The Local Elections can often be overlooked but they do mark an important moment in the cycle of our democracy. They allow us to tell the Government of the day what we think of them – but they also elect a cohort of councillors who will shape the future of our borough for the next four years.
I often say that serving Denton West as a Tameside councillor has been one of the greatest privileges I could ever have. Having lived in Tameside for almost all of my life, public service has meant something, and I have always sought to serve the area to the best of my ability, and continue to do so as a Member of Parliament.
But my own experience in local government is why I know just how much our councillors care about this borough, and why I always impress upon people the importance of taking part in the process of electing their representatives.
Councillors are given huge responsibility, and we must ensure people understand their role, what they can do, and why it is important that ordinary working people step up and stand for election to public office.
The future belongs to those who show up, and that includes the voters who will decide the future direction of our nine towns in the elections.
There is a growing attitude that treats democracy, politics and politicians with contempt. Now don’t get me wrong, some scepticism is healthy, and some of the criticism towards (particularly some national) politicians has frankly been well deserved. But most of the people I know, who engage in politics nationally or locally, do so for all the right reasons: to make their community a better place, and to try and help the people who they represent, be it in Parliament or in the Town Hall.
When people do not vote because of a perception that all politicians are ‘the same’ or even worse, that they are ‘in it for themselves’, it has the potential of being deeply damaging to the very democracy previous generations fought for – and when won, sought to protect.
That’s why voting is so important. Those who participate in elections give it the legitimacy it needs to survive. Our benevolent and considerate system was built by those men and women after the Second World War, who stood alongside the British pioneers of democracy from the century before. Our representatives in local councils have inherited that responsibility, just as all of us have inherited the responsibility to take an active role in upholding it.
Local councils led the development of public health, sanitation, education, welfare, leisure and social housing. Local Government rebuilt Britain in the post-war years, and despite some of the most savage cuts from central government, today it still does an impressive job in shaping and improving our local communities. It is up to all of us to keep that system working. That is why I will be voting Labour in these local elections.
I was so proud to serve Tameside as a councillor. Let’s be proud of our borough, and what’s been achieved in years gone by, but let’s also be confident for the future of Tameside, so have your say on what you want that future to be. I urge you to go out and use your vote too.
This column originally appeared in the Tameside Reporter on 22/05/2014