Election '97 : Labour targets first-time voters

Parties are hoping their hard work with young voters will help rout the group's traditional apathy
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The Independent Online
Things can only get better ... so long as you vote. That was the message coming from the Labour Party's youth spokeswoman Mo Mowlam yesterday. She was launching a drive to try and motivate first time voters into casting their mark in this election.

According to Ms Mowlam, the problem with young people is not that they don't care about politics, but that they are disillusioned, disaffected and "don't feel a great identity with the political process or some of our institutions."

In order to combat this, the party have launched a new video for first- time voters, aimed at mobilising some of the 3,000 first-timers in each constituency.

There was a high degree of apathy in 1992 with 50 per cent (more than 2.5 million) of young people failing to vote.

But as this election approaches it looks increasingly likely that more young people will be casting their vote.

In a Harris poll for The Independent, which was conducted earlier this month, as many as 80 per cent of 18-24 year olds said they were likely to vote.

The Labour Party are distributing the video, "Do it", to explain the voting process to young people and are encouraging them to make the effort. The video has an upbeat message, in keeping with the party's new strategy of positive campaigning.

The video makes no attempt to put across a party political viewpoint, encouraging the viewer to vote Labour - indeed there is even a brief glimpse of John Major at one point. It shows young people from all sections of the community gathering and heading off to a polling booth together.

As the virgin voters arrive, we see what they have to do in order to cast their vote right the way through to one of them marking a cross on his ballot paper. Although the viewer does not get to see which candidate he votes for, his pen heads in the general direction of the Labour candidate's name.

Even though this video is careful to appear apolitical, Labour are clearly trying to encourage impressionable first timers to vote for them.

All voters between the ages of 18 and 23 have spent most, if not all, of their lives under a Conservative Party government. As a result, Labour's "Time for a Change" strategy has particular resonance with this sector of society.

Political parties are not the only ones trying to encourage young people to vote in this year's election.

James Palumbo, the owner of the Ministry of Sound - who has leant a car to Peter Mandelson for the duration of the campaign - has started a "Use Your Vote" campaign to encourage first timers to re-enter into the political process. Similarly, the "Rock the Vote" campaign, fronted by the likes of comedians Eddie Izzard and Joe Brand, to re-enfranchise the disaffected, boasts it has added almost half a million young people to the electoral register.

However, the campaign has been the target of accusations of Labour bias as well as suffering the burden of debts to advertising agencies.