands made upon it by the Victorian Age. Nuclear youth puts up a creditable performance in meeting the demands of a Nuclear Age, but it has become a struggle. The demands on a young person's responsibility are greater now than ever. To increase the burden could be dangerous. I catch a sense of this even from those members of the Committee in favour of lowering the age. In one breath (page 50, paragraph 161) they say:

"There is an age below which you have to make a child obey you, an age above which it is fruitless to try."

This seems to say, "We can't control the little beggars any more; bring down the age." Ah well! In another breath, on page 41, at paragraph 130, they say:

"But we feel it is essential that the schools should do more. The young, advanced as they are, need far more training in human relations."

That point was brought out by the noble Baroness, Lady Serota. They say this as if to console themselves that now that they have been forced to lower the age, then at least an educational programme will lessen the blow. I am all for such a programme right here and right now. When that programme of education bears fruit, then will be the time to lower the age of majority.

As the voting age fell, the school leaving age rose: at that time (1967) it was 15; now young people in England have to be in some form of education or training until age 18. [In Scotland they can leave school and vote even earlier, at age 16.]

Duties and rights do not have to come at the same age. For example, there is military service: in mediaeval times a squire on the battlefield might be as young as 14 but to become a knight would require one to be 'of full age' i.e. at least 21. Up to 1918 teenage British soldiers had to participate in grisly war but could not vote until age 21 and even then only if they were freehold property owners.

As a republic (yes, dim protestors at the Coronation, we are so already) we rule ourselves via our representatives, so our elections should be made with mature judgment. Do young people generally have that?

There are some science-based concerns. Apparently the brain goes though a period of reorganisation during adolescence:

The rational part of a teen's brain isn't fully developed and won't be until age 25 or so… Adults think with the prefrontal cortex, the brain's rational part. This is the part of the brain that responds to situations with good judgment and an awareness of long-term consequences. Teens process information with the amygdala. This is the emotional part.

It seems that the prefrontal cortex is about short-term memory, predicting consequences and adjusting behaviour accordingly. The connections between that part and the rest of the brain take a long time to develop and so young people are more likely to indulge in risky and impulsive behaviour - especially in groups. An experimental study using driving simulation showed their susceptibility to the influence of peers:


One thinks of mobs, sudden eruptions of collective disorder and violence - and the tragedy of the Children's Crusade of 1212. This is not a good psychological foundation for deliberative discussion - not that it is perfect in adults, either!

So the point of political education would be not just to describe to children the way our government works, but to inculcate habits of suspended judgment and willingness to consider counter arguments; to accelerate if possible the development of the prefrontal cortex.

If what I saw in Oxford in 2019 is anything to go by, we're lost. Children marched up and down the streets, chanting and holding up placards with daft slogans such as 'There is no Planet B' - which there is, fools: it orbits the next star over.

Actually, my apologies, younglings: you're not fools, you offspring of the Clever People who dwell among the dreaming spires, but your teachers are, those Pied Pipers of Piffle busy shrivelling the prefrontal cortexes of their charges. Demos and riots are for those who have no voice, as Tony Benn warned in the Maastricht debate; but if you wish to prepare youth for the responsibilities of citizenship, teach them how to engage in civilised debate, not loud, intolerant wokeism.

The most promising pupils I saw were a couple sharing a bag of Skittles in a side alley by the bus stop. He and she may never become eminent, and if so they will have shown that their heads are screwed on properly.

2019 was not new, of course. I remember the Oxford Examination Schools sit-in of 1973 and the student marches - carefully photographed by what I assume were MI5 creeps halfway up lampposts. What's all this sort of thing really about? Practice mountebankery: getting one's hand in at Being A Leader; and we saw what happened when that generation got into national and local politics.

Education, education, education.

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