Last night I was elected as President of the Southampton University Conservative Association. We need to build a Conservative Future, particularly a Conservative Future for Southampton, and as President of SUCA that is exactly what I intend to do.
There is a stigma attached to being a Tory, and this is a problem that we need to address as a group. Yes, people vote for our Party, and yes, people agree with our policies, but they are afraid to admit it. Even I, a long-time supporter, voter and campaigner find myself hesitating before answering the question, ‘And which Party do you support?’ We must do more to combat the stigma.
Students are not as left-wing as people think. There is a common misconception of students as being left-wing utopians, persistently protesting and generally not being, well, conservative. Nonetheless this is a perception which is both false and alarming, and yet it is a conception of students which is ultimately borne out in public. But that is because of the stigma. Conservative students are a unique breed, we get far more grief than any other political group and accordingly there is a tendency to duck the pressure and simply stay silent. That would certainly be the easiest route to take, especially where popularity is concerned. This is, fundamentally, the problem. We have raised generations of Conservatives who are accustomed to being cautionary when discussing politics, who aren’t willing to put their head out and defend and campaign for Conservatism.
My generation must address this.
Conservative Societies at University both reinforce and highlight the problem. The only members being the active campaigners, the only activities being actively campaigning. This is alienating in itself, in particular to the Shy Tories so often encountered at university (and there are far more than we are given credit for). Conservative Future and its many branches and affiliates (including university societies) should be doing so much more to engage with our student members on a personal level. Rather than just offering them campaigning, campaigning and campaigning, let’s tailor an experience which leaves students with fond memories of the Party, and a route into the more active stuff.
I love campaigning, but then I love elections, and I love politics. Other Conservatives are not as keen, particularly at university where the ‘old boys club’ image of our Party is damaging, and it is these that we should be appealing to. We need more socials, more events, more opportunities for a CV. We need to show aspiring politicians that there is a route into politics. We need to show aspiring campaigners that every individual can make a difference. But most importantly, we need to show the loyal members of the future that the Party can offer them so much (particularly if we want them to part with hard earned cash).
Our image is divisive and corrosive. We have been the Nasty Party for so many years, not because that is what we are, but because too few people are willing to stand up and fight for the Conservative Party.
I am proud to be a Conservative. I have always believed that Conservatism is about enabling everyone to fulfil their fullest potential, and supporting those who (for whatever reason) cannot. I am proud to support aspiration. To support working people.
At the moment, when we are at our most divided, I am proud to support a Party of inclusivity. A Party who can have these disagreements and emerge from them stronger. We are the Conservative Party, let’s help more people stand up and say that.
Together we can build a Conservative Future for Southampton.