Parties vie for the support of young voters

Labour offers cut-price membership for under-21s and Tory luminaries hold teach-in for youth activists
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Indy Politics
Both the Labour and Conservative parties have woken up to the importance of wooing the next generation of voters, and are launching campaigns to highlight their rival attractions to disenchanted youngsters.

As Labour yesterday unveiled its recruitment drive designed to boost membership among 18- to 21-year-olds, it emerged that the Tories are also planning a campaign which targets the young. Labour is offering a reduced membership fee of pounds 1 to all under-21s joining the party for the first time.

Billy Bragg, the socialist singer who formed the Eighties pop-into-politics movement, Red Wedge, in an effort to mobilise youngsters to vote for Neil Kinnock in the 1987 elections, feels New Labour is failing to "excite" young people. "Don't ask me why young people aren't voting for the Labour Party," he said. "The Labour Party isn't presenting anything to young people to get them excited."

The Tories' new drive to attract young first-time voters at the next general election is codenamed First Time Voters. Their approach will be revealed at the party conference in Bournemouth next month. It will feature advertisements aimed at the same crucial age group and a new magazine is also in the pipeline.

The idea is for the Tories to cling on to one of the most significant statistics to emerge from the last election, that according to an ICM survey, 40 per cent of 18- to 29-year-olds voted Tory.

Last weekend at Birmingham University more than 100 young Tory activists were taught campaigning techniques and communication skills by Alan Duncan MP, parliamentary private secretary to the party chairman, Brian Mawhinney,and fellow MPs Steve Norris and Peter Luff. Also speaking for the audience, drawn from Young Conservative branches and Tory student groups, was Harvey Thomas, the party's former communications director and general-election mastermind.

The Birmingham weekend and the presence of such party luminaries further underlines the importance Labour and the Tories are attaching to wooing the youth vote. They are not alone in trying to persuade historically apathetic young people to become more political. At the end of this month the Ministry of Sound, the successful club in south London, will launch its own cinema-advertising campaign aimed at making politics seem more relevant to young people and to make the older generation more aware of the issues that concern them.

The intention is not to persuade the young to vote a particular way but to make politics more understandable and to make them realise that they have a part to play in politics. Topics to be covered include homelessness, gay rights, racism and unemployment, and stem from surveys carried out at the Ministry asking the clubbers which issues most worry them.

Mark Rodell, managing director for the Ministry, said that out of 15 political issues these were the ones that young people were most worried about.

A Central Office spokeswoman confirmed that the Conservatives were exploring new ways of winning the youth vote.

"There are several things we are doing which have yet to be revealed," she said, adding that the aim was to better last time's 40 per cent figure.