Election '97 : Teens show Major the stage door

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So, Labour is out of the wilderness years. The pollsters can pat themselves on the back, Tony Blair won by a landslide. He will be the one leading the Britain into a new millennium.

That was the result of the election at the Young Vic in London, in a poll of 200 schoolchildren, aged 13 to 16. The exercise in sounding out voters of the future involved a mock campaign by the three main parties and a production of George Orwell's Animal Farm.

The debate was colourful and sometimes dirty. The party leaders smiled and offered promises, spin doctors scowled, while cynical journalists sniped from the sidelines.

At the end it was a disaster for the Tories. They picked up only 10 per cent of the votes, beaten into second place by the Liberal Democrats with 15 per cent. Labour swept in with a massive 75 per cent.

The groundbreaking series on children and politics, called Revolution, was organised by the production company Northern Stage. The pupils are encouraged to participate in all aspects of an impending election. Yesterday they came from three schools, the George Orwell in north London; and Lilian Baylis and Bishop Thomas Grant, both in south London.

Small groups formed three parties, Me Myself Alone (modelled on the Conservatives), Us Together Ourselves (Labour) and Forgotten Ignored Outrageous ( Lib Dems). There were also organisations from both sides of employment - the National Business Executive and Union of Workers, and two newspapers roughly modelled on the the Sun and The Independent.

Yesterday's was a single issue election, on a subject close to the hearts of Messrs Howard and Straw - the problem of juvenile crime.

An MMA government committed to law and order has introduced a series of draconian laws, including imprisoning of persistent truants, night- time curfew, electronic tagging and tattooing the word "Criminal" on their foreheads. It has then gone to the country.

The tabloid newspaper newspaper and its staff, whose alleged characteristics were "gossip, celebrities and Royals, dishing the dirt and never letting facts getting in the way of the story", were fervent propagandists for the government.

The worthy broadsheet, "abhorring sensationalism, publishing all the facts and printing only news that matter", opposed it.

After discussing the issues involved, the respective groups presented their arguments on the Young Vic stage. The heckling from the populace was strident. "But", as one teacher remarked, "no worse than you see on the telly on late night Commons debates, when they have just come out of the bars".

The Government said their aim was simply to "protect the innocent by punishing the guilty" and "all right-thinking kids should support it". The Opposition called this a lot of things, but among those printable was: "They have not got a clue, they should be spending more on education rather than locking them up." The Lib Dems likened the new laws to "the Nazis' treatment of the Jews".

After his party's defeat, the outgoing Prime Minister, Aaron Carter, 15, from Bishop Thomas, said he was contemplating a career in politics. But he added: "I don't think I could bring myself to vote Tory. If I had the vote now, I would vote Liberal Democrat."