Robyn Vinter: Votes at 16? It doesn’t matter. Here’s why teenagers will never vote for Labour

Ed Miliband’s policy to allow 16-year-olds to vote just plays into the hands of his opponents

A few weeks ago I heard one of the most ill thought-out policies a government has developed in a long time.

I was at a CBI event listening to politicians and business leaders talk about business and the economy. One of the speakers was shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna and after the event, as is customary when politicians don’t dash off, he was surrounded by journalists.

We were asking him about the skills required from businesses when they employ a young school leaver. Umunna casually dropped into conversation that if his party were in power, all teenagers would study maths and English to the age of 18.

I checked and, yes, this is official Labour policy.

It’s bad enough that under changes made by the previous government, kids these days can’t start work at 16 like they could when I was young (I can’t believe I just used that phrase). With a proper education and GCSEs under your belt, leaving school at this age shouldn’t be an issue because if you want to go on to further study after a year or even 10 years of work, you have the basics in place to build upon.

The problem comes when people leave school with no grades – especially in an economy like ours, where jobs aren’t exactly easy to come by, particularly for those with little work experience.

This is an issue with quality of education – not quantity – though. There’s a distinct difference.

If you can’t get kids to required standards in English and Maths after 11 years, adding another two years will not make a difference. Schools need to teach better, not more (though I’m aware they haven’t had the easiest past few years).

Currently, kids can study what they want after 16. This means teenagers who are talented musicians can do a BTEC in Music, those who are academic can do A Levels in a range of subjects and those who want to work can start an apprenticeship in accounting, for example. It allows for diversity – because we’re all good at different things.

Under Labour policy, teenagers will be forced to continue learning subjects they hate. I wasn’t particularly bad at maths at school (I think I got a B at GCSE) but I hated it so much. I know there are others who felt the same about English.

It got to the point where I was disruptive in lessons or didn’t show up at all (hardly a bad kid though, I was eating sweets behind Kwik Save with my friend).

I perceived school as a prison. But being 16 and able to rid yourself of those shackles and make decisions about your own life was empowering. It was something I vividly remember looking forward to.

What businesses need is young employees who have basic qualifications and who are positive and confident, not those who are ground-down and cynical by the time they leave education.

What teenager would vote for more school? Think again Miliband.

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Readers' comments (6)

  • Robyn

    Definitely one of your better argued pieces. However on a factual note the raising of the school leaving age to 18 was not a coalition policy but was introduced by Gordon Brown in first year as PM.

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  • Thanks Daniel - ah I didn't know that. I will amend it now. Much appreciated!

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  • 'Here's why teenagers will never vote for Labour'... no matter the merits of your actual argument, that headline makes a mockery of the entire article.

    To pluck a recent set of polling figures from Lord Ashcroft, here's the percentage of different age groups that would vote for Labour/Conservatives/LDs (in that order):

    18-24 yr olds: 29 / 13 / 5
    25-34 yr olds: 22 / 15 / 7
    35-44 yr olds: 20 / 15 / 7
    45-54 yr olds: 20 / 21 / 2
    55-64 yr olds: 30 / 16 / 4
    65 & above: 17 / 25 / 6

    You can see that Labour's lead (as is almost universally known) comes mostly from 18-40 yr olds.

    Why on earth would 16-17 year olds decide they're going to vote for the coalition partners who tripled their tuition fees? Somehow I think that would play on their mind more...

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  • Hi Chris, thanks for your comment.

    I think the polls are almost irrelevant in this instance because there are no poll results for the age group we're discussing. Asking 18-25 year olds what they think is very different to asking 16 year olds. I've only just left that category myself and wouldn't say I share the views of people in their teens. In fact, I would go as far to say that what a 24 year old is not at all indicative of what a 16 year old would think. I'm well aware of what the polls say but I don't think polling results of another age group help us here.

    In response to your second point, while I argue that Labour's education policy will deter young people from voting for them, nowhere do I mention they will vote for the coalition. There are other parties in the political system who appeal to young voters, such as the Green Party. Their support is rocketing among young people and youth member numbers have more than doubled in less than a year. A similar thing is happening with UKIP.


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  • Anonymous

    The reason the gov helps out pensioners with free boilers ,fuel allowance etc. is because they are more likely to vote.
    My advice to youth; get voting that way tuition fees will come down

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  • I am a 'pensioner', sad as it is, most of us 'out of working age' would like to carry on working, but unfortunately 'they' will not let us.... Would government introduce facilities to companies who employ teleworkers, us, 'the pensioners' would be able to carry on working beyond an advanced age. Unfortunately the pensions are such we could not live properly (eat and get warm) if we did not get any 'occasional and very small' perks!
    You will see one day when you do reach an age within which you are classified as 'no longer viable economically'.

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