Britain's Students Hold Euro-Elections

Younger voters turn out to be more liberal

British teenagers lean toward the opposition Labour Party and show little affection for the ruling Conservatives. They are also more enthusiastic voters on European questions than their parents, and many are pro-environmental protection.

The political preferences of teens between 15 and 18 were tested in a nationwide mock poll in the 87 Euro-constituencies contested by adult politicians in last week's ``real'' vote for the European Parliament.

More than 80,000 pupils in 250 schools throughout the country took part in the mock election, which was run along the lines of a regular poll, complete with voting stations, monitors, and a central results desk in London.

David Harris, director of the Hansard Society, a charity that promotes parliamentary government, says the mock election was the biggest educational project of its kind ever held here.

``It showed that young people have clear ideas on European politics,'' he says. Voter participation of more than 50 percent was a good deal higher than that for the adults' Euro-elections.

Britain was the only European Union country to hold a mock Euro-poll by students. Results announced over the weekend showed the Labour Party winning 50 Euro-seats, the Liberal Democratic Party 18, and the Green party eight. The Conservative Party won only three seats. The five other winners represented parties in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Robert Worcester, chairman of MORI, a leading opinion polling organization, says it was clear there was little political apathy in British schools: ``There's nothing like an election to excite interest in participative democracy.''

Mr. Worcester says the outcome of the real Euro-election in Britain is likely to be better for the Labour Party than the students' vote suggested, but Conservatives would do better also.

Adults voted in the Euro-election on June 9. Ballots in Britain and the EU's 11 other member states were being counted last night and today. British voter turnout was expected to be not much higher than 30 percent, Worcester says.

While British school pupils were giving their adverse verdict on the Conservative Party, voters in five by-elections for the national Parliament rammed the message home. Four of the Westminster seats went to the Labour Party.

In a fifth contest at Eastleigh, in southern England, voters overturned a large Conservative majority to make the Liberal Democrat candidate the clear winner. The Labour Party came in second and the Conservatives a poor third.

The result, Kenneth Clarke, chancellor of the exchequer, concedes, was ``bad news'' for the government. He says he is ``not traveling hopefully'' toward the announcement of the results of voting for the European Parliament.

Sir Norman Fowler, Conservative Party chairman, says: ``These are very disappointing results.''

In the last Euro-Parliament, the Conservatives had 32 seats, but a MORI exit poll conducted in London on June 9 suggested that the party's tally could fall as low as 10 or worse when votes were counted.

The pronounced swing against the Conservatives in the by- elections produced a wave of optimism in the opposition Labour Party, which has been out of power for 15 years.

On Saturday, Tony Blair, the shadow home secretary, entered the contest for the Labour Party leadership, which will be decided next month. Mr. Blair is the front runner. Other candidates are John Prescott, the party's employment spokesman, and Margaret Beckett, who has been acting party leader since the death of John Smith last month.

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