If We Don’t Stand for Anything, We Might As Well Not Stand At All

After the surprise result of the 2017 General Election, a lot of Conservative activists have speculated as to how we might emulate the success of Jeremy Corbyn’s election machine, in such a way that shows that there are still lessons to be learnt from 2017. Those who have formed movements like ‘Moggmentum’ to coalesce around the traditionalist Jacob Rees-Mogg as a Tory Corbyn, or any of the ill-fated ‘Tory Momentum’ groups, which attempt to replicate the success of Momentum…somehow, have correctly identified some of the factors behind Corbyn’s rise, but have missed the most important ones.

Moggmentum, or indeed, any of the personality-driven campaigns which assert that the way to beat Corbyn is to replace Theresa May with someone more personable have successfully identified that one of Corbyn’s advantages is that people like him as a person. However, to attribute his relative success in the election solely to his being personable is to construct an imperfect picture of why people like Corbyn. People like him because he is seen as likeable, normal, in touch with the population, but even in an alternative reality where the Tories conduct the same campaign with a more Corbyn-esque leader, the result doesn’t change.

Likewise, while the ‘Tory Momentum’ groups have correctly identified that the structure of the Party and the sheer volume of Labour activists relative to our own significantly hindered our abilities in the election, the solution is not to form some Momentum replica. The arguments for structural reform of the party have been made time and again, and do not need to be covered here, and proper structural reform to maximise the incentives for people to join the party (a youth wing, better democratic structures, better campaigning etc.) will go some way towards improving our electoral performance. We both don’t need a Momentum replica – powerful autonomous allied organisations have the power to undermine the Party, as Momentum have done with things like Labour candidate selections; whereas most of the structural advantages of a Momentum style group could be gained through internal Party reforms – and wouldn’t be able to get a Tory Momentum, even if we tried to activate one.

The reason that Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum have been successful is that they stand for something. Since becoming Labour leader, Corbyn has had a very clear positive message and, like him or loathe him, people know exactly what he intends to do. Theresa May was very popular until the General Election campaign because she too had a positive message. Mayism was about improving things for the Just-About-Managing, increasing opportunity and making capitalism fairer.

Unfortunately, the election campaign brought a different message. The Conservatives emphasised that May was strong and stable without providing any sort of positive narrative as to why a Conservative government would be good for the country. Our manifesto focussed on issues of intergenerational equality and social justice, and yet we didn’t talk about that. The 2015 campaign saw similar policies backed by a positive message of socially and economically liberal governance.

By focussing alternately on how bad Corbyn would be and how strong and stable Theresa May is, we lost control of the narrative in its entirety. What we need in future is a positive narrative, emphasising our core principles. In 2017, we became so obsessed with Corbyn not winning that we made fatal electoral mistakes. Once the social care policy was in the manifesto we were always going to lose those voters who disagreed with it unless we could explain why it was necessary – if we could have tied it into a positive narrative around intergenerational equality we might have kept some of those who disagreed with the policy, and would decidedly have kept those who we lost by U-turning on it.

Mayism is inherently about intergenerational fairness and equality, and about expanding opportunity, and that should have been what the campaign focussed on. Cameronism emphasised liberal social policy and elements of intergenerational equality, and that was a far more potent campaign message that enabled us to seize control of at least our portion of the narrative. If May leads us into the next election, she will need a positive campaign message to win it. If we have to choose another leader, we should be looking for one with a positive vision for Britain that voters can get behind, not simply one who has mannerisms that are meme-able.

Corbyn did well because he stood for something, if we don’t stand for anything then we will lose the next election. Often it seems that we have become so obsessed with governing that we have forgotten to explain why it is good that we are in government. If we are to stay in government then we need a positive Conservative narrative, whatever angle it takes. Elections are more than slogans and smiles, they are about a vision for the country that the country can get behind – that is why Corbyn did well, that is why the Scottish Conservatives have done so well in recent years, it is also why populism has grown so much in the 21st Century.

We don’t need a Momentum, because without a positive narrative we won’t inspire the activists and the messages that allow Momentum to thrive. We don’t need a more personable leader, because we won’t be able to beat Corbyn without the narrative to compete with Corbynism. These things are all secondary priorities for the party: ultimately if we don’t stand for anything, we might as well not bother to stand at all.

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Polarised Politics Makes Society Worse

People with different political views to your own merely have different perspectives on how to make society better, rather than whether to make society better. If you believe that their policy prescriptions do nothing to improve society, or even make it worse, then challenge them on the policies that they propose, not their moral character. If we insist on an antagonised and tribal political environment, then we will only make society inherently worse.

Last week, a 2017 intake MP said that she isn’t friends with people of the opposite political persuasion because she believed that they are ‘ambivalent to the suffering of [her] constituents’. I would posit an alternative hypothesis: she believes that her opponents are ambivalent to the suffering of ordinary people because she isn’t friends with any of them. Those who actively and avowedly avoid social relationships with people of opposite political positions tend to have a fairly two-dimensional understanding of what it means to hold that position.

They make assertions about things they think people in that group believe without any nuance, and largely without being close to the truth. Because they have never had a conversation with a friend who holds that position they have no understanding of why those people think as they do, and they take the easy route into assuming that it is out of self-interest or ignorance, rather than being part of a more complex and three-dimensional set of political prescriptions for how society should run.

The reason that such a lack of understanding makes society worse is simple: it is only through discourse with people who have a different worldview that you can get a fully rounded impression of all of the issues in society, and the ways in which you might solve them. If every party operates in a policy echo chamber then they will isolate half the problem and attempt to solve that, without ever being aware of alternative problems or potential pitfalls in their plans. Worse than not listening, if a legislator truly believes that their opponents do not care about improving people’s lives, then they will dismiss any criticism of their policies out-of-hand, and society will suffer from poorer policy.

The same arguments as to why a government with a small majority is better than one with an overwhelming majority apply to why people need to accept that politics is not good vs evil but rather a group of people who identify different societal problems attempting to improve things. Policy is better when it is calmly and rationally discussed by political opponents, because getting an understanding of how your opponents think enables you to come up with better, more nuanced and more well-rounded approaches to improving society.

Another massive problem of an antagonised political sphere is that genuinely believing that political opponents are ambivalent to societal problems acts as a justification to abuse of those candidates – it is irresponsible of someone in a position of influence to promote such a belief. Believing someone doesn’t care is a requisite for sending them abuse and threats, so a society in which that belief is actively propagated is one where abuse of opposing candidates will become more prevalent. We saw a sharp increase in abuse of candidates of all political persuasions in the 2017 General Election, and such an atmosphere has massive negative implications for policy-making.

Abuse of candidates becoming a part of the political scene will actively put off potential candidates and activists, and may encourage those who do choose to engage in politics to become more guarded. That will mean that it becomes more difficult to get legislators with a wide range of backgrounds and ideas to run for office, and it will weaken the quality of the pool of legislators for voters to choose from. A less diverse and weaker group of legislators again reduces the effectiveness of policy-making, especially when coupled with legislators fearing abuse being much less willing to criticise policies.

Activist suppression is another outcome of polarised politics, which inherently reduces the effectiveness of politics as an institution. There is an attitude in modern politics that being a member of and volunteering for a party means that you support every single thing that party has ever done, unless of course it is the party that the person making the accusation is a member of. Broad-church parties grew out of the knowledge that sometimes your party leadership (and by extension, policy) will reflect a different strand of ideology to your own within the organisation.

Discouraging opponents from joining political parties by implying that they have to support all existing policy to do so is an inherently bad idea. Not only does it mean that the party you disagree with will become more inflexible in its approach, adopting an increasingly narrow ideological band of policies, with fewer contributors to policy discourse blunting its effectiveness and thereby worsening the policies that a government led by that party would pursue, but it also severely weakens your opponents. A strong party needs strong opposing parties in order to remain strong – opposition and finding chinks in policy are a crucial part of policy-making; while electorally weak opponents encourage the party you support to become sloppy (as epitomised, if a case study were needed, by the 2017 Conservative General Election campaign). We need our opponents to be sufficiently well-funded to give the party we support the encouragement to be at its best, and we need them to have sufficient party members to have well-rounded policy discussions.

From an objective point of view, the other reason that we should be actively encouraging our political opponents to join parties links back nicely to the reason you should have friends with opposing beliefs. In an echo chamber, we fail to understand why our opponents act in the way that they do, and in our failure to understand we assume the worst of their intentions. One part of political activism is to go out and talk to people about why they should support a certain party and to provide them with that understanding of why a party thinks the way it does. Good understanding of your opponents is crucial to solid political debate, and a large number of activists spreading that understanding improves both policy-making and tolerance of opposing views.

It is very easy to assume the worst of your political opponents. It is very easy to shun them and construct two-dimensional pictures of their views which fit with our own worldview. Politics isn’t easy, it isn’t two-dimensional, and our own view of society is but one piece of a much bigger jigsaw. In this time of antagonism, if you genuinely believe that members of another party don’t care about improving society, I would suggest going and talking to some of them – you’ll probably find that they care just as much as you, they just have come to different answers to the big political questions.

The Answer to the Trump Right and the Corbyn Left

The Trump Right and the Corbyn Left are significantly different on paper, but both are symptoms of the same kind of political problems. Trump rails against free trade and immigration; Corbyn against big multinationals, foreign property investors, and the free movement of capital that enables tax evasion. Their target market is the kind of people that academic scholars call the ‘losers of globalisation’ – those who see the world changing around them but haven’t seen the advantages, those who have been told about the prosperity brought about by globalisation but haven’t gotten any better off, those who see an establishment talking about life getting better but feel like life has gotten worse.

The benefits of globalisation are well-documented, but too little has been done to spread the resultant prosperity. Prosperity has been centralised: the primary beneficiary in the UK has been London, with rural areas and our smaller towns and cities not feeling the benefits. The primary beneficiary of economic development in many cities has been the city centre, with those on the fringes largely ignored.

For conservatives to fight the rise of figures like Corbyn and Trump, we need to find ways to help those who have heard about the benefits of globalisation, but not seen them for themselves. Fortunately, we are best placed to provide long term, viable solutions to spread the benefits of a changing world to everyone in our society: Corbynism consists of dangerously short-termist policies – throwing unsustainable amounts of money at a broken system, at the expense of massive national debt which will force future generations to deal with worse problems with far less money to play with; Trumpism is largely empty rhetoric, designed more to win office than to solve anything; but Conservatism has the pragmatism and the ideological tools needed to help spread the benefits of globalisation – primarily through our commitment to the spread of opportunity for all.

When proposing any solution, it is important to remember our social contract with future generations not to impact their living standards at the expense of our own. While Corbynism is happy to spend tomorrow’s money today, leaving higher taxes, higher debt and increased austerity for future generations, we must ensure that we invest in sustainable, long-term projects.

A policy priority for spreading opportunity to all must be investing in our rural regions and regeneration of urban areas. Infrastructural investment in better roads, improving existing housing stock and building new houses, and investing in facilities for businesses will be an important long-term way to bring opportunity to everyone. We need to invest in job-creation by bringing businesses to areas with low levels of employment by building business parks on brownfield sites and encouraging long-term economic growth by providing long, cheap contracts for businesses to move into those areas and providing rates relief based on the number of employees a business takes on.

As well as bringing jobs to disadvantaged areas, we need to find ways to get people from those areas to jobs elsewhere. As well as investment in roads, an efficient and regular system of public transport is needed. That means regular buses in rural areas and an extension of existing bus routes in urban areas to make them accessible to everyone. Means-tested bus passes should also be considered, as a way to increase the accessibility of public transport.

To truly transform our society and bring opportunity for everyone, we also need to revolutionise our education system. The hysteresis in human capital from long term unemployment can leave people unable to find work. Implementing new free adult education programmes to enable people without work to gain new skills or trades that will make it easier for them to find work would help us to expand opportunity, and change the mindset that education is the exclusive preserve of young people. These adult education sessions should be held in areas with high unemployment, to ensure that they are accessible to those who would most benefit from them.

Reforms to other areas of education are important as well. Reducing the focus on grades and making it about learning will lessen the strains of our education system on mental health, and reducing the emphasis on exams would allow people to learn all the way through the year, rather than school being reduced to learning largely irrelevant facts for three quarters of a year and then spending a significant chunk of the year with a series of exercises that test recall ability more than actual knowledge. Children deserve choice too. An education system that allows them to choose between a focus on technical education, a focus on a more academic education, or a comprehensive focus on both is one where children can better reach their potential and will be less dissuaded from seeking knowledge. The current education system is a poor fit for many pupils, so giving them a chance to have a different style of education where they can learn about something they are interested in will enable more of our young people to fulfil their human potential.

While we’re on the subject of education, something needs to be done to continue to improve the accessibility of higher education for disadvantaged students. Maintenance grants should be reintroduced, so that the cost of higher education for these students is more in line with their counterparts, and the interest rate on our student loans should be held at inflation, to reduce the anxiety such a loan will cause. More work also needs to be done to reduce the myths that have been perpetuated around student loans. Students have become steadily more concerned about the impact that student debt will have on their lives – in part because of unhelpful scaremongering rhetoric from those who oppose tuition fees – when it is in reality no different to a means-tested tax with a 30-year period and an upper limit on how much it will cost you.

As Conservatives we are the party of home ownership, and so this is another area where we need to do more to help people. Encouraging the development of housing on brownfield sites and renovating and redeveloping run-down social housing would be an important long term investment in our country’s infrastructure. State-run housing is unfortunately incredibly inefficient and poorly maintained, and so we also need to come up with a way of balancing the need to house people with the knowledge that them owning the house will increase their standard of living and housing quality. Help to buy has already achieved a lot here, but another solution might be to simply hand over the home to its tenants (if they so desire) and then take payments towards it in the form of a means-tested tax. Those earning too little to pay the upkeep would receive housing benefit, while those who could afford it would pay towards the value of the house until they had contributed a certain amount. This would remove the up-front cost associated with getting onto the housing ladder and could be used to help both disadvantaged households and first-time buyers.

Finally, it is important that we consider how we can spread opportunity when taking advantage of Brexit. Being outside the European Union’s Customs Union means that we will have lots of opportunities to secure free trade deals and encourage foreign direct investment. This increased globalisation will benefit our country as a whole, but it is also important to ensure that it benefits rural areas and urban areas which have been left behind by globalisation thus far.

The Corbyn Left and the Trump Right are ultimately two symptoms of a wider societal problem that conservatives are well-placed to solve. In an increasingly globalised world, too many people have heard about the benefits of globalisation without feeling any of them. Populism, whether from the left or the right, has empty rhetoric and short termist solutions; conservatism has the unique combination of pragmatism and commitment to equality of opportunity that is needed to spread the benefits of globalisation to all. It is not that communities which have been left behind cannot catch up, it is simply that they haven’t been given the tools to respond to the rapid societal changes that have occurred. We need a radical commitment to expanding opportunity to improve our society.

Representation Over Representativeness: The Case for First-Past-the-Post

Aside from the arguments around its traditional place in our political structure, there are several arguments in favour of FPTP. Whilst the clamour for electoral reform has continued to grow, the case for it isn’t as black-and-white as it is being made to seem, and it is about time that those of us opposed to it make the case against it.

With Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour pursuing campaigns against high profile Tory MPs like Boris Johnson, Amber Rudd and Iain Duncan-Smith, Tory efforts to unseat Tim Farron, Alex Salmond and Angus Robertson, and various other MP-specific targets, it is clear that parties and voters enjoy the opportunity to target individuals with a record they dislike. Under PR systems it becomes much more difficult for individuals to be specifically targeted, as strong MPs will be placed high up the list or placed in seats where the number of members elected is sufficiently large that they would be safe without a massive landslide against them. If we believe that all MPs should be accountable to voters, whether they are the Prime Minister or a backbencher, then we need a system where all individuals are directly elected, essentially eliminating all but the more complex and unworkable of list-based systems.

Additionally, useful studies from AMS systems (where there are both list and constituency MPs) shows that constituency-based MPs are more likely to attempt to influence policy which benefits their constituents, whereas list-based MPs tend to attempt to influence policy which benefits their party’s chances of re-election. What we see from this is that FPTP systems tend to produce MPs who better represent and respond to the interests of the electorate; whereas the only way for list-based MPs to secure their positions and gain promotions is to back the party and the party-line. Therefore, constituents are more likely to be able to successfully lobby their MP in a constituency system, as MPs are more representative and accountable. FPTP provides the smallest constituency size of all possible constituency systems and therefore gives individual electors the most influence over their representatives.

FPTP is also the best system for localised campaign issues. With larger constituency sizes, it becomes more difficult for independents and single issue local campaigners to secure sufficient votes to take office and to be able to fundraise sufficiently to campaign across an entire electoral district. Even the most successful single-issue campaigners under FPTP can struggle to get upwards of 20,000 votes, which would massively limit their ability to get elected in larger constituencies. Likewise, local campaigns with the support of 1,000 or so voters are likely to be much more successful in influencing an MP with a smaller number of constituents than one with a larger number, enabling ordinary people to start campaigns and influence policy, rather than having to rely on more professionally organised campaigns.

Another benefit of FPTP is that it tends to produce strong and stable governments. Whilst this has not, admittedly, been the case in two of the last three elections, majoritarian systems like FPTP have a solid record of delivering majority governments. Why is that a good thing? Well, we’ve seen the popular outcry at the compromises required to make a Conservative/Lib Dem coalition and a Conservative/DUP confidence and supply deal work in 2010 and 2017 respectively. People don’t like compromise on manifesto commitments that they voted for in Britain. If we stick with FPTP then there will be fewer scenarios whereby a major party has to sacrifice key sections of its platform to form a government.

So why don’t people like First-Past-the-Post?

One of the most common arguments against FPTP is that it incentivises tactical voting by supporters of smaller parties and thereby unfairly disadvantages those groups. This is because FPTP generally creates constituencies where historically between one and three parties have had a shot at winning the seat. What it doesn’t take into account is a simple premise: if voters voted for the party they supported, rather than tactically, then a smaller party might become viable in a specific seat. As that is the case, it seems that major parties have done a fairly good job of campaigning for those votes, particularly given the fact that a number of smaller parties have won seats after sustained campaigning under FPTP. Furthermore, a quick glance at AMS elections finds that the number of votes gained by parties in the constituency and list ballots tend to not be particularly dissimilar, suggesting either that tactical voting isn’t a particularly significant problem in constituency seats, or that tactical voting is not dependent on the system being used.

Indeed, there also doesn’t seem to be a credible argument that tactical voting is specific to First-Past-the-Post at all. If the conditions are the same under an STV or AV system then it doesn’t seem any less likely that a voter would vote for the one of the major parties that it preferred. Ranked systems are easily manipulated by tactical voting, whereby voters give their least favoured majorn party candidate the lowest ranking and bump the most likely candidate they can support up the list so as to prevent their least favoured candidate from achieving office. Likewise, in a list system with a threshold there is still a similar incentive for voters to misrepresent their preferences in order to achieve the least-worst realistic outcome. If a voter typically votes for a party that falls below the threshold, there seems to be no reason for them not to cast their ballot instead for their favoured major party, in order to increase that party’s chances of winning more seats, as they would under FPTP.

Finally on tactical voting, it is worth considering systems like AMS where there are constituencies and then top-up lists. Constituency seats are obviously going to be subject to the same tactical voting pitfalls as FPTP, so the only plausible difference here could be in the list system. Lists are prone to tactical voting naturally, as mentioned above, but they have an additional problem under top-up seat systems, which is that larger parties generally do disproportionately badly from the top-up list than smaller parties. Therefore there is a huge incentive for voters to cast their ballots for small parties allied to their major party preference, in order to increase the number of seats gained by their favoured ideological grouping, but creating yet another distortion of preferences.

Representativeness is the other main argument against FPTP, that is to say that the number of seats allocated to parties tends to vary quite significantly from their proportion of the national vote. This is a fairly strong argument that is difficult to rebut. Often it results from local disparities and is therefore difficult to put right with regionalised list systems. The only viable solution for representativeness would be a national list system, but that would be incredibly problematic for individual legislative accountability and lobbying on local issues. If people would prefer poorer accountability and representation in favour of a feeling of Parliament being more representative, then there is a conversation to be had. But if people feel that representatives representing them is more important than them being representative of them, with the policy-making benefits that come with it, then FPTP is the only choice.

Other criticisms of FPTP include the fact that votes are wasted, which is again true to an extent, but this is true for nearly every electoral system. Under list systems there are thresholds, under ranked systems the second preferences of small party voters are considered but major party voters’ ranking preferences are wasted – this is more an issue with the fact that in a democracy someone has to lose an election than FPTP being a bad system. Another criticism is that it creates an effective elective dictatorship with large majority governments, but given the increased accountability every MP has to their constituents under FPTP, poor policies are unlikely to get through Parliament, regardless of the size of the majority.

So, what are the alternative systems?

There are closed and open list systems, both of which promote party loyalty amongst representatives over constituency representation, without solving the problems of tactical voting and wasted votes. There is AMS and other mixed-member proportionality systems, which have exactly the same problems as the list systems, but with extra confusion and more wasted votes, and the problems of collusion whereby major parties campaign for minor parties that they are allied with to mop up the maximum number of top-up seats and create a massive majority. Then there are the ranked voting systems like AV and STV, which give extra weight to the opinions of small party voters, who get eliminated first and encourage tactical voting to an even greater extent than FPTP (rankings mean that voters can place a greater distortion in their preferences to negatively impact their least favoured of the major parties). Ranked systems are also much more complicated than FPTP, which brings massive educational and infrastructural costs in implementation and management.

Overall, FPTP is a simple, effective, cheap system which leads to better local representation than any other. Electoral systems that enable good representation are far more important than ones that are solely about representativeness. We need a system that balances those two goals, but if we have good representation everyone gets represented, regardless of whether or not they voted for their MP.

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.

U-turn if you want to

We expect our politicians to make the right decision every time. We expect them to be exemplary role models in every aspect of their private and professional lives. If we want to have a better politics in this country, we need to accept that all our politicians – whatever their party or ideological background – are human, and that sometimes humans make mistakes.

There is a significant cognitive dissonance surrounding ‘U-turns’ in politics. We see a policy we dislike, we make a big clamour about how much we dislike it, the government changes its mind on the policy, and we are outraged that the U-turn has happened. Either we didn’t dislike the original policy, we made too much of a clamour, we spoke too soon and so when the government changed its mind we realised we liked the original plans, or alternatively we like using U-turns as a stick to beat politicians with.

One of the main arguments against U-turns seems to be: ‘but they should get the policy right in the first place’. Certainly there is a case to be made for that argument, but as previously mentioned, our politicians are human, however much we try to convince ourselves they aren’t. If a politician gets something wrong, or underestimates how unpopular something will be, then the right thing to do is to admit that and U-turn. By our constant outcry every time a bad idea gets canned, you’d think we’d prefer to suffer and say, ‘I told you so,’ than have effective policy-making.

This argument also undermines one of the basic principles of politics: the idea that decisions should be made through a public and/or parliamentary debate about an issue. The whole reason we have a debate and elections, rather than just allowing faceless administrators to govern in some benevolent dictatorship, is that we want bad decisions to be overturned and mediocre decisions to be turned into good ones. If we start out with the attitude: ‘we want debate and parliament to listen to our voices, but we don’t want them to actually change their minds’, then one has to ask what the point of the debate actually is?

Politicians may well be expected to get a decision right first time, every time, but when they don’t we should respect them far more for U-turning in the face of public pressure than for carrying on regardless and inflicting poor policy upon us. A strong leader will get every decision right, a stronger one will be willing to compromise when they get things wrong.

Pragmatic policy-making, with consultation and debate, is the desired political process. It ensures that we get the best decisions, and that where decisions go against what we desire we can influence our legislators to implement better policy. Accountability requires responsiveness, if we want an accountable government, we need to stop criticising politicians for being responsive.

When a politician is strong enough to admit that they were wrong about something and change their mind, that is far more worthy of respect than any posturing show of strength in the face of criticism. We put an extraordinary amount of pressure on our politicians and expect them to be everything to everyone. In a culture of criticising everything they do, let’s be clear: if we don’t like a policy they propose, and they have the guts to U-turn on it, then we should be applauding that decision, not implying that it makes them weak.

For a truly responsive, inclusive and working democracy, we should tell our politicians: ‘U-turn if you want to’.

“The DUP should not have power” say the party who need them to form a Government

Who knew that 262 was a larger number than 318? Theresa May, the leader of the party who won this election, is forming a government. To do so she is doing a deal with the fifth largest party in the House of Commons. Amongst other things, the DUP are homophobic and anti-abortion. Fortunately, the Conservative Party’s deal with them won’t include votes on those issues, which are largely devolved to Northern Ireland.

Hyperbole about the DUP then is nothing to do with their views, which will largely consist of backing the Tories in areas of overlapping preferences and thereby supporting the manifesto which was endorsed by the most voters. Nor is hyperbole about the DUP about any threat to the Good Friday Agreement, as it has been established that Labour tried to do exactly the same thing in 2010 and 2015. If we add into this the well-known opposition to the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 by Corbyn, on the grounds of his support for a united Ireland, and the opposition to the Good Friday Agreement by John McDonnell in 1998 for the same reasons, and the fact that McDonnell thought unionism was something that needed ‘dealing with’, a belief in a neutral approach to Northern Ireland wouldn’t seem to be justified by throwing Jeremy Corbyn into Number 10.

The reason for hyperbole seems to be solely that they are the way that Theresa May stays in Downing Street. After all, if Labour are to form a government then they would need the support of the DUP as well. One wonders whether the DUP’s critics would be so vocal if they were putting Jeremy Corbyn into Number 10.

There has also been an amusing attempt to make ‘Coalition of Chaos’ jokes by Labour members. It’s true that having to rely on another party is not ideal, but it’s remarkable that some people seem to think a Tory/DUP deal is more chaotic than the Labour/Lib Dem/Green/SNP/Plaid/DUP deal it would require to make Jeremy Corbyn, a man with absolutely no mandate, Prime Minister.

Ignoring the hyperbole, the arguments against a Tory/DUP deal seem limited. A few compromises on the manifesto, and a couple of concessions on minor issues provide a government which commands a majority of the House and thus has a mandate to rule. They are certainly less strong than the arguments against the massive compromises involved in the gigantic coalition that is the alternative.

Corbyn actually opposes a Tory/DUP deal because he wants another election while he has the momentum. But we all know, dissolving a Parliament and calling an election because you are riding high in the polls is the kind of political opportunism the public so despise in our politics.

Why Brexit?

The vote to leave the European Union opens up the UK to a fair, liberal, and global future, where we trade and cooperate with the entire world. Brexit is an opportunity to create a network of global free trade deals, a fair immigration system, and a more democratic political system.

Let’s be clear, the EU is not some progressive globalised body. It is a protectionist organisation designed to promote intra-European trade at the expense of trade with the other 169 countries of the world. It prevents the UK from conducting free trade deals with growing economies outside the EU, and with our traditional global allies. The Common External Tariff means that European good and services are made to seem cheaper by pricing out other markets.

As a globalist, outward-looking nation, the Brexit vote mandated us to seek to secure free trade deals, not just with the EU27, but with the wider world. We will be able to secure fair trade deals with the growing economies of the world: China, India, Brazil etc.; and with our traditional Commonwealth and Anglosphere allies. If we are to truly be a part of a globalising world then it is also important to have a seat at the top table, which means increasing our influence from simply being 1/28th of a voice in organisations like the WTO.

Brexit also presents us with an opportunity to establish a fairer, more liberal immigration system. If we accept that there has to be some form of upper limit on immigration (whatever number we set that at), then free movement of labour within Europe is inherently illiberal because it reduces the opportunities for people from non-EU nations to come and work in the UK, simply based on the passport that they hold. We should use the opportunity presented by Brexit to ensure that our immigration system is based on the person, not their nationality. It is not just, fair, or liberal to propose a system that requires us to discriminate against people based on their result in life’s first great lottery.

This is a chance to reclaim and strengthen our democracy. Brexit removes the impact of an unelected supranational body on our legislation, and instead returns important competencies to the UK’s legislative system. Increased power for Parliament should see powers that currently exist at national level passed down to regional governments, creating a system where the decisions that affect Southampton get made by a Southampton government that is much more convenient for you to lobby and influence, and by representatives who can be swayed by a much smaller group of people (as they have smaller constituencies).

It also brings an impetus for democratic reform. We have seen people examine the House of Lords with more scrutiny already during the Brexit process, and ask important questions about how much constitutional power the executive and the judiciary should have, and that sort of deliberation can only be a positive thing with regards building a representative and effective democracy, and eradicating further democratic deficits.

Britain can use this opportunity to retake our place on the global stage. A global Britain trading, working, cooperating with our European friends and neighbours and with our global allies. Taking the lead on security cooperation within and outside of Europe. Cooperating on global issues as a whole voice, rather than as a tiny part of one.

Brexit is about ensuring that we create a global Britain, with global free trade, a fair and liberal immigration system, and a better democracy.