Election `97: First-time voters lean towards the devil they know

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The Independent Online
Many first-time voters will support the Conservatives on 1 May because they feel Britain is "doing all right" under the current government, according to The Independent's young people's group in the marginal seat of Redditch.

The lack of raw ideological conflict in the election - as opposed to bitter rows over details - has left many in the group feeling there is no need for change for change's sake at a time of growing prosperity for many of their families.

None of the main political parties appears to have enthused the first- timers, though Tony Blair comes out as a better communicator with the young. As with older groups, there is concern over Europe and some support for the clear-cut policy of the Referendum Party compared with the wait- and-see approach of the Conservatives and new Labour. There is also dismay in what they see as sterile and negative campaigning.

Alice Melvin, 21, who works for a bookmaker, believes the Conservatives have "put the country back on its feet" and thinks they should be allowed to continue. "The country is doing all right as it is and a change now might be quite bad." She is mostly concerned about the National Health Service and law and order - a common theme among the first-time voters - as well as the environment.

Luke Davis, 18, a student at the North East Worcester College, considered voting Labour but says both main parties have performed equally badly in the election and concludes it's "better the devil you know", the mantra of many Tory voters. He accepts that Tony Blair personally performs well but thinks there could be an old-new Labour split if the party were to gain power.

Michelle Oldfield, 18, a pupil of Arrow Vale High School in Redditch, which was visited by Tony Blair earlier in the campaign, said that after meeting the Labour leader she had considered voting for him, but now will vote Conservative on 1 May. "I think I will be voting in line with my family - we seem to be doing quite well as a family. The majority of my friends are voting Conservative."

The campaign has not impressed her. "It just seems as if everyone is putting everyone else's policies down."

Fellow pupil Sarah Cox, 18, finds much of the debate between the parties "silly". For her the main concern is Europe, and she will support the Referendum Party "so we can have a referendum now". "I like the pound coins, it's nice to be different."

Sales-office administrator Ian Wright, 19, may also vote for Sir James Goldsmith's party, believing the country should either be fully in or out of Europe. "I'm worried about us sitting on the edge. For me it's all or nothing." A Labour government would be a "leap in the dark" and, though attracted by the honesty of many Liberal Democrat policies, he did not believe they could win.

However, Labour has won a number of converts among young voters. Mark Coley, 18, a pupil at Arrow Vale, thinks the country needs change and that Tony Blair speaks to the whole country. "I think John Major is only speaking to half the nation," he said.

Richard Watson, 19, a university student, said the main parties were behaving like the cartoon characters Tom and Jerry. "One party says one thing, and then one party says another, and so it goes on." He probably won't vote, because he says nothing has "grabbed" him.

Sixth-former Andrew Davies, 19, will not vote either, but not because he doesn't care. "It's not apathy, I'm making a reasoned decision not to vote. All this bickering is just childish. They don't deserve my vote."