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For many young Conservatives, we’re all en marre of this leadership campaign

Updated: Jul 31, 2019

An old friend in France recently reached out to me: “exciting times in the UK, no?”. Hardly. If anything, the entire leadership campaign for my party’s leadership has been devoid of excitement; juggernauting through our smartphone screens via an obsession with recreational drug usage, this campaign – shortened to merely favour established candidates – has been awash with uninspiring manifesto ideas and commentary. And for all it’s worth, we can’t even trust two of our biggest television news stations to host a fair debate. So, if anything, I explained to Philippe, j’en ai marre – I’m fed up.

Firstly, much of the campaign acts to pretend as if nothing has happened since 2017. Whilst this may be true of our exit from the European Union, this cannot be said for policy and government elsewhere. That would not just be factually incorrect, but it would also be a discredit to MPs, ministers, civil servants, campaigners and any other policy actors involved in the relevant issue network or policy community.

Employment is at a record high. In fact, it hasn’t been higher since the early 1970s. Labour’s uncontrolled borrowing and deficit are significantly reduced. Wages continue to rise, especially for those on the lowest incomes, and 80% of the millions of jobs created since 2010 are full-time. There are more women in work, more young people in work, more low-income earners free from the burdens of tax entirely. Despite the uncertainty around our exit from the EU, our businesses continue to thrive. There are also now more children from disadvantaged backgrounds at university than ever before – with more children in good or outstanding schools than ever before. NHS spending is at a record high. Huge progress has been made in modern slavery, mental health, forced marriages, female genital mutilation and upskirting.

Huge progress has been made in women's rights such as Female Genital Mutilation (Prime Minister Theresa May pictured here with Nimco Ali OBE)

Therefore, I am indeed fed up of hearing that ‘it’s just been about Brexit since 2017’ because it really hasn’t. Sky News might be obsessed with Brexit, but I am certainly not.

Yet, and beyond the often unfairly disavowed successes of the May years, the campaign for her replacement has hardly been awe-inspiring. With exciting and radical candidates, many of whom still young, female, or BAME, such as Dominic Raab, Andrea Leadsom or James Cleverly, we were left with four men who have been involved in government in some way or another since 2010. The campaign has been treated by key media figures such as George Osborne as a Johnsonian coronation from the very moment that Andrea Leadsom resigned. Throughout this entire campaign, young Conservatives voices have been ignored and forgotten.

A wordcloud based on 611 respondents to the question ‘How would you describe the leadership campaign?”

This is visible not just in the lack of policies aimed at young Conservatives, but also the lack of direct engagement with the youth wing, if at all, from some of the MPs who have helped whittle down the candidates. Housing, to take one example and despite now one of the biggest issues in this country, was seldom mentioned by any of the leadership candidates – bar Liz Truss, who sadly didn’t run for the leadership herself.

Why is this important? Because a fair few young people are voting for the Labour Party. Whilst I don’t’ dispute that some young people do yearn for a more social democratic style of government, I can tell you for sure that very few want to install an antisemitic socialist, buoyed on by an exclusively London-based cohort of inexperienced and frankly embarrassing (see Rebecca Long-Bailey or even Diane Abbott) front-bench.

Young people aren’t biologically predisposed to socialism. Their enjoyment of the advances that capitalism has brought us – such as a free press, freedom of speech, advances technology and Deliveroo – tell us otherwise. We must therefore show young people how capitalism, property rights, liberty, freedom and low taxes can create a society and strong economy that works for everyone. This will be a very hard pitch to sell, when even moderately affluent millennials are unable to get on the property ladder or rent a property that doesn’t cost half of their monthly salary.

For weeks, Boris and Hunt were outperformed substantially by younger, less established candidates in polls of 500-650 Young Conservatives

“But Conservative Party members are all old men!?!” You hear Anna Soubry and Heidi Allen cry, even if this didn’t at all seem to bother them when they stood from the ‘old male pensioners’ party’ in several elections. You see, I’m fed up of this narrative too, not only because of the unfair light it puts my party in but also because it’s simply not true.

Yes, the average age of a Conservative Party member is 57 years old and I’ll tell you something for free, Labour’s isn’t quite the youthquake you’d expect at 54 years of age either. So why do journalists, political commentators and MPs throw such a weight behind this three-year different? I’ll leave that to you to decide.

But it’s not just me. At Blue Beyond, we have been polling young party members for weeks now and identified a variety of key trends:

1. Young Conservatives want someone truly new in No. 10

2. They are keen for female, BAME or just simply younger candidates

3. They want radical and aspirational changes in the Treasury, lowering or abolishing some taxes entirely to boost business and to remove barriers to housing in a post-Brexit Britain.

4. They want housing to be addressed both for graduates and those at university – and were appalled by the Government’s poorly aimed review into university funding

5. They’re bored by the campaign and feel ignored by the media

6. They don’t think that the party is good at engaging with younger voters, or showing them how the Conservatives have delivered for them

Fundamentally, I, like many other Young Conservatives, are at a loss of knowing who to vote for. We are desperate for a new, fresh and exciting cabinet that’s full of new, young and diverse faces that is ready to embrace the UK’s future as it leaves the European Union. Many of us don’t doubt that Boris or Jeremy will make good Prime Ministers, we’re just hardly racing to our letterboxes to vote for them.

Luke Robert Black