Follow the leader: ‘Use your vote wisely and make your voice heard’

Election count at Thornes Park Wakefield
Election count at Thornes Park Wakefield

Next week the country goes to the polls in the 2017 General Election, writes Wakefield Council leader Peter Box.cal election

All registered voters will have the opportunity to cast their ballot and I urge you to seize this moment, and make your vote count – whatever your political view is.

Democracy in the UK is for everyone. It may not always give us the result we want but it is important that we respect it.

When I look at other countries where there is no free vote, I realise how very lucky we are.

In South Africa, when Nelson Mandela was freed and the first post-apartheid elections took place, people queued for days to cast their vote. We should cherish and use our hard fought freedoms.

From soldiers fighting on the front to the Suffragette movement, many have paid the ultimate price for us to go to a polling station on 8 June, without fear or prejudice.

It is staggering to believe that women couldn’t even vote in a General Election until 1918 and still did not get the same voting rights as men until 1928!

Times have moved on and thankfully in the right direction.

However, I want to see things change even more.

I feel very strongly that young people today should be able to make their voice heard at the ballot box, and am championing the calls for the voting age to be lowered to 16.

Only recently at a Cabinet on Tour meeting I met a group of students from Castleford Academy who clearly demonstrated they have the knowledge, passion and desire to vote.

In fact, the most challenging and incisive questions that day came from the students.

This district has a strong and proud link with democracy.

Pontefract was centre stage in August 1872 when the first secret ballot in Britain was used to elect a Member of Parliament, allowing people to vote in secret by placing an ‘X’ on a ballot paper next to the name of their choice.

It represented a huge change in the way elections were arranged. Before the Ballot Act of 1872, those who were eligible to vote had to declare their choice in public.

People may have already voted by post but many still use a polling station.

To some these can be daunting places.

But, one of the key roles of the staff who work at the polling stations is to support you. They are there to help, they will not judge and will respect any request for assistance with total confidentiality.

The polling stations are often busiest early in the morning and at teatime so if you are able to go at different times, it may help you avoid queues.

However, whatever time you go, staff will always be happy help you.

And so, whatever hashtag is trending this year, be it #dogsatpollingstations or something equally bizarre, I urge you all to use your vote and help make sure that democracy – with or without the hashtag - is the real winner in all this.