CAMPAIGN: Why you should vote in the election

WITH Gordon Brown reportedly just days away from officially announcing the date of the general election, the Ham&High series is launching a campaign to get as many people as possible signed up to vote and into the polling booth. Voter regist

Katie Davies

WITH Gordon Brown reportedly just days away from officially announcing the date of the general election, the Ham&High series is launching a campaign to get as many people as possible signed up to vote and into the polling booth.

Voter registration is high across our boroughs (at 93 per cent in Camden, 90 in Barnet, 85 in Westminster and 94 in Haringey) but it is still some way off a

perfect score.

And registration is positively soaring, compared to those who actually bother to cast their votes - the average turnout at 37 per cent in local elections and 55 per cent in the 2005 general election across our four boroughs and six general election seats.

Little over 90 years ago,

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universal suffrage was still deemed worth fighting for here while overseas, the struggle for

democracy carries on to this day.

But apathy is now rife in Britain.

That's why since early February we committed to providing

in-depth candidate profiles and election coverage to allow our readers and voters to find out about the candidates and the key issues.

And over the coming weeks we pledge to continue in this and also do all we can to drive up registration and turnout figures in our area.

Across all editions of our papers this week and next we will be including 10,000 registration forms which will allow those readers who haven't registered to vote to do so. We will also provide all the information necessary in print until the registration deadline (April 20, if the election is on May 6) to make sure no reader is left in the dark about what to do.

Following on from the first Ham&High hustings at the Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, in Hampstead, we have already organised other public debates between the nominees so you can watch them go head to head.

At each of our hustings events we will be handing out registration information to ensure everyone who attends knows how to register - dozens of leaflets were handed out on Thursday

If there is one issue that makes or breaks this election for you, we will put it to your four candidates, print the answers either in the paper or online at or return them to you privately. All you need do is send your question to or call 020 7433 6217

On election day, the Ham&High team will be out on the streets offering a gentle reminder to residents to vote. If it's with the loan of an umbrella, a map to the nearest polling station or even a piggy back, our reporters will be on hand to help.

Over the coming weeks we will bring you inspiring stories of all the varied people in our area who want their say in this election - deemed to be one of the most important in a generation.

This week we spoke to

residents of Magnolia Court care home, in Golders Green.

Many of these residents

wouldn't and won't miss the opportunity to go to the polls - despite the fact that, for many, it will be the 20th election they're taking part in.

For these residents, the importance of elections and getting your say on who runs the country is summed up in two words - Winston Churchill. For Orlow Tollet, 102, the former prime

minister was worth all the votes she has ever cast.

She said: "He was one of my heroes. He was a great showman there was no question about that and very uplifting. I do remember the wonderful speeches he made.

"We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.

"People had no money, no food, no equipment. I really don't know how we managed but it never once occurred to me that we weren't going to win the war and that was because of Churchill."

Another resident Jean Cornwell said: "As soon as I could vote, I did. From my point of view the best politician was Winston Churchill. He was a brilliant man in every way. There is no doubting voting is important - what you're doing is an important job, younger people need stirring up."

However, if voting is often

considered an older person's game, in Hampstead many young people are planning to buck the trend.

Turnout for 18 to 24-year-olds in 2005 was 37 per cent, but that isn't putting off many in the area who are looking forward to

finally having their say.

Gemma Mehmed, 18, a student at Henrietta Barnett School, will be voting for the first time.

She said: "I have been looking forward to voting for a long time, I am going to vote for Labour. The minimum wage and the Equalities Bill have impressed me.

"I think they would do more if they win the next election and I hope they will. People in my school - not just in politics class - are interested. "I have always thought it's important. Election day has a real excitement."

Zyad Wright, 18, a Hampstead student at UCS, will also be making his voice heard and he thinks he will vote Liberal Democrat at this election.

He said: "I am planning to study politics at university so the election is pretty exciting. I think some things are making young people more engaged in politics. This is the first election in the recession."

Both students also said that if you don't vote you can't complain about the direction the country takes.

As Mr Wright added: "Of course voting is important. We are deciding how this country is