Generation with bigger worries Generation that

For every youngster prepared to stop and chat about their political preferences on Commercial Road in east London yesterday, there were at least three who hurried by, mumbling: "Sorry, I can't help you. I'm not into politics."

Warsame Ali, 17, said he planned to vote Labour but could not spare the time to canvas for the party. "You've got to sort out your future before you get involved in politics. That's the first priority," he said. "I'm about to start a three-month training course and after that I might get a job so I haven't got enough time to hang around for the Labour Party." He has no illusions about Labour. "They promise a lot," he said. "They may do it. They may not."

Helen Wilkinson, a project director at the independent think-tank, Demos, believes that if Tony Blair wins the election but fails to deliver, Warsame will become just one of legions of first-time voters who will ditch politics once and for all.

"What might have seemed a reversal of fortunes in that finally young people were voting again might become the final nail in the coffin," she said. "A temporary upsurge in political awareness and interest could get knocked back if Blair doesn't deliver what he promises."

Ms Wilkinson believes Labour's drive to recruit youngsters will go down a treat with the generation for whom "politics has become a dirty word". Given that 43 per cent of under-25-year-olds eligible to vote in the last election chose not to, compared to 31 per cent in 1987, all parties should be "investing in the next generation".

"People do respond to a bit of flattery, the feeling that someone is out to woo them in some form," she said. "There will be a lot of young people who are cynical but nevertheless there will be a lot who will respond. That's positive, not just for the Labour Party, but for politics and democracy generally."

Josie Harper, 15, said she would support Labour when she was old enough to vote but had no intention of joining the party. "It's not my type of thing," she said. Neither could she imagine any of her friends in Labour- run Newham signing up. "Round my area the only thing that matters is being tough - being hard. They would think it makes them look a bit soft."

Unemployed Richard Martin, 19, who had just come from the benefits office, said he would take a lot of convincing to vote for any party - let alone sign up as a member. "I don't think a vote will make any difference," he said.

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