There is a report in The Guardian that Gordon Brown, the British Prime Minister in waiting, has backed the idea of reducing the voting age to 16. Many members of the Australian Democrats have advocated a move along these lines in the past, although usually with a caveat like it should only be voluntary, or perhaps only for local government elections.
It’s an idea I’m attracted to for Australia, although I don’t know whether it translates as well to a country like the UK where voting is voluntary for everyone. Gordon Brown’s other suggestions, such as looking at reform for their electoral system and a reduction in power for the executive, sound even better to me.
The Isle of Man has already decided to lower the voting age to 16, so it may soon give some idea of how well this idea works in practice.
Many contrasts are made between Peter Costello in Australia and Gordon Brown in the UK. Both are immensely frustrated Prime Ministers in waiting and both are trying to carve out a more distinct image of themselves while not overtly opposing what the incumbent PM is doing. At least Gordon Brown has the certainty that Tony Blair is stepping down before the next election, although it seems the precise date is still unknown to him or anyone else.
Being in this situation can lead to the risk of over-reaching in an effort to show their own unique and valuable set of ideas. Whilst I don’t agree with many of the views Gordon Brown is saying lately, he does at least appear to have a reasonable intellectual grasp of the issues he is talking about. I couldn’t say the same about Peter Costello sadly. My impression is that the more he opens his mouth in an attempt to showcase his own opinions and views, the more he shows how shallow, inconsistent and poorly thought through most of his views are.
However, maybe he’s just had a bad run lately, or maybe I’m just jaundiced or in a bad mood while I’m writing this. Either way, my view is certainly not going to make much difference about whether he gets to be PM or how people perceive he is performing.
For people interested in what the situation is globally, this page details what countries have a voting age below 18, and what other places have been considering the issue.
Iran has a voting age of 15 (not that I’m sure that Iran is a good advertisement for democarcy in general). Brazil and Nicaragua have a voting age of 16, as do Germany and Austria for local elections. Our neighbours in East Timor and Indonesia have a voting age of 17.
My view is that there are valid arguments for and against, but I think it would be worth trialling voting for 16 or 17 year olds for local government elections. I tend to think making it voluntary would be better too.