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May 4, 2013 / politicsbitesize

Why should you bother to vote?

Polling StationOn Thursday 2nd May local county council elections took place all over England.  In total 35 English councils took part and the results were not quite as devastating a blow for the Coalition government as expected, but they still weren’t great.  The Conservatives held on to 18 of the 35 councils with 25% of the popular vote, whilst the Liberal Democrats won no councils and only received 15%.  Labour didn’t fare very well, gaining only 3 councils in total, but they did get 29% of the popular vote.  By the end of the day it was declared that there was no overall control of 13 councils

But the surprise of the day was the amount of seats that UKIP claimed.  With 23% of the vote they gained 147 councillors, but gained no overall majority in any local council.  Nigel Farage, the UKIP leader, has claimed that his party’s success is due to a ‘sea change in British politics’. Maybe he is right, but the worrying aspect of this sea change can be seen in the news reports in the week leading up to Thursday’s round of elections claiming that a number of UKIP candidates had been caught expressing some compromising opinions.

The candidate for Somerset, Alex Wood, was suspended over allegations that a photo of him on Facebook appeared to show him making a Nazi-style salute.  He vigorously denied the allegations and later claimed that his Facebook page had been hijacked.  Another candidate, Anna-Marie Crampton, due to stand in East Sussex, caused a storm when she suggested that the holocaust only happened because of Jewish “banksters” who were hoping to create the state of Israel.

Although in a democratic society each person has a right to his or her opinions and beliefs, in some instances the lack of facts behind those beliefs will lead to racist notions being espoused as truth.  This becomes a problem when the people who hold these ideas put themselves forward to be elected into positions of power. When this occurs we, the public, need to defend fact-based truth by exercising our unrestricted right to vote.

So, one reason to vote is to prevent unwanted beliefs polluting our councils but there are many others.  Over the centuries people have fought hard to win the right to vote and to ensure that each vote counts equally: one person, one vote.  In the 15th century only owners of freehold land worth over 40 shillings a year were eligible to vote.  This system held true until the first Reform Act in 1832 when those who paid more than £10 in rent or rates were given the right to vote.  In 1867 the Second Reform Act changed the rules so that all men, regardless of property status, could vote in elections.

Of course, this wasn’t achieved overnight and the history of voting is filled with protests and rebellion.  The most famous demonstrator to come from this struggle was the leader of the suffragette movement, Emmeline Pankhurst.  In 1903, after many years of listening to MPs talk about women’s suffrage, she founded the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU).  The group organised rallies and speeches across the UK and it produced newsletters that advocated women’s right to vote, but it wasn’t until 1918 that the Representation of the People Act gave women over the age of thirty voting rights.

However, it took another 50 years for voting to become unified and equal in the way we know it today.  In 1969 the minimum age to vote was reduced to 18 for both men and women of all classes.  Although each person has a democratic right to vote, a lot of people don’t use it, which would perplex those who fought long and hard to obtain it.  Each vote cast represents a voice from every individual who lives and works in a community and each one can make a difference to the way in which decisions are taken in an area.  It therefore makes sense to use your vote and let your voice be heard.

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