Use your vote in May polls

ON the face of it, there is not much similarity with High Tunstall and Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma.

On Friday I went to High Tunstall to talk to students about their campaign for votes at 16.

Over the last month or so I have received many emails from pupils putting forward their views as to whether the voting age should be changed. There was a general consensus that 16 year olds should be allowed to vote in elections.

What struck me as I attended High Tunstall, along with the Mayor, was how enthusiastic students were about democracy and politics. Students believed that elections could make a difference and they wanted to participate.

In Burma over the weekend, pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy won seats to the national Parliament, with Ms Suu Kyi herself becoming an MP.

These were seen as key tests for democracy, as the army has dominated Parliament for many years. Ms Suu Kyi spent about 20 years under house arrest after her party won elections in 1990 but was not allowed by the army to take power and won the Nobel Peace Prize as a result of her efforts to champion democracy.

Over the weekend I watched the news footage of an 85-year- old woman and her struggle to cast her vote. She was not well but her face lit up like a teenager as she explained how she waited all her life to be able to exercise her democratic right.

Hartlepool is about to face incredibly important elections. Every council seat is up for election and wards are changing to reduce the number of councillors in Hartlepool from 47 to 33. These local elections in a month’s time will shape the council chamber and with it the local authority’s response to central Government’s radical cuts.

There will be many people who will say “why bother? All politicians are all the same” and will wear the fact that they don’t bother voting almost as a badge of honour.

It does strike me, however, that many people in areas of the town who don’t vote are precisely the people who will be affected by changes and cuts to local council services.

By having a say in next month’s elections, they can at least be registering their voice on the sort of council they want in the future.

Think about the level of representation you have had from your current councillor – have they been available to take up your concerns, attending residents’ meetings? Or have you never seen them?

People around the world are willing to lay down their lives to exercise their right to vote. They don’t have the jaded and apathetic stance to elections that many people in this country have. What is encouraging is that the young people in High Tunstall had an enthusiasm for democracy and a willingness to participate.

Given the importance of next month’s local elections in Hartlepool, I hope that you will exercise your right to vote.