Column: Politically speaking with Ed Balls MP

Ed Balls.
Ed Balls.
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As an elected politician, it will come as little surprise to most Observer & Advertiser readers, to discover that I spend a lot of time voting.

Just in the last few weeks I have voted in Parliament to give local pubs a better deal, scrap the bedroom tax and to allow new research to help families with mitochondrial diseases.

Most people don’t vote anywhere near as often as me. But how we MPs vote in Parliament is ultimately decided by how everyone else votes on General Election day.

That’s why it is so important that everyone registers to vote. And being included on the electoral register is about more than just voting. Our justice system relies on juries which are randomly picked out from those on the electoral roll. And if you want to borrow money, or get a mortgage, one of the first things the bank will check is your credit rating and that’s linked directly to whether you are on the electoral register.

Of course people lead increasingly busy lives. So on election days, it can seem difficult to fit in a trip to the polling station on top of work, picking up the kids and making tea. But many people fought hard for the right to vote. A hundred years ago women and working men didn’t have the right to vote. And here in Britain, we’ve only had universal suffrage – giving everyone an equal right to vote since 1928.

That’s why I’ve always thought that, regardless of your political views, it’s important to use your right to vote. But in the elections later this year there’s a new system of voter registration which could mean that some people miss out. Across the country some estimates are that 7.5million people might be missing from the electoral register. That’s the equivalent of ten cities the size of Sheffield or the same number of people that live in 100 parliamentary constituencies. Individual voter registration means that people who’ve moved house or who live in communal residences like residential homes or student accommodation could miss out.

So if you’ve moved house recently, or if you think it’s possible you might have come off the register for any reason it’s worth checking if you want your voice to be heard and to have a say on the future of the country. You can check online and fill in the form before it’s too late. Go to gov.uk/register-to-vote to get registered or contact electoral services at Leeds City Council 0113 222 4411.

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Talking to people on the streets of Morley over the last few weekends, people have been keen to share their views with me on all kinds of issues – but especially on the state of the economy.

And the recent discussions in the media about tax have really wound people up. “We pay our share of taxes” one parent said to me in Morley, “they should do the same.” I could only nod in agreement.

Because all of us paying our tax makes it possible to ensure we have the investment we need for our public services like the NHS. Closing tax loopholes to ensure everyone is paying their tax should be a priority for every Government. I’ve said I would crack down hard on tax avoidance schemes to ensure we get the money we need into our health service.

The other hot topic last weekend in Morley was the Government’s recent spate of interest in the north of England. “Where were they four years ago?” one pensioner said when I spoke to her in the Ingles.

While it’s been really good to see growth returning to the economy nationally, areas like ours are taking much longer to recover from the global recession. I’ve always said that it is important for every part of the country to benefit. And that means backing regions like Yorkshire, cities like Leeds and towns like Morley to ensure jobs are being created and industries are able to expand to enable areas to prosper and do well.

Devolution of power and funding to English regions is now firmly in our sights. And I firmly believe that decisions about how this should happen should be made locally, not in Whitehall or Westminster. Only that way can we make sure we get the right change for each area of the country.

Morley’s done pretty well throughout the difficult times for the economy but people in our area are still feeling the pinch. Ensuring everyone pays their fair share of tax and that we get the power and resources to invest in our local and regional economy would ensure we did even better in the future too.