There is No Moral High Ground

Politics has become incredibly adversarial. The abuse of people on all sides of the political spectrum is concerning and detrimental to constructive debate. If we are to have the mature discussions we need on the pressing issues of the day, then we need to clear up this misconception that there is a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’ side in politics.

Unfortunately, a lot of political debate has descended into dismissing the legitimacy of people’s perspectives because of the rosette that they wear. Nuance has been thrown aside in favour of black and white principles; pragmatism and consensus politics cast out in favour of virtue-signalling and grandstanding. Politics has generally become an unwelcoming environment.

Here’s the thing, you may think that politicians and activists in other parties propose policies that ruin people’s lives, that make them worse off, that make society a little bit worse, but that’s part of politics. Of course you don’t agree with the prescriptions of people from different ideological backgrounds, because everyone views society differently, everyone perceives there to be different problems that need addressing, and everyone comes up with a different solution to those problems.

Yes, you make think that the problems they identify are wrong, or the solutions they come up with are harmful, but they aren’t in it to be harmful. They are trying to make society a better place, they are trying to help people, and treating them like they are scum is unlikely to contribute much other than to hinder political discourse and to make them less willing to change their perspective.

By all means, debate policy with your opponents, but don’t descend into personal attacks because they have a different idea of what people need to improve their lives. Don’t cast doubt upon their desire to help people because of the rosette that they wear. There is no moral high ground in politics, there is no right answer in politics, there are only people doing their best to make people’s lives better, and you help absolutely no one by abusing and belittling them.

Politics is tough. People who are self-serving or who don’t want to help others are extremely unlikely to put themselves through it. If you are self-serving, then being in politics makes no sense, because you could earn far more and gain far more power in the corporate world than as a politician. If you don’t want to help others, then you are unlikely to dedicate the kind of time to politics that it requires to become an MP and even less likely to want to take on the 24/7 work of being one.

Ultimately abusing and dismissing people because of their politics makes society a much worse place. Abusing politicians and activists means that fewer people will try to engage in politics, and thus prevent a national conversation about anything. That will, in turn, lead to far more people who vote for parties other than your own staying quiet about their beliefs, making it much more difficult to convert them to your cause as you won’t know where they are coming from.

Furthermore, dismissing someone’s argument because of their party does nothing for policy-making. The best policies come from taking ideas from across the political spectrum and finding common ground. We all see ills in society and we all come up with solutions. If we work together to refine those solutions and identify those ills, we will make far greater improvements to people’s lives than if we yell past one-another.

Political disagreements tend to boil down to a few main differences: outcome vs opportunity, social liberalism vs social conservatism, socialism vs capitalism, etc. You don’t have the moral high ground if you are on one side of those differences. You don’t have some claim to being superior, or even correct, if you are on one side. There is no right and wrong in politics, there is only a collection of nuanced views on how to make the world a better place.

We need to stop trying to make politics into a question of who is helping people, and we need to go back to making it about how we help them.

We need a Conservative Youth Base

The 2017 General Election saw an unprecedented increase in both youth turnout and support for the Labour Party amongst the young. This was the result of more factors than simply a manifesto aimed at students, it was the result of a combination of Labour’s main strength and the Tories’ main weakness. Labour has a very good campaign machine, capable of turning out vast numbers of activists, they have exceptional social media presence and have been able to seize control of the narrative. They have also, crucially, managed not just to turnout young voters, but to turn them into active party members.

If Labour’s young supporters can be turned into activists and members at anything close to their current support rate amongst this group, then the Conservative Party will have a significant generational problem, with voters tied to the Labour Party through personal connections. We Conservatives need to urgently tackle this problem to build up our activist base and support amongst the young, or else our chances of winning majorities will continue to decline.

For starters, we need to recreate a youth wing to allow us to engage directly with young people. A youth wing, led by young people, can find ways to target young supporters and convert them into party members and activists, that a wider party organisation couldn’t. Focussed attention on young voters could spell a new generation of party activists that will enable us to take back the fight to Labour, on the ground and on the internet. A youth wing would also help to tackle the perception that young people are unanimously left wing, which would in turn reduce the effects of shy Conservatism, which acts as a form of activist suppression.

To get young people to buy into party membership, we will need to do more than just re-establishing the young wing though. Once it has been re-established, we will have to equip it with things that will enable it to turn people from conservatives to Conservatives. One of the main things young people want is a reason to join the party, and to feel like they are being listened to. A simple device to encourage young people to join the party, then, would be to create Youth Policy Forums where young people feel like they can influence party policy. We can also offer youth-specific networking events and other opportunities that will attract young people into the party, which require few resources but can build up a strong package to offer potential members.

We also need, as a party, to reclaim a social media presence. Students and young people are ideally placed to take a leading role in this, and a youth wing could have its own dedicated blog site for young Conservatives to share ideas. We’re a party of free speech, so encouraging ideological debate and discussion amongst young members will show people the diverse views held by Tories and open up a wider spectrum of conservatives to party membership. Young people having material to share in their social media spaces will also help to combat the left wing news sites which have become popular, such as The Canary, amongst this core demographic of voters.

Finally, we do need to provide more for young people in terms of policy. We need better ways of selling our existing policies, and we need to turn to low-cost yet more beneficial alternatives to Corbyn’s platform for the young. Examining ways that university and non-university education can be improved for young adults, improving opportunities for young people, encouraging house-building and supporting home ownership, and generally looking for pragmatic policy solutions to regain the support of vast swathes of young people.

If we do not act now, we risk a serious long-term problem for our party. We need some low cost, common sense approaches to improving our engagement with young voters. Most importantly, we need a youth wing again.

Educating People for Society, Not Just the Workforce

School is supposed to prepare you for the real world. Theoretically it gives you the skills and the experiences needed to survive and thrive in adulthood – otherwise why would we subject people to it? Except it doesn’t really prepare you for the real world. Remember that time you went to work and you spent all day listening to someone talk at you, while sat in a compulsively neat row of tables and chairs? No? What about that time you had to write down everything you knew about something that you were told eighteen months ago, without being able to use any notes or predict what exactly you would need to know? That doesn’t happen in the real world either?

At least school taught you useful things like how to rent a house, get a job, budget, apply for a mortgage, generally survive in the real world, right? Oh wait, it didn’t do that either. The schooling system isn’t there to prepare people for real life – if it is, it does a terrible job – it’s there to teach useful academic knowledge in an overly complex way and rank children with a number that indicates to an employer how valuable they are.

Exams are detrimental to education. They provide students with three months of stressful revision in order to condense two or more years worth of teaching into a handy two hour snippet of what a child can splurge onto a page. When you get mock exams or practice essays back, you aren’t told how to become a better writer, you don’t read the in-depth comments, you look at the number you get given: if it’s high enough, you pat yourself on the back and keep going how you were; if it’s too low you learn the mark scheme slightly better to score points off of pointless academic nuance that’s irrelevant to how well you know your topic.

The numbers exist so that employers and universities can score you. There’s a standardised (or roughly standardised) curriculum so that they can rank you against your peers. It provides a quick shortcut: universities and employers can look at those numbers and decide whether or not you are good enough. If you took away the numbers, what would the risks be? Children would be less stressed, they’d gain two or three months of extra teaching, the curriculum could be more varied and more difficult subjects taught at a more leisurely pace. The main risk seems to be demotivating people, but if you take away ‘reach x number of pupils getting x score’ from teachers’ objectives, then they could come up with ways to tailor their feedback and teaching to each student.

Employers and universities would have to do a little bit more work, true. They might have to read your personal statement or your covering letter in more detail, perhaps ask for an example of your work, maybe even come up with their own entry exam that reflects the skills needed at that institution, but that doesn’t seem a reason to subject children to being mere data entries on the great spreadsheet that is our education system.

You may, I expect, be wondering what the point of all this is? Well, as the BBC recently reported, students are emerging from the spreadsheet woefully under-prepared for university, and (I hypothesise from my own experience) the big wide world that they get thrust into the instant a piece of paper indicates they are ready.

That’s not really a surprise though, is it? Very few people emerge from the schooling system having learnt how to adult. Adulting is something that we are supposed to learn from our parents, or from our mistakes. They have a part to play, but our education system needs to do more to tackle our futures than sit us in a room and watch a teacher awkwardly tell a group of teenagers that sex is dangerous and drugs are bad.

PSHE is important, don’t get me wrong, it’s just inadequate and mal-managed. It teaches some stuff, but leaves you laughably unprepared. Proper life skills: what to expect at university, how to balance a budget, register for a doctor, rent a house, get a job, buy and cook healthy meals, register to vote – I could go on, but this would turn into a long list of things I’m not very good at, as opposed to an article arguing for serious reform – are things that remain largely absent from education, but seem to be necessary skills for people to have.

This is in part because of the skills that it aims to deliver, as mentioned, and in part because the environment isn’t suited to the delivery of such skills.

One of the main problems faced by life skills initiatives is that it only takes one disruptive pupil to reduce the benefit received by the other members of the group. Therefore the education system would have to come up with some way of ensuring maximal participation while at the same time allowing those pupils who have no interest in attending (and therefore would have received no benefits from simply being present) to not go. A shockingly revolutionary suggestion I know, but perhaps those, for whom it would be no benefit, because they wouldn’t listen, could go and do sport, or a library session, or simply choose another workshop that they are interested in. A little choice can make a massive difference, even if education largely precludes significant choice until you are old enough to get married.

Another revolutionary idea, but maybe not everything in school needs to be delivered by a teacher? I know, you’ve always wanted that guy who taught you ICT to teach you about drugs, but he doesn’t look like he wants to be here and, frankly, he stopped saying anything useful about 4 minutes into the first lesson. Sessions delivered by volunteers who actually wanted to be there and are passionate, rather than by teachers who were being forced to deliver something as dictated by the curriculum, would be conducive to students actually gleaning real-life hints and tips and getting a better understanding of key skills and issues.

It could be supported by events and practical sessions which gave real meaning to them and provided some form of end goal. The possibilities are endless and they would impart real benefit to young people and ensure that they leave the education system with at least a little bit of preparation for the real world.

Ultimately the problem faced by many is that they come out of education with academic skills and a lovely data entry on the spreadsheet at the Department for Education, but without the practical skills that they need to thrive in the real world. It is time that we started educating young people to be members of a society, rather than just educating them to be a part of a workforce and yet another data entry. If we treat them as individuals and give them vital skills that they can use for their whole lives, then we might see a real improvement in the lives and mental health of young people in our society.