New UK voters want reassurance on jobs, debt
Sat, 27 February 2010
By Kylie MacLellan - The open minds of many of the four million Britons voting for the first time in an election due by June make them prime targets in what is shaping up to be the closest poll in almost two decades. Credible plans to create jobs, freeze university tuition fees or protect the environment could sway the youth vote since many are still open to persuasion and have not yet adhered to family party loyalties or formed deep-seated convictions.
Previous trends show young people, who can vote at 18, tend to favour Labour, but negative feeling towards Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his government over Britain's economic woes mean this year's first-time voters will likely be more divided. Labour has been in power since 1997. The opposition Conservatives' lead over Labour has narrowed in recent weeks, increasing the possibility of a hung parliament, in which no party has overall control.
Born between 1987 and 1992 — a period including the final years of Margaret Thatcher's premiership, a recession and the last Conservative election win — the first-timers have little or no memory of life under anything other than Labour. "There will be quite a lot of dislike towards the current government from people in my situation," said graduate Kathryn Birch, 22, who spent 12 months unemployed or in temporary jobs and unpaid internships before finding permanent work in London.
"You feel a little bit let down," she added. "You've come out of university ... and you think you are in quite a good position and then nothing comes along." Young people entering the jobs market for the first time have been particularly hard hit by Britain's longest recession on record. Flexible working practices have helped many firms limit redundancies, but most have halted recruitment.
Paul Whiteley, Professor of Government at the University of Essex, said smaller parties could pick up support among young voters who are unconvinced by either of the two main contenders. "The problem is that the parties, in terms of young people, aren't really different," he said. "Basically the message coming across to the wider public is (spending) cuts."
The Green party, seeking its first seat in parliament, will be one beneficiary of such voter disaffection, with many first-time voters seeing the environment as an important issue that has been put on the backburner by the mainstream. Britain's third biggest party, the Liberal Democrats, who could hold the balance of power after the election, will look to build on past support among younger voters, according to Roger Mortimore, head of political research at pollsters IPSOS Mori.
With the average debt of British students who started university in 2009 expected to top £20,000 ($30,850) by the time they graduate, the Liberal Democrats' intention to eventually remove tuition fees could tempt young voters. While coming up with credible plans to support young people will be a difficult task at a time when public spending cuts are required, the potential benefits of making the effort to woo first-time voters could reach far beyond this summer's election.
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