No progress without struggle

I have always thought it crazy that 16 year olds could be sent to war, but could not vote against the politicians who wanted to send them there. I support proposals to lower the voting age. But even if such changes were introduced, how many young people would avail of the opportunity to vote?

Survey after survey shows that young people have strong opinions about politics, but very little faith in the political system. Parliament is seen as aloof, sleazy and indifferent. Many feel cynical about whether their vote makes any difference. That cynicism is understandable, but doesn’t really help much.

If we want change, we have to engage. As the great anti-slavery campaigner Fredrick Douglas said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favour freedom, and deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without ploughing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning.” That struggle is waged outside parliament, for example, by workers in trade unions campaigning for decent wages and conditions, by people trying to raise awareness and solidarity about climate change, or Third World Debt, or Palestine.

But that struggle can also waged inside Parliament as well. One of the great weaknesses of the anti-war movement was that while we had plenty of supporters on the streets, we had few inside the House of Commons. That needs to change. Parliament needs to be more representative of the people.

On May 6 this country will elect a new parliament. If you want Britain to be more committed to values of peace, justice and equality, you need to put politicians into parliament who will advocate on your behalf. But in order to vote you have got to be registered to vote. The closing date to register is April 20. The General Election is an opportunity to effect change. My advice would be, don’t waste it.