By the time you read this, we will be roughly a month away from the General Election.
All General Elections are important. They determine the direction our country will take for the next five years. This election could be the most important for a generation.
As we approach Thursday 7th May, the media frenzy surrounding the election may seem endless to some. But I want to encourage everyone to vote, whatever your political persuasion might be.
We are immensely fortunate in this country to hold a real stake in how we are governed. Democratic elections are something often taken for granted. But universal suffrage is a fairly modern development even in the UK – women only received the vote in 1918, and even then only for women over 30. It took another ten years to bring the right to vote in line with men’s rights at age 21.
Too many in the world still have no say over who governs them. Dictatorships and military juntas are too prevalent. While many decry a lack of faith in our political system, it is worth recalling what Winston Churchill said: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”
So please ensure you can vote on 7th May by registering at www.gov.uk/register-to-vote. Our democracy thrives when more of us are engaged. If you are not sure whether you will be able to make it to the polling station on Election Day, you can apply for a postal vote or have someone vote for you as a proxy. The last day to apply for a postal vote is Tuesday 21st April, with ballot papers being sent later that week. So if you expect to be away between then and the election, it may be worth getting a proxy.
Encouraging younger voters can be difficult. But studies show those who use their vote once are likely to continue voting in the future. I am speaking to young people in sixth forms in our schools to urge them to vote, helping our system and society become more inclusive and democratic.
Some argue that the voting system needs overhauling. But the public overwhelmingly rejected a move to proportional representation in the referendum just a few years ago. Nor am I not convinced that we need compulsory voting. Personally, I have always felt that politics should become more compelling to inspire people to vote. The right to use one’s vote, or not use it, should be left to the free choice of the individual.
It is worth reminding ourselves just how powerful an individual’s vote can be. General Elections offer an opportunity to have a direct say in who governs you for the next five years. For those who doubt how much difference one vote can make, consider Exeter in 1910: the incumbent Conservative MP Henry Duke won with a majority of just one. In the Ashton-under-Lyne constituency in 1886, Conservative John Addison and Liberal A. B. Rowley tied the election, and under the law at that time, the Returning Officer was given a casting vote. He returned Addison, essentially with a majority of zero!
For me, Election Day cannot come soon enough. It has been an immense privilege to represent the Ludlow Constituency for the past ten years, and I very much hope to be able to do so in the next Parliament.