Or perhaps Gordon genuinely thinks that a sixteen year old is, in fact, adult enough to understand the issues. The trouble is that this government has, in fact, removed more and more rights from this group, as The Heresiarch eloquently amplifies.
But in other ways, at sixteen many youngsters are much less "adult" than they were even a generation ago.
That's certainly the message that is coming from the government. New restrictions on the freedom and capacity of teenagers have been brought in continually under New Labour. The age at which it is legal to purchase cigarettes, knives or fireworks has been raised from 16 to 18, as has the age at which one can obtain a licence for such firearms as are still legal for anyone. The age for purchasing alcohol is still 18, but there's a growing campaign in some quarters for Britain to follow the repugnant American policy of raising it to 21—and, in any case, the severity with which the law is now being enforced has effectively raised it, in practice if not in theory.
And this legal extension of juvenile incapacity in many areas has gone along with an ever more protracted adolescence. By the time they reached the voting age of 21, many people in the past would have experienced several years effective social adulthood. Leaving school at fifteen or sixteen, they would have been working, paying taxes, and, in many cases, marrying and starting a family (and, provided it was done in that order, with less disquiet about teen pregnancy than would be caused today). Many died for their country before reaching the age at which they could vote for its government. Today, it is expected that young people remain financially dependent at least until they finish university at 22 or thereabouts. The government that is contemplating a reduction in the voting age is also in the process of raising the school leaving age to eighteen. So whereas in the past many 16 year-olds had no say over the politicians who were deciding their tax rates, in the future they may have a say, but have much less moral claim to it than their predecessors. A paradox indeed. But is a quinquennial ballot really much compensation for the loss of the independence and trust they once enjoyed? Or, to put it another way, if adolescents can be trusted with a vote, why should they not be trusted with a penknife?
Because, of course, personal freedom is a massive responsibility and should not be granted to anyone unless they have shown themselves in some way capable of dealing with it.
Whereas any old (or young) fucker—no matter their ignorance of the issues, no matter whether their personal enrichment is involved, no matter whether they are simply biased or stupid—can be allowed to oppress and restrict the freedom of others.
That's democracy, innit.