Giving teenagers the vote could lead to the rise of an extremist politician like Hitler, a hereditary peer in the House of Lords has claimed.
The Earl of Listowel, who inherited his peerage from his father, was taking part in a debate on Wednesday on giving 16- and 17-year-olds the vote in the upcoming referendum on EU membership. He pointed to the example of the Hitler Youth as evidence that young people people are vulnerable to "unscrupulous" politicians.
"There are serious worries at the present time about immigration pressures, about terrorism," said the crossbench peer. "These sorts of things are something which we've found in the past have opened doors to extremist politicians. For instance, in the 1930s we saw Hitler come to power in a much more extreme economic climate.
"We are in difficult times and one can see the rise of unscrupulous politicians who can reach towards young people. One thinks of, in Hitler's time, the Hitler Youth. In China, the way in the Cultural Revolution young people were targeted by people able to influence them easily.
"We have this wonderful tool for such people of the internet, so we have to be really careful to think about those issues."
The House of Lords will vote on Wednesday whether they want to give teenagers the vote in the referendum. It is expected to pass and, if it does, the House of Commons will then decide whether to accept that or challenge it.
But the Earl of Listowel will vote against the amendment on the basis of the "vulnerability" of younger voters, and said a cartoon of Ed Miliband with the ears of a donkey that was created ahead of May's general election was an example of young people being led astray online.
"We know from what we've learned about the sexual exploitation of young people, of children, that the internet can be very adeptly used by adults to persuade young people to do certain things," he said. "Young people are at their screens much of the time nowadays, so unscrupulous people who wish to influence the way they might vote can access them fairly easily.
"At the last election, I'm told, there was a caricature of the leader of the opposition with a pair of donkey's ears behind his head which was very popular and interesting. That sort of approach by an unscrupulous politician might have quite some influence – more influence on a 16- or 17-year-old, perhaps, than an 18- or 19-year-old."
The Lords will vote on the amendment later on Wednesday evening.
Jamie Ross is a Scotland reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Edinburgh.
Contact Jamie Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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