Youth snubs the polling booth

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 April, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 April, 1997, 12:00am

A VIDEO projected on to a wall in the Ministry of Sound, one of London's hippest clubs, shows a neo-Nazi ranting about the need to reclaim Britain for whites.

'Use your vote, because he'll use his,' says the caption.

It is one of the few efforts being made to lure Britain's virgin voters, as they have become known, into the polling booths on May 1.

It follows findings by opinion polls that perhaps 60 per cent of them may not bother to vote.

There is no compulsory voting in Britain - and after 18 years of Conservative rule, never has there been such apathy among young voters.

While the youth vote was large in the 1960s and '70s, British party activists now look with envy upon the political awareness of young people elsewhere in the world.

And the election campaign, with its extended news bulletins, and pages of coverage in every daily newspaper is proving to be a big youth turnoff.

Much of the problem is being blamed on the lack of differences between the three main parties, Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat.

All of them occupy the same centre ground this time.

It is not that today's young Britons are ignorant, more uninterested.

The recent toll of sleaze stories has led one poll to suggest that 95 per cent of young people eligible to vote for the first time think MPs are corrupt.

The crunch came when a government-funded survey of nearly 9,000 people born in the same week in 1970 found that 60 per cent of the men and nearly 75 per cent of the women had 'no interest' or were 'not very interested' in politics.

In a similar survey six years ago, the same question was put to 12,000 people born in 1958. Only 45 per cent of men showed such voter apathy and 66 per cent of women.

Besides the Ministry of Sound's video, other attempts have been made to get first-time voters to the polls.

Last summer, a Rock the Vote campaign by musicians to get young people to sign on to the electoral register brought in only a few.

Meanwhile, the Labour Party has offered GBP1 (HK$12.65) memberships to people under 21, and the Tories have held a first-time voter drive.

One new phenomenon is that the disenchanted seem to remain that way as they grow older.

It is expected that a significant proportion of 27-year-olds who took part in the latest survey will stay away from the polling booths this time round and in the future.

Social scientists say the group is apathetic because they have had a raw deal in employment terms in recent years, and they pass that on in their feelings towards politicians of whatever hue.

There is no real difference between the party standings - the apathy seems to extend across the spectrum.

In 1992 when John Major won, the turnout was 77.7 per cent, higher than for any of Lady Thatcher's three triumphs. On May 1 it is expected to be much lower.