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Friday, 25 May, 2001, 13:27 GMT 14:27 UK

Student voters confused and sceptical

Sitting in the sunshine between lectures, sipping cold drinks, students at Bolton Institute did not seem too pre-occupied by the outcome of the general election.

John Prescott was said to be in town, but not even the prospect of a visit by a heavyweight politician seemed to generate any excitement.

Some opinion polls have suggested that many young people know next to nothing about the parties and their policies, and care even less about the outcome on June 7.

Not surprisingly, the young voters at this college were better informed than many, as one would expect of students in the final stages of degree courses.

Sceptical

But while these young people had little difficulty in naming the party leaders or the key issues, it was clear there was considerable scepticism about politics in general, and the ability of party leaders to deliver on their promises.

And while many of these students are registered to vote, they are not at all sure that a trip to the polling station will make much difference to their lives.

Julia Charles, a third-year psychology student, said she thought it was important that everyone should exercise their democratic right by voting on June 7.

But she admitted she did not know a lot about the progress of the campaign, and said she would become more interested if the politicians started talking about free student loans.

Burden

Michael McCready, a second-year sociology student from Chaddesden in Derbyshire, agreed that the financial burden on students was a big issue on campus.

"All the students here are in a fair amount of debt," he explained.

"I am quite interested in the election, but I don't really understand about the economy. I am more interested in human issues."

For Michael, that includes equality issues such as giving gay people the same legal status and tax benefits as married couples.

NHS concerns

Mide Norman, a 24-year-old from Lowestoft, is in the final year of a community studies course.

She had no hesitation in naming health as the key issue of the election.

"The NHS is in a disgraceful state, and the government needs to do something about it," she said.

"Politicians seem to make lots of promises over things like waiting lists, but they need to do more."

"Be honest"

Stephen Jackson, a 20-year-old psychology student from Ashton, in Manchester, said he hadn't really been following the election campaign.

"I think the political parties are all as bad as each other," he said.

"Politicians should do what they say they will do, and at least be honest and admit when they have made a blunder.

"I went to a local party meeting once, and they said a lot of things, but nothing ever happened. So I probably won't vote."

Confused

Someone who definitely intends to exercise her democratic right is Victoria Hollis, a 21-year-old sociology student from Wallasey, on Merseyside.

"I'm registered at my Mum's home and I want to vote, but it is confusing," she said.

"I have been watching it on TV, programmes like Question Time, but Blair seems to dance around the issues. Hague and Kennedy seem like they are being more honest.

"I think it is refreshing when politicians are honest and say they are prepared to do something, like Kennedy on tax.

"There isn't enough honest politics. I would like to see less bickering between the parties. They don't talk to people enough, and I would like the opportunity to ask them things."

For many young people across the country, this will be their first opportunity to vote in a general election.

Yet judging by feelings on the Bolton campus, they are already seriously disillusioned with politicians, and may need some convincing about the importance of their votes.

All the political parties should find that a little worrying.


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