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A new generation of political interest?

PUBLISHED: 18:20 28 April 2010 | UPDATED: 10:30 12 August 2010

ENTHUSED: Teacher John Bartlett talks about the party leaders to his A-level class at Orpington College.

ENTHUSED: Teacher John Bartlett talks about the party leaders to his A-level class at Orpington College.

FIRST-time voters have told how the historic leadership debates have inspired them to vote in the general election, as national figures show a surge in new voter registrations. A-level students and lecturers at Orpington College, in the Walnuts, Orpingto

FIRST-time voters have told how the historic leadership debates have inspired them to vote in the general election, as national figures show a surge in new voter registrations.

A-level students and lecturers at Orpington College, in the Walnuts, Orpington, spoke exclusively to the Times about what the general election means to them in the run up to the national poll.

Figures published by the Electoral Commission show that 500,000 registration forms were downloaded from its website, and that 40 per cent of the site's visitors were aged 18 - 14.

A-level student Harry Shand, 18, said: "I knew that I wanted to vote but I had no clue who to vote for, so I had to collect information on what each party stands for.

"The debates have opened my eyes because you can get a grip on what the politicians want to do, and find out what relates to you."

Marketing apprentice Jess Bridson, 19, said: "I'm not interested in watching the leadership debates because I don't think they really apply to me.

"I am going to vote for the Lib Dems. They want to tax people like me less. Labour have been in for a while and it's time for a change."

Ibrahim Ali, 18, said: "The Labour policies seem to make sense. I have friends who will vote BNP because they don't know what they really stand for. There is a lack of information about all parties."

John Bartlett, head of economics at Orpington College, says there is a clear buzz about the campus since the ITV leaders' television debate on May 15.

He said: "I hear a lot of talk amongst my students about the election, far more than usual.

"It is the debates that did it. Without them the election was very dull, especially for young people, and with them it has suddenly become public property.

"It gives Nick Clegg huge exposure which he would otherwise struggle to get."

When asked by the Times whether they had seen the debates, 13 of the 20 in Mr Bartlett's A-level economics class had seen part of the them and nine thought Nick Clegg had come out on top.

One student said: "Clegg spoke like he knew what he was doing, but it's all about what he will do.

"David Cameron did well too as he spoke about what matters to us."

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, speaking on the second televised debate last Thursday, said: "The great thing about these debates is that it's exciting young people about politics.

"Young people have felt really turned off by old party politics, but now they're beginning to think we can do something different. Get stuck in! Assert your right to shape your own future. We can make this election one of the most exciting in a very long time."

"With all parties planning cuts to public services, and with further and higher education first in line for a trim, this general election will be as important as ever to first time voters.

Student Ali Shan-Lafiz, 18, however is still confused: "They're all planning to make cutbacks for the budget deficit. I don't see any difference because they're all going to do the same thing.

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