IT is local election day on Thursday, when we all have the opportunity to go to the polls and vote for the people we want to run our councils.

This is a right that we have come to take for granted in our democratic society, but it is one that we take for granted at our peril.

The right to vote was fought for and won by courageous social reformers, who made great sacrifices to achieve their noble aim.

Today, nearly everyone over the age of 18 in the UK can vote, but that right was only extended to all adults in the last century. At the start of the 19th century, only around 3% of the adult population – all of them men – were allowed to vote.

It was not until the Representation of the People Act of 1969 that the voting age was reduced from 21 to 18.

All of which makes it desperately sad that so many thousands of people, in our region and across the country, will ignore their right, and indeed their duty, to go to the ballot box.

Refusing to vote is a dangerous phenomenon.

Low polls allow extremist political groups to win disproportionate attention and, on occasion, to actually win seats. Some of these groups aspire to destroy the freedoms we treasure, while wrapping themselves in a cloak of concern for popular issues of the day.

Most of us are intelligent enough to see through them, but not voting for them is not enough. Actively voting for the moderate, sincere political parties who have our best interests at heart is required if the extremists are to be kept where they belong, on the fringe.

You may not like what your local council is doing about education, or care for the elderly, or collecting your bins. But grumbling won’t change things. The only effective way we can have our say, and bring about real change, is by exercising our responsibility to vote.

Put it another way: If you can’t be bothered to vote, don’t complain if the outcome is a leadership that you just can’t stomach.