© Blue Beyond 2019.

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Happy half-birthday, Blue Beyond

Director of Blue Beyond, Luke Robert Black, has written a short piece about the organisation, which he founded and set up 6 months ago this week

The residual hangover from the night before slowly kicks in. The sinking, dull dread of seeing your boss in less than twelve hours starts to materialise and, before you know it, you’ve demolished the lion’s share of the Ben and Jerry’s in your freezer and wasted the evening scrolling through your social media feeds.

Yes, it’s Sunday evening. That sweet spot of unstructured time, ‘hanxiety’ and Twitter feuds – because all the best (and indeed worst) Twitter feuds take place in the endgame of the weekend. It was on an evening like this that I decided to set up Blue Beyond, a grassroots think tank working to broaden access to the Conservative Party’s youth wing, beyond London and Westminster.

Blue Beyond began as a Twitter thread

Feeling ignored, underappreciated and disengaged by the Conservative Party’s youth wing, a sixteen-year-old was seven tweets deep into an argument with a parliamentary staffer. Outlining the propensity for events to take place in London, their tendency to centre almost entirely around binge drinking and, most importantly, often far too expensive to get to travel to or attend, the young activist was soon outnumbered by a small, but articulate group of parliamentary staffers.

Appalled by the patronising tone and inability to see the financial barriers to many activists, I contacted the activist and listened to his concerns and began to research others’ views. Fast forward to just under two thousand members, three thousand followers and a team of nearly twenty engaged young people from all over – be it Swansea, Bolton, Moray or Skye – it’s clear that this young activist wasn’t alone.

I then began to research what Young Conservatives were thinking, tweeting out some of the results in May 2019:

  • Only 35.1% of 613 Young Conservatives polled said that they attended YC events

  • 45.2% of 613 Young Conservatives polled said that it was ‘virtually impossible for them to get their voice heard’

  • Only 2.4% of Young Conservatives polled said that they felt ‘very connected to the youth wing’

  • When asked to describe the youth wing. 519 Young Conservatives described it as ‘cliquey’, 450 described it as ‘careerist’ and 398 described it as ‘exclusive’

  • Female activists often spoke of going to events in which they were often the only young female in attendance

  • Some activists felt that the youth wing was a “London club”, with 80% of all those 613 initially polled mentioning London when describing the youth wing

The response was mixed, and I was instantly attacked online by hordes of fake accounts, twitter trolls and accused of setting up a “tory youth trade union”, a moniker which I’m since rather proud of. Even an ex-boyfriend then working in Westminster, from half a decade ago, was mentioned and harrassed, with anonymous trolls stalking photos of us online and implying that he’d been speaking ill of me to MPs, staffers and saying that I was “thick as s**t” anyway”.

Here I was, as reported in Politico, merely sharing the results of the only survey of its kind and being attacked for the opinions of others. It was, in all honestly, extremely horrible:

Anonymous twitter accounts soon began to privately message me

It became needlessly personal too

I understand that this wasn’t pleasant reading for those in the party’s functions, but, and even if what these activists say isn’t true, the perception that the youth wing caters mostly to London was there – and that needed change.

Since this incident, I’ve found much of what these activists said to be true. Here are just a few examples:

  • Blue Beyond, where the official youth wing seems unable to do this, tracks and hunts down events for Young Conservatives and publishes it on its website, here. Yet, PMO Analyst Patrick O’Connor was unable to find even just one event taking place in the whole of Wales for Young Conservatives.

  • 1 in 5 YCs said that they didn’t have a YC branch near them, and, when assisting members set up branches in Cornwall, Yorkshire and Scotland, support from the party has been patchy.

  • Almost 80% of the media opportunities advertised to me for Blue Beyond members have been in one of three Westminster locations.

  • In a private meeting with a senior figure of the party to gauge ‘youth views’, all Young Conservatives in attendance except one individual either formally worked for the party or were currently working for the party in London

Plenty to change, for sure. Luckily, the Conservative Party was keen to meet us, work with us and address our concerns. Such is the power of Twitter that I soon found myself sat, in the Conservative Party’s headquarters, presenting the findings of a survey to Brandon Lewis MP, the Party Chairman, and, most importantly, Nigel Huddleston MP who shared my concerns and really supported us throughout the early days of Blue Beyond.

Soon we were invited to the final leadership debate, being asked to introduce the candidates on TV and at hustings, in photos with the Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson, we were on Talk Radio, Sky News, the Victoria Derbyshire Show, BBC News, Channel 4, ITV, the Spectator, LBC and even in academic journals. New faces, from all over the UK, were getting a chance to feature on TV or Radio, and it wasn’t the “usual faces” that the YCs kept talking about in our surveys.

Conference calls with Penny Mordaunt MP were set up, the first ever Youth Conference of its kind was organised, and placed in the Midlands, and we started to see more MPs going out to visit YC branches and university associations. I’d like to think that our pressure on the party has helped in some way to drive this change, although it would be impossible to substantiate this.

What is possible to substantiate, is the rapid pace with which Blue Beyond has grown. It has juggernauted ahead since then. I soon realised that I needed a team, who I am very lucky to have, that have turned what was just an idea into a movement of nearly 2,000 young Tories.

A few of the team I’m privileged to work with: (L-R) Me, Nicole Richer, Bhavika Popat, Deanna Hallett, Ryan Baldry, Olivia Lever

So, what is Blue Beyond? Yes, it's a grass-roots initiative that was born out of the frustration felt by many Young Conservatives who are based outside of London. Yes, it's a few thousand young activists who have come together to work for a brighter future for the youth wing. And, yes, it seeks ​to push the youth wing to be less London-centric, to promote greater engagement with youth activists in policy making and to give all activists equal access to the party.

But it's many more things too. It’s a WhatsApp Group (Be that A, B, C, D, E, F or G), an Instagram account, a twitter page, a weekly feature on a member, a blog, a buddy scheme, an internship recruiting ground, a Young Tory polling source, a meme factory, a media training team, an opportunity creator, a CV clinic, a campaign creator and a support network if you’re the only tory in your town. For many, and I include myself in this, it’s like a new family.

But don’t take it from me, check out the #imabeyonderbc hashtag and see for yourself:

So, happy half-birthday Blue Beyond. Here’s to another 6 months.

Luke Robert Black