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Votes for sixteen year olds?

Len Tingle | 13:59 UK time, Friday, 13 August 2010

British Youth Council with Len Tingle c/o John Nunn and BYC

It is rare to attend a conference where the warm-up to a panel discussion on the political issues of the day involves the audience singing and dancing their way around the venue.

In fact, for me, this was a first.

This was the British Youth Council's Convention held in York on Thursday (13 August). One of five held around the UK through the summer of 2010.

It drew in a couple of hundred people in their teens and early twenties from across the Midlands and the North of England. Other Conventions had already been held in Belfast, Glasgow, London and Cardiff.

The British Youth Council has been around for over 60 years. It was launched in 1948 funded by a post-war government worried that the young would fall to the temptations of international communist propaganda.

These days it is trying to overcome the lure of political apathy.

It is quite a challenge. Under half of potential first-time voters even bothered to register for this year's General Election. It is thought that just one in five turned out to vote.

The event in York showed what a bit of encouragement and advice can do. It was packed with young people bubbling over with enthusiasm to discuss issues close to their hearts.

- Why can 16 to 18-year-olds join the armed forces, have sex if they want to and leave home but are not trusted to vote in UK elections?

- Are politicians destroying the country's future by making "easy" spending cuts on youth services and education?

- Why aren't you listening to us?

These were just a snapshot of the range of concerns brought up at a lively hour of 'Question Time' discussion. I chaired the event but frankly I spent most of my time holding the "roving microphone" as this passionate, well informed and confident audience got on with it.

Newly elected Conservative MP for the West Yorkshire seat of Keighley and Ilkley, Kris Hopkins, and the Liberal Democrat Leader of York City Council, Andrew Waller, were pushed hard on whether the right decisions are being taken by the Coalition Government on where cuts in public services are being made.

Nic Dakin, the MP for Scunthorpe, was a head teacher until he was selected to stand in the North Lincolnshire seat of Scunthorpe. He got a round of applause for agreeing that 16-year-olds should be able to vote. But there were a few raised eyebrows when he said he was not in parliament during the Labour Government so could not explain why it had failed to act on reducing the voting age.

The fourth panellist, Andy Chase, stood for the Greens as a parliamentary candidate in York. I doubt whether he had to cope with such a torrent of questions on the campaign trail.

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