NADINE DORRIES: Don’t give 16-year-olds the vote

Labour need to be honest about why they want to reduce the voting age to 16: it is because they want to remain in power for life. It’s vote-bagging pure and simple – if 16-year-olds had been able to vote in 2017, ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn’ would almost certainly have become prime minister.

Conservatives should be straight too, and admit they are strongly opposed to the plan because they know it would work and we would be faced with either Labour or a socialist coalition government without end – as long as these new young voters actually got out of bed in time to vote.

Votes at 16 are a bad idea not just because, at that age, people don’t know their own mind from one day to the next – and they very obviously don’t.

Votes at 16 are a bad idea not just because, at that age, people don’t know their own mind from one day to the next, writes Nadine Dorries

Votes at 16 are a bad idea not just because, at that age, people don’t know their own mind from one day to the next, writes Nadine Dorries

I shall never forget the call I received one day from a daughter asking me whether we had any Angel Delight (remember that?) in the house. And informing me that she was bringing a friend home from school to stay the night.

I arrived home to find a hugely remorseful 16-year-old sobbing in my kitchen with a newly pierced tongue, so swollen she couldn’t swallow solid food, and begging me not to call her parents to tell them.

The piercing lasted less than a week. At 16, you do some very stupid things.

You are also highly emotional. I remember the day my 16-year-old world ended, when Billy Kinsella didn’t sit next to me on the coach on a school trip to Chester Zoo. I had packed a wagon wheel in my lunch box to give to him and I’d applied multiple layers of Outdoor Girl mascara to my fluttering eyelashes.

But he walked straight past me and sat next to Kimberley Pellow. My tears ran faster than the rain outside and I swore to the gaggle of friends who immediately gathered around me offering hankies and hugs that I would never laugh again.

By Monday, I was madly in love with Eddie Cosgrove who, I soon discovered, was really only interested in whether or not I wore a bra. (More of that to follow!)

No, the far more concerning reason votes at 16 is such a bad idea is that the policy would prove appallingly toxic and divisive, and would open up a new front in the political and culture wars to people in Britain who are at a much more vulnerable age. And this, at a time when society desperately needs to heal.

In recent years, our country has become deeply divided on so many levels – and much of this division has undoubtedly been driven by the wide-spread use of social media.

There was a time when Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram were the home for advertisers who wanted to micro-target specific consumer groups to sell their products using algorithms.

Social media use has caused division in our society, and politics in Westminster has been fundamentally altered as a result

Social media use has caused division in our society, and politics in Westminster has been fundamentally altered as a result

They were so successful that it wasn’t long before political operators recognised the potential of these methods and harnessed the platforms to repeatedly target potential voters in key campaigns. Then, as night follows day, those with highly questionable political motives followed suit, using the echo-chamber of social media to sow hatred and division and to undermine democracy.

We saw the process evolve during the divisions over Brexit in 2016, we saw it through the bitterness and anger over Covid and the war in Ukraine, and in the way horrendous videos during the Hamas invasion of Israel were live-screened across the world as a call to arms to Islamic extremists across the world.

And as a result of these targeting methods – achieved through the fine-tuning of algorithms and the harvesting of our data, our preferences and interests – politics has fundamentally altered.

We have all been tribalized, not only in Westminster but in society as a whole. Families and friends become divided as a result of targeted, social-media messaging that appeals to our most base nature; rational debate is cancelled as political influencers use digital platforms to reduce highly complex political issues to a soundbite. Today, strong views are formed on the back of fifteen second videos posted on Instagram.

All of our opinions are now right or wrong, black or white, good or evil, and bullying of people’s points of view, their culture, faith and political preferences is commonplace. The change has happened with such speed, it has taken most of us by surprise.

We have witnessed a rapid increase in the number of demonstrations on our streets and on university campuses as social media is weaponised in this way. Do we really now want to see demonstrations transfer from universities to the school gates?

Will we see political lobbyists turning up at the playground? Tribal arguments breaking out among triggered parents in the car park?

Social media has long raised concerns because of the damage it does to young and vulnerable people. Will we now see it used to bombard the same youngsters with advertising and marketing campaigns? And at what age would the bombardment begin? Will children become targets from as young as 13 or 14, as politicians try to catch them early?

Then there’s the question of how votes for 16-year-olds would affect the behaviour of MPs who already walk with phones gripped in their palms, constantly refreshing Twitter and Facebook to check the number of ‘likes’ and comments they have received as algorithms remove all original thought and debate from the Mother of all Parliaments – the very place democracy should be protected.

When it comes to being a Conservative, we all know about the secret Tory who is too afraid to voice their opinion due to the fact that they feel ‘uncool’ and could potentially expose themselves to social condemnation and covert bullying.

Imagine how that pressure would feel if you were only 16. Too afraid to say how you wanted to vote but also deeply confused as you are bombarded with opinions from friends, social media, teachers, and even your own parents telling you which way you should vote as you’re about to sit your GCSEs and hormones are ripping through your veins.

You’re actually more interested in getting inside a girl’s bra, or having your tongue pierced and yet, now, you are being pressured to make a decision you can’t reverse for five years.

We know how politicised our education sector is today. The doctrine of the years when I was young – that teachers should not influence political opinion and schools should be a neutral place of learning – is very much a thing of the past. Teachers in schools and lecturers in universities are overwhelmingly more likely to support Labour than Conservative and Keir Starmer knows the ground is now fertile to bag votes with his policy, even though it would make the life of 16-year-olds far more complicated and miserable than it already is.

Did young Eddie Cosgrove find out if I was wearing a bra? Are you kidding? One Saturday night I was suddenly alone in a room in a friend’s house where he had engineered for me to be. He pranced into the room, carrying a four pack of Babycham in one hand, two Embassy Regal cigarettes in the other, wearing nothing more than a baggy pair of white Y fronts and declared undying love as his circular wire framed glasses steamed up. I laughed so much it killed the moment. Fortunately, when he got over the shock, so did he.

By Monday, he had moved on and sent Rita Green a box of Milk Tray.