Choices for Britain: Prospect of single currency provokes greatest unease: Experimental poll gives pupils opportunity to reveal image of nation they want to grow up in

Click to follow
The Independent Online
'IT WAS a good idea to say what we think - nobody has asked us to do it before - but no one will listen,' said Carl Noble, 15, a pupil at Norton Hill secondary school near Bath.

'But if enough people say something, then it's bound to make some difference, isn't it?' asked another boy.

Few took his side. They were very sceptical about their hopes for the future of Britain having any influence on what actually happened. The dozen 15-year-olds who had gathered to discuss the poll were impressively sceptical in other ways, too.

Their teacher, Meg Keene, said: 'I thought it would be a turn- off, the poll, there was a lot of writing; but I was amazed at how interested they were. Perhaps they saw it had relevance to them. What surprised me most was that they were far less idealistic in their choices than I had expected.'

This group was unrepresentative: none favoured closer integration with Europe (which was the overall preference expressed in the poll); almost all wanted to turn inwards and concentrate on domestic problems. Perhaps this, as Ms Keene surmised, reflected the area - rural, middle class - and the preoccupations of generally Conservative families.

Yvette Pearce said she had had no doubt which of the 'futures' she wanted: 'Great Britain.' In all the discussions her opinion had not been changed.

'We want to make Britain great again,' she said. 'We don't want to share everything. We should think of ourselves not other


That sentiment was well received. 'I thought first that we should be Global Britain - helping the rest of the world, but then I thought, well, we have to help ourselves first,' said Liz Ward. 'We can't carry on as we are'.

She felt we should stop paying anything at all in overseas aid, and spend the money instead on housing the homeless or beating crime.

There was no childish idealism. Even the environment was sacrificed for a better Britain. They recognised that environmental problems required global solutions, but if this meant Britain playing more of a global role, or increasing aid, it was unacceptable.

A sole detractor argued for a more altruistic Britain, but she had no supporters.

'If we wait until Great Britain is powerful again, then we may have run out of time to get involved in other important issues', she said.

Everybody, however, united in horror at the prospect of a single currency in Europe: 'Who will decide how much it is worth?' asked Sophie Kilgower.

Few cared for political parties, but most wanted to see strong leadership. There was general agreement that it did not matter which party was in government, only that somebody strong - specifically Baroness Thatcher - was at the helm. John Major had no friends in this class.

They all felt that the poll had been worthwhile, an opportunity to learn some of the arguments and policy options. And they took it seriously, preparing presentations and posters in the run-up to the vote. But there were some who felt they could have known more.

Only one student knew how many countries were members of the European Union. Only one had any working knowledge of what the United Nations did. Is it any surprise that they should choose an isolationist Britain?

As one pointed out, evidence of British decline is all around them. They know it for themselves, and it is their natural priority. Why would they choose Europe when they do not know anything about it? And who do they blame for British decline?

'I blame Maggie]' said one.

'I blame Norman Lamont]' said another.

'I blame Jason]' said a third, to general applause.

(Graphics and table omitted)