Holborn and St Pancras MP Keir Starmer: Improve our democracy with votes at 16
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Next year marks the 100-year anniversary since women won the right to vote.
It was a ground-breaking moment in our country’s history and for our democracy. The campaign for women’s suffrage was not just a fight for fairness and equality,
It was a fight to ensure Parliament gave a voice to the communities it was there to represent – and it worked.
I honestly don’t believe we would have seen the progress we have over the past century on issues of equality – from equal pay to maternity rights – had it not been for the women’s suffrage movement, including Camden’s very own Millicent Fawcett.
But it would be wrong to say the fight for fairness in our democracy ended there.
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This week MPs will have the chance to vote on the first stage of a bill that could have similar transformative consequences. One of my Labour colleagues, Jim McMahon, has introduced a bill that would give 16 and 17 year olds the right to vote.
I am a passionate believer in votes for 16 and I’m proud that it was a key plank of Labour’s manifesto at the election in June.
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I know – and have heard – the arguments against this change. That it is only when we hit eighteen we reach political maturity. That it is only when we are eighteen we can make a reasoned argument for how we might choose to vote. But I don’t agree.
Since becoming an MP over two years ago I have had the opportunity to visit schools across Camden and speak to literally hundreds of young people about what needs to be done to change our community for the better.
The young people I have met are brimming with new ideas about how to improve Camden’s schools, how to tackle air pollution and how to ensure everyone has access to good mental health services.
And since last year’s referendum I have heard loud and clear from people of all ages who want a say in our country’s future after we leave the European Union.
These are some of the most exciting conversations I have had since being elected and leave me in no doubt that over 16s can be trusted to have a voice in who their MP is.
And yet it is not just an argument about trust, but fairness too.
If you can get married, have a child, start a job, pay taxes at 16 then why can’t you vote for an MP?
I believe in a political system that makes young people feel valued and recognises the positive contribution they can make. That is why I hope Parliament will back the campaign to lower the voting age.
And it is why I hope that in another 100 years we will be looking back and celebrating another milestone in improving our democracy.