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Why vote?

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Ballot paperWhat should motivate me to go to the polling station?

I’ve just walked back from school in the middle of a heavy rain shower thinking, if the weather is like this tomorrow then what would motivate me to get another soaking by going to a South Shields polling station?

Our local government elections have an unenviable track record for making people stay at home regardless of the weather, is that people feel disengaged or uninvolved with local politics? Why is there a sense of futility about the exercise?

South Tyneside Borough Council like hundreds of others in England and Wales is responsible for spending hundreds of millions of pounds of our money, and then raising some of it from council taxes, which we all perennially complain about, yet only around 38% of us bother to take the time to involve ourselves in the business of deciding who should spend this money for us, or to question why they should spend it all. Local councils provide services that we all use in fashion or another, education for our children, social care for the elderly, street cleansing and waste collection, street lighting and highways maintenance, library services, local amenities and sports facilities, cemeteries and crematoria, planning and licencing services, and a plethora of other legal obligations put upon them by central government.

These are all elements of our normal daily lives which from time to time we all find fault with and have a good old moan and groan about, yet more than half of us do not seem bothered about helping to decide who’s fingers should control the purse strings. It’s our money, surely you would think that more of us would be interested! No, apparently not, we don’t go to the poll because we cannot be bothered, they are the same, they are in it for what they can get out of it, the weather was too rotten, what difference does it make anyway? All standard excuses that we give year in year out.

I’d be motivated in any case, because I am one of those who cares passionately about the area that I was born and brought up in, I feel that the decision that I make at the ballot box will help shape the future for the next two years at least, and that in the longer term my children may benefit from the decisions that we make tomorrow. However, I often consider what our political parties are doing to interest me, and more importantly those eighteen year olds who may be about to vote for the first time. It’s certainly true that most of them are only active on the streets of South Shields in March and April, it’s certainly true that only some of them produce literature for their local candidates in the wards for us to read, some either don’t bother or don’t have the finances to produce material, leaving us to rely on newspapers, or even websites!

Here is one of my major complaints, todate I have received literature from the Labour Party and the Progressives in my ward, I have looked at the website for the Labour Party in South Shields, the Green Party in south Tyneside, and the Independent Alliance, I understand that the South Tyneside Progressives have a website somewhere but it isn’t showing up in Google searches, and unfortunately there are no official sites for the Lib-Dems or Conservatives locally. The interesting and frankly shocking fact is that none of these websites are truly interactive, they can allow us to contact someone by email and hope for a response, but you won’t find any user friendly polls, or blog style comment facilities, or even details of where they meet, or how to join in. Yet this is the digital age, a time when they have all tried with pilot schemes to increase voter turnout at local elections by offering postal voting on demand, voting by text or email, and even suggested voting at your favourite supermarket. They say they listen but their websites don’t even reach out.

Another question I have asked myself is, should I ignore national politics when it comes to local elections? In years gone by by was inclined to say that I most certainly should, but I’m older and wiser now, and I realise that you simply cannot divorce and separate the two. National government is entwined in local government as much as spaghetti is entwined with bolognese sauce, it provides the great majority of the cash used by our local councils by way of central grants and it dictates how much of that cash should be spent, it also provides obligations that councils must follow administer, enact, and enforce parts of national legislation. So realistically we cannot ignore the policies of the government of the day when it comes to our town halls. There is a balance to be sought between national policy and local initiatives and I need to realise that my local council tax is as much decided by national government as it is by my local councillors.

Therefore it is reasonable to question just why council tax has doubled during the period since Labour was elected in 1997.

So why vote?

I’ll vote because I know that my local ward councillors ought to be there to represent my views in the town hall, that’s whether I voted for that particular ward councillor or against them, they have a duty to represent the whole ward and collectively the whole borough of South Tyneside. I’ll vote because I know that local councillors still have some influence over how are lives are affected in South Tyneside, I’ll remember that I am one of the 25% of households here who pay the full amount (non discounted) of council tax. I’ll be like like many other people who will vote because I want to send a message to Gordon Brown too, and hope that he’ll listen!

More importantly I’ll vote to defend my right to complain, carp, and generally moan when things don’t look right, without casting that vote I don’t consider that I have a right to moan! Have you ever considered it that way? Unless you vote and help decide the future of the borough, then do you reasonably have a right to complain about things you don’t like?

I’ll vote for people who offer to make a difference, and if they are successful I’ll be happy, if they don’t deliver they will face me again in two years time. I’ll vote for a party or organisation that has a well produced plan of ideas and policies that appeal to me, and I’ll not vote for those who cannot be bothered to offer a meaningful map of policies.

I’ll vote for children and for my elderly relatives, because they deserve the benefit of my choice in how they are to be looked after, I’ll consider the effect of politicians plans for my local environment and how it will be affected in future years. I’ll vote because this is a democracy, a nation that was twice threatened in war by a repressive regime that believed strongly in a one party state, I’ll remember that millions of people died to protect my right to decide how I should live in free, liberal, democratic state. The supreme sacrifices that they made should not be forgotten and I feel duty bound to continue the type of lifestyle that they died to protect.

I’ll vote because I still believe that it matters, not just to me, but to those who live around me, in my street, in my neighbourhood, in our schools.

A poor turnout tomorrow will not be good for democracy, it will only confirm that people are not fully engaged by political parties and see little relevance in their attempts to converse for a few short weeks at this time of year. But please consider all of the above and put this matter to one side for now, it was ever thus, but by participating in the electoral process you may help to change minds, the political wannabes may actually take notice if more people tramp along in the rain to a polling station, they may actually respond one day and involve us all further throughout the year.

Please use your vote, and remember why we are privileged to have one!

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Written by curly

April 30, 2008 at 10:18 am