GREEN PARTY leader Natalie Bennett believes Solihull students provide a very powerful argument to lower the age restriction for voting in the UK to 16.
As part of her visit to Solihull, the politician spoke to a group of students from years nine and 12 on Tuesday (April 26) morning at Alderbrook School ahead of the UK local elections on Thursday (May 5).
Among questions asked, students were particularly keen to find out about the future of their education system, minimum wage and the refugee crisis with particular reference to Calais.
Speaking to Observer reporter Shaun Reynolds after her Q&A session, Ms Bennett said: “We’ve all just seen a very powerful argument for the minimum age to vote to be lowered to 16.
“I talk to a lot of 16 and 17-year-olds and on average they’re just as well informed as any other age group, today’s discussion proves that.
“When you think about the EU referendum – a decision that will have an impact on generations for decades – I think it really is a shame that anyone under the age of 18 cannot vote, I was really impressed by the knowledge of Alderbrook students today.”
The Green Party leader, who also visited St Peter’s school on Tuesday, added that she was impressed by the level of interest in politics among students in the West Midlands.
She added: “I talk to three or four groups of college and sixth form students each week – I’m impressed by the level on interest or engagement they’ve researched beforehand and the way they think about issues.
“I think young people are interested in politics with a ‘small p’ – they like to discuss topics like climate change, amnesty international and the minimum wage.
“Young people are seeing what they have to change in their local council and what happens at Westminster to change the way the world works.”
Ms Bennett also commented on the current situation with HS2, which – when constructed – will “slice through” the Balsall Common and Berkswell countryside.
The Green Party are the only party in opposition of HS2 since the project received the full backing all three main party leaders during the last Labour government in 2010.
Ms Bennett said that her core position on HS2 is that the plan is a massive spending project that will concentrate resources, people and money even further on London.
She added: “Because it’s high speed, the train will destroy ancient forests and cut through some of the UK’s communities.
“We should be investing instead on local transport – things like walking, cycling and regional buses.
“Two thirds of job seekers don’t have access to a car and I’m also thinking of older people in rural communities who might not be able to drive anymore and without bus services are essentially trapped.
“In Solihull we are the official opposition to the Tories and we’re looking to grow the strength of our group.
“People running for the Greens are at the heart of their communities and we’re looking to challenge, question and scrutinise what the Conservatives are doing on the Council.”
Ms Bennett’s visit came just hours after it was announced the Tories voted down to allow 3,000 unaccompanied Syrian refugees enter the UK.
In a vote which took place at the House of Commons on Monday (April 25) night, MPs voted against the proposal by 294 to 276.
Ms Bennett said: “Britain has a proud tradition of providing refuge to people in need.
“The welcoming of 20,000 refugees figure that David Cameron is talking about is a derisory figure in terms of the scale of the problem.
“We should be welcoming refugees from Europe – we are not doing our share.
“You have to put things into perspective and realise the children fleeing Syria are the same age as the students I spoke to today – some even younger.
“No one should have to be stuck in Calais after risking their life travelling through Europe escaping the dangers.”