Voting age: Labour ‘to look at’ lowering voting age and expanding franchise to migrants

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Labour could expand the vote to include 16 and 17-year-olds

Sir Keir Starmer has indicated it is “common sense” to allow EU nationals who have worked for years to vote in a general election, with Labour also considering extending the franchise to 16-year-olds.

The opposition leader said it “feels wrong” that people who have contributed to Britain’s economy and raised their children in the country are not allowed to cast a ballot. On Sunday, Shadow Business Secretary Jonathan Reynold told Sky's Sophy Ridge that Labour is open to both lowering the voting age to 16 and extending rights to settled migrants, saying they are “something we will look at”.

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And speaking on LBC this morning (15 May), Starmer repeated this comments. He said: “If someone has been here say 10, 20, 30 years, contributing to this economy, part of our community, they ought to be able to vote. You go to doors sometimes in a general election and you’re met with someone who says ‘look, I’m an EU citizen, I’ve been living here 30 years, I’m married to a Brit, my kids were raised and brought up here, they’re now working in the UK… but I can’t vote’.

“I think that feels wrong and something ought to be done about it.” He added that the fact settled migrants do not have full voting rights “actually just doesn’t pass the common sense test for me”.

Allowing teenagers aged 16 and over to cast a ballot is also “not such an outlandish idea”, Starmer said. He pointed to Wales where the voting age for Senedd and local government elections has been lowered to 16.

Reynolds had previously told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday: “I think there are arguments for expanding the franchise, it’s not an area I directly deal with in the shadow cabinet. I’m not going to give a definitive answer on that, but I think we should always be seeking to involve as many people as possible in our democracy…

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“It’s something we will look at, but some of the reports, I’ve got to stress they’re not the final plans for the Labour manifesto.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer making his speech to the Progressive Britain conference at Congress House (Pic: Yui Mok/PA Wire)Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer making his speech to the Progressive Britain conference at Congress House (Pic: Yui Mok/PA Wire)
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer making his speech to the Progressive Britain conference at Congress House (Pic: Yui Mok/PA Wire)

Reynolds said his party is “always looking at ways to strengthen our democracy”, when quizzed about plans for changes to the voting system. He told Sky News: “Some of the speculation that’s been in the press about Labour policy actually relates to our policy-making process, it’s not our manifesto, it’s not a statement of party policy, but it’s how we go about doing that.

“We’ve got a process where people put in their submissions, they’re deliberated on, they’re voted upon, so this is not a statement of policy yet, but of course we’re always looking at ways to strengthen our democracy, to involve as many people (as) possible in that, and there’ll be an element of that, reform of how this country operates, how power is shared, in the Labour manifesto, that’s for sure.”

He argued the Conservative Party “seems quite demoralised and as ever full of internal conflicts and battles”, adding: “I don’t accept the case that we’re not putting forward specific policies.”

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Labour 'determined to meet' challenges of government

Reynolds said Sir Keir Starmer’s description of his party’s reforms as Clause Four “on steroids” related to the “level of ambition” of Labour’s “policy platform”. He told the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme: “It means that if you look at the scale of the challenge an incoming Labour government would have, it is, I would argue, bigger than any other point in British history.

“We’ve had an economy that hasn’t performed as it should have for 13 years, we’ve got public services where, let’s be frank, are there any public services today working better than 13 years ago when the Conservatives came to power? No.

“So the scale of what we’ve got to do is not only have the policy platform that meets that, have the courage to change the Labour Party to meet that, that is what Clause Four fundamentally was about. I think that is what Keir has done so far.

“We know there’s more to do, but Keir is making clear, yes we see the challenge is very big, but don’t underestimate our determination to meet that challenge.”

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'There will be priorities we have to make'

Reynolds insisted his party under Sir Keir is embodying a “classic Labour offer”.

He told the BBC: “I think it is incumbent on any political party that’s had a defeat as significant as 2019, to look at itself and say we’re going to have to attract some voters back who didn’t vote for us last time, and I want people who voted Conservative last time to look again at the Labour Party, look at their own priorities and say actually yes, it is Labour who better represent that.

“That doesn’t mean we’re not embodying what I think is a classic Labour offer, I think that is fundamentally what Keir Starmer is about. A stronger set of employment rights, a better industrial policy, making the economy work for working people, rebuilding the NHS.

“There’ll be limitations, of course, on any incoming Labour government there’ll be limited funds, there’ll be priorities we have to make.”

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Conservative chairman Greg Hands hit out at Labour, accusing the party of “laying the groundwork to drag the UK back into the EU by stealth”.

“The right to vote in parliamentary elections and choose the next UK government is rightly restricted to British citizens and those with the closest historical links to our country. No other EU country allows EU citizens who are not their nationals to vote in Parliamentary elections.”

Meanwhile, former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable suggested to The Observer it would be “highly improbable” that his party would enter a coalition with Labour, after the experience of its “very unbalanced” arrangement with the Conservatives from 2010 to 2015 – but did not rule out other ways.

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