When will Labour clarify its position on age and maturity?



Since his ascension to leader, Keir Starmer has made a concerted effort to move away from the Corbynista mantra, protest politics and Jeremy Corbyn himself.  However, when it comes to teenage terrorists, both men appear to agree.

Last week the Court of Appeal ruled former Jihadi bride, Shamima Begum, has a right to return to Britain and contest the revocation of her British citizenship. While the Home Office called this development “very disappointing”, the decision has been welcomed by the Shadow Cabinet and many Labour MPs. In fact, it has long been the Labour party’s position that Begum be allowed to return for various reasons. Among them, that she was simply too young to understand what she was doing. This would be a reasonable argument, and one that we could accept, had it not been for the party simultaneously pushing for the national voting age to be lowered to 16 years old.  

Starmer has previously described himself as a “passionate believer in votes for 16”. Last month, he held a virtual meeting with over 1,000 young people during which he re-affirmed his support for the ‘Votes at 16’ campaign. Throughout his time as Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn also lent his wholehearted support to this movement. If Labour genuinely believe that 16-year olds have the capacity to decide which political party will act in their best interests over the course of 5 years, then one would assume they would argue just as fervently that a 15-year-old understands the implications of betraying their country by joining a terrorist organisation based in Syria. 

Much like the Home Office, I am very disappointed to report that this is not the case. In February last year, Corbyn indicated Begum not only has the right to return to Britain, but also deserves public “support”. Meanwhile, Starmer has inadvertently revealed he is just as out of touch as his predecessor by stating Begum is still “entitled” to British citizenship. Forgive my cynicism, but given Labour appears to support both the narrative that young people are mature enough to vote and the perspective young people are not mature enough to realise the permanent consequences of joining ISIS, it is far more likely that the party has an ulterior motive when it comes to its public stance on age and maturity. 

I am perfectly willing to accept the argument Shamima Begum was young and vulnerable to radicalisation at the time she made the fateful decision to forgo her life and flee to Syria. I am, however, completely unwilling to accept Labour actually believe 16-year olds have the temperament to responsibly cast a ballot. It is no secret the left typically dominates the youth vote and it therefore makes sense for the Labour party to endorse a campaign that would widen its catchment area by enfranchising members of one of its most important demographics. A highly rational act, albeit not a moral one. 

This is a classic example of what I would call ‘social gerrymandering’, a term I’ve invented to describe the act of deliberating broadening or narrowing the scope of enfranchisement to favour one political party. In this case, Labour seek to widen the age bracket to better its own electoral prospects. Make of that what you will. I for one look forward to watching the party attempt to marry up this rather obvious contradiction in order to sustain its utterly warped pretence that adolescents are mature.

Serena Lit is the YC Chair of Brentford and Isleworth Conservatives. Follow her on twitter: @serena_tara_lit