Recently, I found myself talking to a group of teachers about what being an MP is all about. They had lots of questions, and one – which started a lively discussion – was about why some people vote and others don't.
I think it’s a really important issue because it says something about the kind of society we are. Why do some people say that they aren't interested, or wonder what the point of it all is, or are just downright cynical about politics?
There are lots of reasons why some people feel this way, including alienation, taking things for granted, feeling unhappy about what’s happening or wanting something different from politics. And yet, the chance to do something about the things that worry us or we’d like to change is a really important right. After all, it was only by struggle over many years that everyone finally won the vote. And what about all those countries where people don't have the chance to decide by whom and how they are governed?
There’s also the argument about participation; the kind we read about all the time in South Leeds Life. The effort that people who live, work in and love south Leeds put in to making life better. I’m sure that there are things about society that they too don’t like or want to change, but their response is not to wonder whether it’s worth it; it is to get stuck in, help others and make things happen.
Just look around at our community. How was Hillside, when it ceased to be a primary school, turned into a wonderful centre for small and growing businesses and a community hub in Beeston ? How was the building across the road - which we used to know as Shaftsbury House and an eyesore at one time – transformed into the most environmentally friendly block of homes in Leeds ? In both cases, because someone had an idea and the ability to inspire others to get involved and see it through.
Or think about what’s changed in our parks. The lovely new visitors’ centre in Middleton Park or the improvements in Cross Flatts Park; both the result of hard graft by Friends groups who saw it as their responsibility to make things better.
The Middleton Railway - the world’s oldest working railway - run entirely by volunteers. The many organisations supporting the elderly in Beeston and Holbeck, Belle Isle, and Middleton. The vibrant hub that is Leeds Health for All. The determination of the new committee to keep the Holbeck Working Men's Club – the oldest surviving club in the country - going. And a club of a different type – The Hunslet Club - where every day of the week you will find a hive of activity involving children, mums and dads.
My point is that in life we get out what we put in, and the things we are proudest of are those that we have put most of ourselves into. And if that’s true about how we build a better community – and it is - then it’s also true about how we build a better country.
So let’s encourage each other to take part in the democratic process. And if you know someone who’s not yet on the electoral register, then it’s easy to register at: www.gov.uk/register-to-vote
Voting may only involve a pencil and a piece of paper, but put those together with ideas and you really can change things.
This article first appeared on the South Leeds Life website http://www.southleedslife.com/