Sweet Sixteen in the U.K.

Old enough to drive, old enough to vote. That's the conclusion of a British parliamentary commission, which recommended lowering the voting age to 16 years of age as part of a broader effort to reinvigorate democracy in the United Kingdom.

Gordon Brown, heir-apparent to Prime Minister Tony Blair, once opposed the idea but now says he supports it.

So does the liberal Independent: "Democracy faces meltdown in Britain as the public rejects an outdated political system which has centralised more authority than ever in a tiny ruling elite, the Power inquiry warns today," the London daily reports. It gives sympathetic coverage to the commission's "plan to revive Britain's dying democracy."

"The report will make uncomfortable reading for the Prime Minister, whose critics accuse him of eroding trust in politicians by going to war in Iraq on a false prospectus. But it could provide some of the key planks of a drive to re-engage people in politics already planned by Gordon Brown, his most likely successor," says the Independent.

The conservative Daily Telegraph is less enthusiastic: "It is difficult to see how extending the franchise into the fifth form [the British equivalent of 11th grade] would reverse the trend that the Power Inquiry was established to address, namely voters' disgust with politicians.  ... The creation of a new class of juvenile voter - for the young are notoriously unimpressed by politicians - might, perversely, further reduce the proportion of the electorate participating in elections."

More important than lowering the voting age, says the Telegraph, is encouraging "the localisation of democracy" in the United Kingdom.

The Daily Mail welcomed the report but said "the erosion of trust is likely to go on undermining our political culture. How sad, in a nation that was once an example of vibrant democracy."

Here is the Independent's summary of the Commission's recommendations.

By Jefferson Morley |  February 27, 2006; 10:30 AM ET  | Category:  Europe
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Comments

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Of course, kids are pretty uninformed, and disillusioned with politicians, but they are far from alone in both of those characteristics, both in the UK and the US. I hope we can start the same kind of movement here. Old enough to pay taxes, old enough to vote!

Posted by: jim preston | February 27, 2006 12:30 PM

Corrections to a few inaccuracies. Firstly, you have to be 17 to drive here, so it is incorrect to draw the conclusion that the commission thinks that because someone is able to drive they are able to vote. It is more likely that this is because there is no mandatory education post-16. Secondly, the commission releasing this report is not a parliamentary commission, despite the fact that the head of it is a peer.

Posted by: Scratch | February 27, 2006 12:41 PM

Please! Young enough to vote, but with none of the perks that come with being an adult.
It happen to the 18 years. I watched the rights of young voters slowly wittled away to some restricted driving privilages in various States. Don't expect youngsters to be flooding the polls.

Posted by: Ricardo Alvarez | February 27, 2006 01:25 PM

Britain's democracy is dying for the same reasons America's is, above all because of rubber-stamp legislatures and rigid party discipline.

Lowering the voting age won't help and "localisation" of politics sounds exactly like another New Labour PR scam.

The only thing that will stop the rot in both countries is rolling back the tumour-like growth of executive power.

And the only thing that might actually improve our democracies is smashing up the parties and starting again...hopefully with more than two parties per country.

And if they REALLY want to convince the voters that government is accountable, let's see some heads roll over Iraq. All I've seen is Freedom Medals and Knighthoods for a pack of liars and criminals.

The Power Commission has some decent ideas, and Helena Kennedy is an admirable woman who is serious about reform. I therefore predict the whole thing will be swept under the carpet somehow.

Posted by: OD | February 27, 2006 02:38 PM

Pandering to notoriously fickle 16 year olds will only elevate the discourse and create more serious discussion of the issues. Complicated issues like elder care, video game rating reform and whether Beckham or Owen should captain the national team will now get the attention they deserve.

Posted by: LookOut | February 27, 2006 02:41 PM

Yes, kids in the UK must be 17 to take the horrendous driving exams. Even people old enough to drive have trouble getting through the 2.5-inch driver's theory manual. If they pass the exam for that, then it's anybody's guess when and if they pass the actual driving exam.

If the government exams for voting are just as strenuous the DSA exams are for driving, then one needn't worry that many 17-yr olds will be deciding the political balance of the country!

Posted by: DS | February 28, 2006 07:07 PM

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