Blackadder fans will get the reference in this post’s title.

Owen Bonnici did that thing today where he presented himself after half an hour’s work he was compelled to do for reasons entirely out of his control as a Moses on the other side of the ocean right as the waves swamped the chariots of Rameses’s army.

Maybe it’s a day for mixed metaphors.

Some years ago, as part of their populist program of making people feel like they owe them their vote, the Labour Party granted the vote to people aged 16 to 18. Like all their legislative initiatives it was amateurishly done. While they amended the part of the law setting up local councils that defines the minimum age for people who can be elected as councillors they forgot to change the section of the law that presumes that mayors would be 18.

They realised the anomaly when a precocious 17-year-old garnered enough votes that would have made an adult entitled to become deputy mayor of his village. He was eligible by number of votes gained, but not by age restriction.

Today’s “historic” press conference removed that anomaly. How abused the term ‘historic’ is. Imagine history students two hundred years from now surveying shelves with books about the assassination of Julius Caesar and the storming of the Bastille and finding treatises on the day Acne Faced Borg Bugeja was given the legal power to sign off multi-million bank loans on behalf of their city in between revising for their geography resit and losing their virginity to someone whose face they won’t remember.

No doubt this will be met with pearl clutching histrionics about being contemptuous of 17-year-olds. My opinion on the average 17-year-old is hardly worse than my opinion of the average 47-year-old. Some 17-year-olds are stupefyingly smart and rational while many cannot be trusted to smell the mushrooms growing on the uneaten lunch they forgot under their bed last week. I know this not because I’m a parent. Like every parent I think my children are perfect and God’s gift to humanity, or is that my gift to humanity? I know most 17-year-olds won’t remember their rotting lunch because, though my children refuse to believe it, I was 17 once.

Owen Bonnici said Malta was “the first country in Europe” to allow 16-year-olds to become mayors. Being the first in Europe at something isn’t always evidence of trail-blazing foresight. If we decided to allow infants to become mayors before they are of age to take steps without adults holding them up we’d likely be the first in the world to hammer out that particularly lonely and demented path.

Perhaps Owen Bonnici should think for a moment why no other European country has taken this “historic” step. Consider that Malta now thinks 16-year-olds are old enough to be trusted to act as legal representatives of a branch of Malta’s government but it still doesn’t think 16-year-olds are old enough to be trusted to learn how to drive a car. Local banks will not consider a 17-year-old’s application for a mortgage but the law now says that a 16-year-old is ripe enough to negotiate their town’s line of credit.

I accept that teenagers who are more capable than I am to run a town council exist or at least I accept they can exist. I also accept that short of a better idea we must rely on the residents of towns to decide who’s best at running their neighbourhood because they’ll be the first to suffer the consequence of hiring someone incompetent or unprepared to serve as their mayor.

But giving the vote (and the eligibility to hold office) to teenagers is not quite the same as the enfranchisement of unlanded labourers or women, say. In most respects 16- and 17-year-olds are recognised by our society for what they are: they are children, dependant on the protection of their parents. They might not see themselves as dependant, they will not see themselves as children, and they will think themselves better able to decide for themselves than their parents would and some of them will think they are better able to decide for their town or village than some old windbag might.

But we don’t wait for children to decide if they are dependants or not. We make that assumption for them. We make sure they are treated as children for far longer than they would have had they been living a hundred or more years ago. We wouldn’t dream of having them work aged 10 or 12 even if we know our grandparents did, even if they tell us they’d want to do so. We compel them instead to go to school because children should be learning and playing before they do any working for living, or, I submit, running the government of a town.

What could perhaps be more useful is to debate whether compulsory schooling should be extended to 18 because if you ask me a 17-year-old should not have their childhood stolen to be dealing with waste collection or road resurfacing of Swieqi or San Lawrenz. They should be in school. We would not be the first in Europe to compel our children to stay in school till they’re adults, aged 18. We’d be one of the last in Europe to do that. Belgium, Latvia, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Sweden may not have 18-year-old mayors – they didn’t have Owen Bonnici – but all their 18-year-olds are in school. Czech, Danish, Estonian and Finnish children stay in school till they’re 17, whether they like it or not.

Our children can drop out of school at 15. A tenth of Maltese 18-year-olds do not have 3 O levels to their name. I’m not saying that’s because they dropped school to become mayors. I’m not suggesting causation here.

Nor am I suggesting that now the law allows 16-year-olds to run for office, it should be reversed. Though I do think that voting for them amounts to child cruelty.

I’m suggesting that our priorities are a bit upside down. I’m saying that we’re not empowering our young people to make something of their lives and to contribute to this society by allowing maybe one or two of them in a decade to impress enough voters in their village to make mayor, burdening them with their responsibilities they have the rest of their lives to worry about. I’m saying that this so-called historic law will change a handful of individuals’ lives for two years while we ignore thousands abandoned by our education system before they’re of legal age to do most things requiring a legal age.

I’m also saying that aged 16 the thought may have occurred to me that I’d make a better mayor than some. I was probably arrogant enough to think I’d make a better pope. I would have resented being made to wait for a minimum age, but I would have survived it. After all I had to wait to be allowed to start learning to drive a car as well. And I lived.