The latest findings from Generation NEXT (the 15- to 21-year-olds surveyed by e-mail through the internet company another.com) reveal not so much radical youth as reasonable youth. While the nation, in the wake of the May Day events, frets about insurgent anarchists, our survey suggests that young people are more likely to ask everyone to calm down and talk things through over a cup of cocoa. On everything from foot-and-mouth to compulsory voting, our panel avoids extreme, or even obvious, responses.
Given the chance to lay blame for the foot-and-mouth crisis at the door of big business, only 19 per cent of our young people finger “supermarkets”, while 70 per cent put it down to “bad luck”. And 59 per cent agree with Tony Blair’s decision to delay the general election.
We asked our respondents to imagine William Hague and Blair as animals. Which animals would they be (see charts)? The Tory leader was compared to a sheep, reflecting his tendency to follow the crowd and jump on bandwagons. He was also described as a weasel (“opportunistic and without principle”), a snail (“going nowhere fast”) and a red squirrel (“soon to be extinct”).
Descriptions of the Prime Minister were generally kinder. He was described as a dog who is “everyone’s friend and ally”; a lion, “decisive and in control”; and a cat, “independent”. Other res-pondents suggested hidden flaws. Some saw Blair as a swan, “graceful in his element, clumsy out of it”; or as a chameleon, “conforming to the surroundings”. More self-explanatory suggestions included Cheshire cat for Blair and bald-headed eagle for Hague.
After Blair’s speech to faith communities in March, and Hague’s persistent courting of the God-squad vote, we asked our panel for their views on fraternisation between church and state. Open-minded to a fault, 80 per cent felt it was perfectly acceptable for politicians and religious leaders to get involved in each other’s terrain. We offered our sample the chance to criticise the monarch’s dual role as head of state and head of the Church of England. Most refused: 56 per cent thought it made no difference to anyone; only 31 per cent thought the dual role was wrong.
If anybody had hoped to repeat, on this side of the Atlantic, George W Bush’s success in appealing to the religious vote, they will be disappointed. A healthy majority of Generation NEXT happily accept that people of any religion or none are equally qualified to become prime minister.
Blair is viewed as the most religious of our top politicians (71 per cent). Ann Widdecombe’s public protestations of faith seem to have fallen on deaf ears. She attracts around the same religiosity rating as St Mo Mowlam, whose beatification among young people owes more to her views on cannabis and the monarchy than to traditional Bible-bashing.
Rampant moderation appeared again when we asked about the importance of animal welfare issues. More than 70 per cent of our panel don’t rate animal welfare in their top three issues.
Despite all the talk of voter apathy, and predictions of an unprecedentedly low turnout in the election, 81 per cent of Generation NEXT are against forcing citizens to go to the polling station. Those who favour compulsory voting suggest penalties that gently nudge, rather than force, people into the ballot box. The most favoured punishment was a small fine, with one respondent insisting that any fine be spent “on the NHS rather than on government”. A more imaginative idea was that non-voters be forced to listen to non-stop Steps or Hear’Say for a day.
The overall conclusion is that Generation NEXT holds back at taking a swipe at the most obvious figures of authority, such as the Queen or the Pope. But our politicians remain fair play.
Beth Egan is deputy director of Demos. The Generation NEXT survey is carried out by another.com in association with Demos and the New Statesman
Swan: graceful in his element, clumsy out of it (Tony Blair)
Tick: living off the opinions of others (Blair)
Red Squirrel: soon to be extinct (William Hague)
Dog: he is everyone’s friend and ally (Blair)
Cat: independent and likes prowling in the bushes (Blair)
Pig: eating pound notes from a swill bucket (Blair)
Lion: decisive and in control (Blair)
Chameleon: conforming to the surroundings (Blair); changes his colours (Blair)
Elephant: they never forget (Blair); argues and remembers well (Hague)
Weasel: opportunist and without principle (Hague)
Vulture: scavenging for trouble against Labour (Hague)
Snail: going nowhere fast (Hague)
Sheep: he runs from trouble but follows power (Hague); for his bandwagon jumping (Hague); definite follower (Hague)