I think I can say pretty confidently that if William Hague had been a pupil at the high school I attended, his return from the Conservative Party Conference in which heâd given a star turn would have been marked by a bit of a kicking. The school wasnât officially called âHard Knocksâ, but letâs just say the phrase probably originated from within those sadistic walls. What Iâm hinting at in a roundabout way is that a passion for politics, let alone speaking at a bloody Party Conference that had been broadcast live on television, was not something that would have earned you popularity points amongst your peers. However, had Hague appeared on the podium inhaling the contents of a glue-bag and had then proceeded to head-butt whoever tried to remove him, heâd have been received back at school as a hero.
The last General Election that I was too young to vote at was 1983. Even if sixteen had been the minimum voting age that year, I still wouldnât have been able to enter the polling booth because I only turned sixteen six months after Thatcherâs landslide. If Iâd been eligible, itâs doubtful I would have participated because I simply wasnât interested. For one of the few occasions of my adolescence, I suspect I shared something with my generation. I didnât know anybody my age who was interested. Attending an all-boys high school was not the exclusive province of the wealthy back then; single sex schools outnumbered mixed ones where I grew up and being entombed in an environment in which even the mostÂ frumpy female teacher provoked lustful daydreams and obscene caricatures (guilty â ashamed to say) underlined what dominated most of our thoughts. That and football, pop music and TV. Thatâs all we ever really seemed to talk about, anyway.
For me, any kind of vague interest in politics came later; like many my age who were raised in tânorth, the Minersâ Strike of 1984/5 served to politiciseÂ even those who had previously been wilfully ignorant. For good or ill, it mattered and it wasnât an event that called for fence-sitting. Roundabout the same time, give or take a year or two, âThe Boys from the Blackstuffâ aired on the BBC and that also had a huge impact. Although itâs now chiefly remembered as a damning indictment of the devastating effect Thatcherism was having on declining industrial towns, the fact remains that Alan Bleasedale wrote it during the Labour Government of Jim Callaghan. What this proves is that the decline had begun long before the Iron Lady moved in to No.10.
By the time I was actually old enough to vote for the first time, any nascent political views I had were slowly taking shape, though I wouldnât really say I was worldly-wise enough to judge the state of play in the same way I would be able to four or five years later. I donât think thatâs necessarily unique, though. Teenagers are especially good at things that perhaps over-25sÂ arenât. They tend to be imbued with a belief that theyâll live forever, that theyâre smarter and cleverer than anyone older than them, and that the pursuit of a good time doesnât include watching the BBC Parliament Channel. The new âBaby of the Houseâ is 20-year-old Mhairi Black, SNP victor of Douglas Alexander, but her astonishing achievement at winning a Westminster seat so young shouldnât detract from the fact that sheâs something of an aberration for her age.
Last yearâs Scottish Independence Referendum did make a bit of song and dance about the eligibility of sixteen and seventeen-year-olds in the voting process and it is claimed by many that the presence of so many spotless (and, letâs be honest, not so spotless) faces helped galvanise the event in a way that made most General Elections appear lacklustre. Turn-out was more than 84%; at the previous General Election, it had been 65%. Had 16/17 year-olds been allowed to participate at the last Election, would it have made a great difference to the result? Well, figures show older voters tend to be more conservative (with both a big and small C), whereas younger voters traditionally lean more to the left. They are also apparently more pro-Europe, which is perhaps why the House of Lords, not in thrall to a Tory majority, is expected to press for the voting age to be reduced in time for an EU Referendum.
Not that annoying exposure to YoofÂ in a supermarket queue orÂ being witness toÂ the Friday night fancy dress parade should necessarily be an accurate barometer as to how disastrous unleashing them upon the nationâs polling stations might be, but Iâm not so sure itâs that good an idea. Of course, dimness is an attribute that doesnât recognise boundaries, either those of age or social demographic; there are numerous idiots in life whose idiocy is often their only common connection. But itâs hard for anyone living in a predominantly student neighbourhood (as I do) to have much faith in the effects of higher education, let alone the thought of lowering the voting age so that all the beneficiaries of Blairâs academic reforms can have a say in who runs the country. Mind you, could they be bothered if you couldnât do it via a text message?
Yes, I wonât deny Iâm generalising; such subjects tend to lead to generalisation. Iâm sure there are many highly intelligent sixteen and seventeen-year-olds out there who could make a political judgement with far more shrewd accuracy than their parents could, unencumbered as they are by old tribal party loyalties and in possession of an optimism that has yet to be crushed by the reversal of a politicianâs pre-Election promise. But is naivety a desirable quality for participating in an Election? An awareness of political history can help form a judgement when it comes to which party gets your vote, and for me this is something I acquired gradually over many years. Iâm glad I couldnât vote in 1983 because I would probably have opted for the Monster Raving Loony candidate just for a laugh; teenagers occasionally do stuff just for a laugh, remember.
And, anyway, is it that great a wait from sixteen or seventeen to eighteen? I know years seem to last longer when youâre younger, but surely hanging on till youâre eighteen before you can vote means thereâs more time to concern yourself with sex, drink and drugs â and even for those not invited to such parties, it means time to study the form-book and decide which, if any, party represents your own belief system. Politics, like most aspects of existence that have a habit of impinging upon oneâs thoughts as autumn approaches, is serious; and there should be phases of oneâs life that donât require seriousness. For most, that means childhood and adolescence, and thereâs nothing wrong with that. Enjoy it while you can, kids. Those nasty men and women from Westminster have got the rest of your lives to play with as it is.