Young Britain: Caring, sharing generation spurns two-party system

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The Independent Online
The Liberal Democrats are poised to claim the lion's share of young Britons' votes. The next generation - socially liberal, backing higher taxes for the rich and more state spending - is instinctively closer to Paddy Ashdown than Tony Blair, suggests 2020 Vision, a survey of 10,000 young people exclusively previewed in The Independent.

The votes of this generation could swing the next general election. Their beliefs suggest that Labour has a problem - it may need to shift left and towards a more liberal agenda to capture new voters.

Nearly two-thirds want to tax high earners more, an option previously rejected by Gordon Brown. In keeping with Paddy Ashdown's manifesto, four out of five want the extra money for education. Second on their spending wish list comes the National Health Service, which two-thirds feel deserves higher funding. Way down the order of priorities are the police and the armed forces. Roads come bottom.

Young Britons are, however, self-reliant, in keeping with the Thatcherite strictures in which they were raised - a small minority back higher benefits. Their social liberalism contrasts with authoritarian tendencies within Thatcherism and, to some extent, Blairism. The majority want cannabis legalised, a move supported in the past on the floor of the Liberal Democrats' party conference, but which Labour recently ruled out. Young people are also strongly anti-racist. They reject the vilification of single parents, with the majority saying lone parents can raise children just as well as couples. On crime, they are more interested in preventive than punitive measures - most say that the police would be more effective if there was more respect between police and public. They blame family background and boredom for youth crime and think family values have the best chance of stopping young people breaking the law.

Klaire Lane, 19, a student at the University of Edinburgh, voted for the Lib- Dems in May. "They seem to make practical sense. hey don't make promises about not raising taxes and that makes them more realistic than the other parties," she said.

A picture emerges from the research of a generation broadly in sympathy with centrist policies and an emphasis on reducing social deprivation. More than half say unemployment is the most urgent problem which needs to be tackled, while two in five identify homelessness as the most pressing issue and nearly half say the drugs problem should be at the top of the Government's agenda. Pollution is way down the list of priorities.

Nearly nine out of ten of this generation, are however, politically inactive, regarding Westminster's present two-party system as a turn off. Many of the issues, which preoccupied earlier generations, such as nuclear disarmament, no longer feature as important.

Tracey Cook, 24, from Bradford, believes her generation are interested in issues closer to home, which have direct relevance to young people's lives. "There are lots of issues which Westminster is not addressing because they are speaking with one voice. The two-party system doesn't allow us to do anything for ourselves. Both parties lay the blame of society's ills at our door. They say young people are part of the moral decay and because we don't generally vote that goes unchallenged," she said.