It’s a well-known fact amongst pollsters and psephologists, that for the Tory party, under 40’s are an elusive demographic to say the least. Seemingly, try as they might, they simply lack the power to rally youth support. It’s a chronic weakness, and on the face of it, a perplexing one; the youth, it is easy to imagine, should be the demographic most hungry for success, most thirsty for power and professional momentum, most eager to buy a home, most eager to become the best, and least happy about paying tax.
As always, and usually with symptoms, there are causes, and the causes of this scarcity of under 40 support are often obvious, plentiful and frustratingly, persistent.
Where to start? Perhaps with my own limited experiences as a now 25 year old conservative thinker would be best, and I can start with one word: insular. The party is so insular it is unbelievable. They only allow certain, safe types to stand, in not just general but local elections. There is a hierarchy which renders new faces impossible to field as candidates. I was eager, well known in my ward, full of enthusiasm and importantly, a YOUNG TORY FACE looking to get involved in front line politics, aswell as a working lad with a history of working in the town and being involved in town life, and I was told I’d have to wait my turn, that other candidates had served their time and were due to be stood in safe wards. I have tried contacting MP’s for jobs, internships, anything resembling experience or advice and have been met with anything from nothing at all to being simply too male or white in the face of all this hollow, grotesque, abrasive pursuit of “equality and diversity” which plagues our political landscape at the moment.
Though I understand this, it seems awfully blind and terribly lacking in foresight or political tenacity. From my perspective aswell, it was a big F- you to my enthusiasm, simple as. I wasn’t given the opportunity to stand, I wasn’t even considered. I was cast aside, and it wasn’t so much that it was disheartening- I still love politics and conservative thought- but it was cold, it was like they expected you to work for the party before the party did anything for you, a drastic misunderstanding of the precedence around which politics should be structured; the political party should work for you, not the other way around. It should be a way for the ideologies upon which it is founded to spread, far and wide. It shouldn’t be a vessel of conceited and back handed personal career expansion, it should be a vessel of open and forthright ideological conviction. This arrogant idea that the party is a mechanism to old boy power is PRECISELY one of the issues they need to deal with to gain not just youth support, but working class support aswell.
Which brings us to the second issue: perception. The Tory party seemingly wants to shed this perception that they are a party catering to just a few rich pricks with power, money and London property, or that they hate the working class (for whom they have increased wages incrementally over the years at the same time as increasing personal allowance and lowering taxes), or that they are insular toffs with archaic and insular toffic attitudes towards everything, self-serving to the core and uncaring of the nuances of ideology or the wants of the electorate.
And yet, they do nothing to do this. They constantly employ the same wooden personalities, old boys and Oxbridge Etonians into positions of power. They push false narratives that they can use for cheap rhetorical capital, like the Sajid Javid “what can the tory party do for a working man from Rochdale” farcicality (though I welcome any Eurosceptic to the cabinet, especially into that position). They push awful policy, of increased state presence, stealth taxation, decimation of individuality, and fall ideologically somewhere between won’t try, can’t see and don’t care.
Thirdly, and due to a lack of willing to involve this new, young, raw talent, this image not only persists, it incubates in an atmosphere of stale imagery. The only youth you seem to see wearing blue (and don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that this is the only youth that IS wearing blue) are the classic archetypical Tory boys. Granted, a lot of this is engineered by the left-wing media to perpetuate this perception, but not only do the right-wing media struggle to challenge it with any real bite, the party themselves make no honest effort to address it. Its always wooden, always feels forced.
They provide no ideological home; Corbyn’s Labour, the SNP and UKIP all saw their support swell in the face of consistent and different, pronounced ideological direction and conviction. The Tory party, on the other hand, constantly say one thing and do another, without ever properly justifying it or explaining it beyond party line rhetoric; they’re wet. Immigration targets? Never mind. Leave the customs union? Seemingly, they’re doing all they can to not do. Can’t spin the “dementia tax”, even though it was actually quite a sound proposal? Lets just scrap it. British bill of rights? Never mind, Mrs. May wanted to be leader so to the ECHR we go.
May has no conservative tenacity; the party has no conservative tenacity. Young people are drawn in to the idea of being a part of something, the idea of having ideological direction, and the idea of being able to express their views and get involved in persisting them. The conservative party should be frantically trying to field under 30’s for positions on councils, not drowning them out with party line rhetoric and making them “wait their turn”. Their turn is decades away, and they will have long left before they are offered their time to shine.
What is the point in devoting your life to a party that only sees fit to “reward” you when you are nearing your political twilight? More than that, who do the Conservative party think talks, on a regular basis, to the Corbyn voting ardently socialist youth of today, particularly in run down, labour fetishist northern mill towns? Because it sure as hell isn’t the 60 year old councillor you just “elected”. It is the conservative youth that works with them, goes drinking with them, plays sports with them, studies with them. We have the platform to challenge these rising socialist tsars, we have a theatre which the older generations could never capture; we have an audience with differing opinion and are on the front lines of this “labour youth surge”, and yet we are given no platform to fight it, we are largely ignored and brushed to the side lines.
The Conservative party will no doubt try and challenge this point, producing articles and statistics to assure us that actually, young people are shifting to the party. But even if they are (and in labour towns- the places the conservative party need to harbour and encourage support the most- they certainly are not) that doesn’t mean the Tories are actively trying to involve young people in anything other than hollow party activism and campaign monkey work. They aren’t fighting to involve young people in the party, or give them front line presence, even in the face of audacious enthusiasm; they are too short sighted and entrenched in their thinking to see that campaigning and monkey work will follow encouragement. They are too arrogant to realise that youth support cannot be assumed, and that enthusiasm is easily killed in the face of zero engagement.
Which is where Labour and the SNP have them firmly beaten. Labour and the SNP encourage young people to support them. They spin their message in an easy and palpable way so as to engage interest and then field them as candidates and party faces wherever possible. The young voice is the most audible on social media, and social media is the exclusive weapon of the left. The Tories don’t even try to rebalance the rhetoric, as though they couldn’t care less.
Essentially, the Tory party is abrasive to young voters. It is abrasive, and it feels hostile to youth success within the party. When young people feel not only unrepresented, but actively ostracised, it stands to reason that they would be hostile to the idea of conservatism and the Conservative party (even though many young people have conservative principles), when all they ever see of it is alien to them. Labour captured the youth vote, and they know how to harness that power effectively. The Conservatives on the other hand show no interest to the youth vote aside from overt desperation for their support, have no idea how to harness youth enthusiasm, and have no platform from which the conservative youth can proudly voice their support for the Conservative party and conservative ideals. It could prove fatal to the Conservative party, and you know what, it would almost be refreshing if it did.