Voting is our birthright - article

24/05/2004

This year marks the tenth anniversary of democracy in South Africa and I’m sure that many of you will remember the incredible scenes of people queuing to vote for the first time in their lives. Leaving aside the relative merits or demerits of the candidates and Parties on offer in next months local and European elections, it is a safe bet that people will not be queuing on the streets of Accrington to vote. In fact, all politicians will be really pleased if the turnout is over 50% (actually, that’s not quite true some politicians like low turnouts because they think it benefits them. Strange but true!). Usually politicians want you to vote for their Party, but today I just want to urge you to use your vote fullstop. If not enough people vote Labour, then fair enough, Labour will lose. This will disappoint me but that’s not really your problem. If not many people vote at all then democracy loses and frankly, we are all losers then. Too many people take democracy for granted. Next time you see someone in their 80s just pause for a moment. The likelihood is that that person risked their life so that you could decide who runs our country. It seems to me a right worth cherishing.

There will be a series of votes over the next 18 months or so, and all of them are important and will have an effect on you. On June 10 you will have a vote on who should represent you on Hyndburn Council and in the European Parliament. As only one seat separates the Parties on Hyndburn Council your vote could actually decide who wins and who loses. In the European elections voter turnout is really important; because of the proportional voting system in use a low turnout can hugely distort the result and we could find ourselves represented in Europe by some deeply unpleasant racists just because not enough of our fellow citizens bothered to vote. This year all the voting will be by post in an attempt to make voting easier and increase the turnout, so when you receive your vote through the post do use it.

Later on in the year you will also get a vote on whether or not to have a regional assembly here in the North West. Regardless of where you stand on the issue it is an important decision. As part of that referendum you will also be asked about changes to local government, the thinking being that you canÂ’t have Hyndburn Council and then Lancashire County Council and a regional tier and then Westminster it’s just too many levels. If my hazy memory is correct then the formation of Hyndburn Council was pretty controversial, so its abolition would be too so donÂ’t miss out on having your say. At some point there will also be a vote on the new European Constitution which I’m quite pleased about as I was one of the first Labour MPs to call for the people to have a vote on this. And then, of course, there will be a general election which speaks for itself. I leave you with this point: before 1867 ordinary working men weren’t allowed to vote; women didn’t fully get the vote until 1928; 18 year olds didn’t get the vote until 1967; Some British people died getting the right to vote and others died defending that right. The least we can do is use it.

Best wishes,

Greg Pope MP