Young need to make vote count

Peterborough City Council leader, Marco Cereste in 2013. Photo: Alan Storer/Peterborough Telegraph

Peterborough City Council leader, Marco Cereste in 2013. Photo: Alan Storer/Peterborough Telegraph

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We’re now just 76 days away from the local and general elections and there’s a campaign under way nationally to get people to register to vote.

Apathy towards politics is nothing new and there will always be people who see no benefit in voting.

I’ve been passionate about politics most of my life so I’ve always held a different view.

I was first elected a city councillor in 1997, but I’ve been involved in politics in some way since the 70s when I was taken to lunch with the then Prime Minister Edward Heath by a prominent local businessman.

It’s fair to say politics is in my blood, as my father always took a keen interest.

You may not always feel as if the decisions being made are in your best interests and I bet you frequently feel as if you could do a better job.

However, the fact remains that the biggest chance the man or woman on the street has of influencing the decisions that are made on their behalf is to use their vote on election day.

As Winston Churchill once said, “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others” – it may not be perfect, but nobody has come up with anything better!

I was concerned to hear that a new opinion poll for the Electoral Reform Society revealed that as many as 800,000 young people aged 18 to 21 will not be able to vote in May because they’re not on the electoral roll.

The poll also showed that one in four 18 to 21 year olds haven’t registered to vote and another nine per cent had no idea whether they were on the register at all!

In Peterborough, we are doing a lot to encourage younger residents to vote in elections and help make decisions at the council.

At the Full Council meeting in December members voted for the council to support the Vote at 16 campaign which looks to extend the right to vote to 16-year-olds.

It’s fair to say not everyone agrees with lowering the voting age, but my experience is that 16-year-olds are often just as qualified to have their say on who should represent them locally or nationally as some of our older residents.

Next week, thousands of young people will once again cast their vote for who they want to represent them as Youth MP for Peterborough.

In 2012 we introduced voting booths in schools to make the elections more democratic and the impact was huge. Last year more than 5,000 young people voted – that’s around a 30 per cent turnout of young people. This year more than 10,000 ballot papers have been sent to schools.

Good luck to all seven candidates standing in next week’s election – may the best young person win!

A number of young people from our schools and colleges also sit on the Peterborough Youth Council and debate issues that affect youngsters locally.

Each year they do a fantastic job of scrutinising our budget so that we can understand how younger residents feel about our proposals. It’s easy when you’re young to feel as if nobody is listening to you. I certainly did, but my plea to young people is get involved because you can make a difference.

I dare say we have more to do, but it seems there are lots of young people in Peterborough who have the passion for politics that I had at their age.

Registering to vote in elections is the first step towards participating in democracy.

Local and parliamentary elections will take place in Peterborough on Thursday May 7– if you’re 18 on this date, make sure your name is on the electoral register so that you can cast your vote.

The deadline to register is 20 April.

If you do, you’ve got a far better chance of having your voice heard.