This article, discussing the way the Conservative Party can attract a new generation of young people, can be found on The Conservative Online.
There are many conflicts inherent within modern politics: the fact that we bemoan the lack of young people in politics and yet berate young politicians as both inexperienced and careerist; our desire for more ‘normal’ people in politics but our aversion to paying a wage that would enable less affluent people to afford to enter politics; the list could go on and on. The biggest problem in the modern era, however, is that politics has become about the leaders rather than the policies, the parties, and the candidates.
Policies and representatives have become somewhat of an afterthought when deciding which party to vote for – instead, as the rise of the debates between party leaders during election campaigns attest to, we have descended into a situation where many voters are voting based on whom they want to be Prime Minister, as opposed to which MP they want to represent them and which party they want to be in government. This is, fundamentally, why people mistakenly refer to Theresa May as being ‘unelected’.
The truth is that no Prime Minister is actually elected by the public (or at least not by all of the public). David Cameron was not made Prime Minister by virtue of a ballot of the whole country, but more he was elected as an MP by the people of Witney and made PM by the fact that a majority of constituencies elected MPs of his party to Parliament. The principle of primus inter pares forms the basis of British politics – that is, that our leaders are elected by the representatives that we send to Westminster.
Theresa May was elected by a majority of her party colleagues and is therefore not an ‘unelected Prime Minister’. The only reason she may be considered unelected is if people voted for the person leading a party at the ballot box, rather than the person representing them – after all, only 58,482 people had David Cameron’s name on their ballot paper.
This cult of personality that has developed around our leaders raises interesting questions – after all, if we view electing our local representatives as a means of electing a national leader, won’t that mean that woeful MPs will not be held to account? If we prefer electing a PM to a local representative, should we introduce some sort of list based system of election? Or perhaps separate the executive from the legislature?
Either of those options wouldn’t seem to be a basis for ensuring efficient policy-making – in the former case, it makes it difficult to ensure that our representatives deliver on their promises; in the latter we could end up with the sort of deadlock we see in the American system.
Yet, do we have a problem? Aside from the rhetoric thrown out by opposition parties indicating that a Prime Minister who takes over without a General Election is unelected, the culture of modern politics could be beginning to move away from being leader-dominated. Labour voters may be forced to choose between their policies and local representatives, and their leader – the winner of that particular battle could shape how much the leader dominates the future of British politics.
As with the coalition, when cries of, ‘They have no mandate!’ filled the media, assertions that Theresa May has no mandate are in essence a misunderstanding of representative democracy. To paraphrase Edmund Burke, when one elects their MP, they then represent them using their industry and their judgement – thus it doesn’t matter who the leadership is, if you have an MP able to stand up for your interests.
In a representative democracy like Britain, Theresa May and the Parliament we elected in 2015 have a mandate to pass the laws and regulations they see fit, just as we have the right to lobby them to act in a certain way. Mrs May is not unelected, she is simply the new first among equals – a principle that always guides the steady hand of British democracy through restive waters.
There is a stigma attached to being a Tory, particularly as a young person, and this is a problem that needs to be addressed by the Party now more than ever. While people vote for our Party, and people agree with our policies, they are afraid to admit it. Even long-time supporters and voters find themselves hesitating before answering the question, ‘Which Party do you support?’. More must be done to combat the stigma.
Students are not as left-wing as people think, it is more that the most vocally political students tend to be the left-wing ones. This perception of students as exclusively left-wing is alarming because of the effect it has on breeding shy conservatism. The impression that all students are left-wing means that young Conservatives have a fear that speaking out and defending right-wing positions will lead to them being ostracised socially and thus get into the habit of hiding their true political beliefs – compounding the stereotype that all students are left-wing.
Staying silent and embracing shy conservatism is certainly the easiest route to take, especially where popularity is concerned, but this is, fundamentally, the problem, and it is a problem that cannot be solved by continuing the well-trodden path outlined above. Accordingly, generations of Conservatives will graduate from university – the time at which they are most able to refine their ideas – accustomed to being cautionary when discussing their politics, and unwilling and unable to defend and campaign for the Conservative Party.
This is a problem that must be addressed at universities urgently, so as to prevent more generations of shy Conservatives.
Conservative Societies (or their equivalents) at University tend to both reinforce and highlight the problem. The only members of such Societies tending to be the active campaigners, and the only activity on offer being active campaigning. This can be alienating in itself, particularly to the shy Tories. 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, however the various recent scandals that led to the demise of that organisation’s national executive mean that it will have to be a grassroots effort in individual societies. Rather than just offering young people campaigning, campaigning and more campaigning, individual university societies and youth groups need to tailor an experience which leaves students with good experiences of the Party, and a route into the more active stuff.
Most students in university societies love campaigning, but then they tend to love elections, and politics. Other, shier, Conservatives are not as keen – particularly at university – and it is these Conservatives that we should be doing more to appeal 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 members and supporters of the future that the Party can offer them so much.
If more people are going to stand up and support the Party, then we need to take advantage of the unique opportunity we are presented with. The main opposition parties have never been in a worse position – if we can give more people a reason to stand up and support us, and if we can show them that they are not alone in being a Conservative-backing young person, then we will be able to prevent another generation falling to predominantly shy Conservatism.
Theresa May and Education Secretary Justine Greening have indicated the return of Grammar Schools to the mainstream of British education. While many commentators have reacted with hostility – sometimes going so far as to argue that Grammar Schools entrench elitism – the reintroduction of such a system will both revitalise that old liberal value of equality of opportunity and continue the Cameron government’s push to expand the opportunities available to young people, with regards finding the type and style of education that best suits them.
The existing system for Grammar Schools is by no means perfect – it is true that richer parents can hire expensive tutors to help their children pass the Eleven-Plus – but that is not a reason to reject the notion of Grammar Schools. While there are elements of the current system that need reforming, the answer is to reform those faults – not reject the system as a whole. If we want to create a society where a person can achieve their maximum human potential regardless of their result in life’s first great lottery, then we need to embrace Grammar Schools.
When journalists decry Grammar Schools as a place for rich parents to send their children instead of private school, they fail to notice the converse of their argument. Grammar Schools are indeed as good as private schools, and the fact that they are free means that people who would not be able to afford to attend a private school receive the advantages of that level of education without it bankrupting them. Yes, sometimes rich students will attend Grammar Schools instead of private schools, but if even a single student gets the opportunity to enjoy a standard of education they would have been otherwise unable to receive, then that represents a victory for equality of opportunity and social mobility.
If we want to give opportunity to all, then we need to have a Grammar School system alongside our present education system – allowing students who want a more intensely academic education the chance to have such an education, and to learn alongside equally minded people who will drive them to do even better. Students who want to go to the best schools should be able to regardless of their income bracket, social class, or location – that’s why bringing Grammar Schools to more locations across the country is so important.
We need to have an education system that caters to everyone. If a student favours a vocational-specific education, they can choose to go to a college and learn a specific skill or group of skills. If a student wants to learn on the job, they can do an apprenticeship after they leave school. If a student wants a comprehensive education – combining vocational subjects and academic subjects – they can choose to go to a comprehensive school. If a student wants to specialise in a subject, they can go to university. So why should a student who wants an academically-focussed education have to pay for private school?
Reintroducing Grammar Schools into the mainstream of British education enables students to have a full range of choices about the type of education they want to have, regardless of their financial backgrounds. Students shouldn’t lose out on a high quality education because some aspects of the current system need reform – let’s reintroduce Grammar Schools and make them even more accessible to all students.
Bringing back Grammar Schools will enable us to bring opportunity to every corner of this country, and bring choice to every student.
The premiership of David Cameron has seen a lot of firsts. History will smile on Cameron as the Prime Minister who launched a series of liberal reforms to rival many of his contemporaries; history will also remember him as the safe hand on the rudder who stabilised the British economy following one of the worst recessions ever. In his six years as Prime Minister, Cameron led the first coalition in post-WWII Britain and he delivered the first Conservative majority government since 1992. While in the short term memory Mr Cameron will be remembered as the PM who lost the EU referendum, let’s have a look at his real legacy.
A major part of David Cameron’s legacy will be the stability he brought to politics during his six years at the helm. In May 2010 the country was thrust into new territory and political uncertainty – with no party remotely close to holding a majority. The fact that the Coalition Government (2010-2015) was such a remarkable success shows us acutely one of Mr Cameron’s major strengths: his ability to unify diverse political ideas into a coherent policy platform. It also showed his unique diplomacy and willingness to compromise – although credit in equal measure is owed to Nick Clegg.
As Prime Minister, Cameron put direct democracy back into the mainstream. The AV Referendum of 2011 gave the entire country the chance to choose our electoral system for the first time in our history. In 2014 he gave the Scottish people the opportunity to decide on their collective destiny in an independence referendum. The referendum of 2016 may have seen the end of his premiership, but the simple fact is that his leadership saw the British people given the chance to answer the European question for the first time since 1975, and throughout his premiership he promoted direct democracy.
Cameron’s Britain will be remembered as one which underwent massive economic recovery. The economy in 2016 does not remotely resemble the economy he inherited in 2010. Unemployment is down, the deficit is down, and there are more businesses. The economy is strong enough to commit 0.7% of National Income to foreign aid spending – enabling vital projects in other countries. Economic reforms have enabled Cameron to lift some of the poorest people in our country out of the tax bracket, and reforms to introduce a national living wage have seen the lowest paid in society receive a pay increase.
In his liberalising reforms, however, we see David Cameron’s true legacy. Every time a same-sex couple celebrates their love for one another in a marriage ceremony – that is David Cameron’s legacy. Equality before the law, regardless of your sexuality – that is David Cameron’s legacy. When a young student chooses to go into an apprenticeship rather than university – that choice and ability to pursue vocational opportunities is David Cameron’s legacy. Every school that is free to set its own curriculum and is empowered to act in the best interests of its students – that is David Cameron’s legacy. Every extra pound in the pockets of the poorest, from tax cuts, the living wage and reduced government waste – that is David Cameron’s legacy.
Under David Cameron our schools have improved, our justice system has become fairer, our economy has become stronger. During David Cameron’s premiership our universities have become more self-sufficient, our government has become less wasteful, our government deficit has halved. As Prime Minister, David Cameron oversaw reforms to make our country more secure, to give our people more of a voice, and to make our poorest richer.
David Cameron leaves office with a legacy to be proud of. History will certainly remember him with fondness. His legacy is a Britain which is richer, which is stronger, and which is fairer.
When Theresa May took office yesterday afternoon, her opening speech set out a series of radical reforms to Britain that she will deliver over the next four years. Arguably her most important statement of the last week, however, is the one she made on Tuesday: ‘Brexit means Brexit, and we’re going to make a success of it’. With the appointments of David Davis, Boris Johnson and Liam Fox to her cabinet early on, it is clear that that statement was more than hyperbole, so here is what Theresa May might consider doing to ensure that Brexit does indeed mean Brexit.
If we are to deliver the Brexit that the country voted for, then we need to get everyone rowing in the same direction. Brexit requires real unity if we are to make it work, and securing that unity will be one of Mrs May’s toughest challenges. Within the Conservative Party (both its Parliamentary members and the membership as a whole), Theresa May has already embarked upon her unity drive. To continue to secure that unity, May will need a Cabinet which encompasses the most competent MPs from both sides of the Remain/Leave divide, and she will need to convince Party members that she is truly committed to delivering on Brexit.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland must be included and consulted as part of the negotiations on how our post-Brexit relationship with the EU will look. We are a family of nations in the United Kingdom – sometimes in a family decisions get made that not everyone agrees with, but what we must do now is ensure that we have an open and honest dialogue with all of our regions to ensure that we get a Brexit that works for all of us. The appointment of Ruth Davidson to the Privy Council last night was an interesting signal that there will be a cross-nation Brexit team, however it remains an important fact that – whether you like her or not – Nicola Sturgeon must have a representative at the table if we are to ensure true unity post-Brexit.
Many young people feel let down by Brexit, and it is they who will be affected by the future direction this country takes. We need to involve young people in the Brexit process – remembering that a significant number of (albeit less vocal post-referendum) people aged 18-24 voted to Leave as well as those who voted Remain. It would make sense, therefore, for May’s government to create a body of young people who could be consulted on the negotiations and the sort of package young people want to see delivered. MPs are, by the nature of life and their jobs, not able to be in touch with the Students’ Unions and the classrooms to the same extent that young people are. If we created a panel of young people, from both the Leave and Remain camps, who could go out and garner opinions on the best post-Brexit strategy for young people, then we would ensure unity in one of the most affected groups, and it would also be a terrific statement by Mrs May, that in her government, young people have a voice.
A Parliament united behind the Brexit package is so much more powerful than one fighting over every little amendment. To garner Parliamentary unity is no easy thing – as the Cameron/Clegg coalition premiership showed us – but garner it we must if we are to deliver a Brexit that will unite the country. Just as with all of the groups in our society being included, and all of the nations in our country being included, all of the parties in our Parliament must be included in the decision about what sort of deal to pursue. Including members from Labour, the Lib Dems, UKIP and all of the other Parliamentary parties would be another bold statement from Mrs May that Brexit is bigger than party politics.
The Brexit that Theresa May delivers will define her premiership. Regardless of whatever else she delivers, she has been charged by the Conservative Party with securing the best deal for Brexit and her legacy will depend on that deal. She needs to deliver unity to a divided nation – removing hatred towards others (be they of a difference race, class, gender or political position), dismissing this idea of ‘Remain’ and ‘Leave’, and delivering a Brexit that works for all. As Theresa May says, ‘Brexit means Brexit’ – if she’s going to make a success of it, then we need unity now more than ever.
In the next couple of months thousands of Conservative Party members will have to choose between Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom to be Prime Minister. This is not Referendum II, it is not a choice between Remain and Leave – after all, both candidates have promised to deliver Brexit. If you were a Leave voter, do not write off Theresa May because she voted Remain; likewise if you were a Remain voter, do not write off Andrea Leadsom because she voted Leave.
This leadership election seems a relatively simple choice. Both candidates are committed to delivering a Brexit we can all get behind and both candidates are offering a relatively similar policy platform. What we are voting on, is who we think is best placed to enact that platform.
Theresa May is the candidate to unite the Conservative Party. With the backing of 199 MPs from across the Leave/Remain spectrum, it is clear that May commands the support and respect of a significant majority of her colleagues – which is vital in the process of reuniting a divided Party and a divided Parliament, and getting them behind a plan for the future of our nation. When you look at the current state of the Parliamentary Labour Party, it should not be underestimated how important a unity candidate is in this leadership election – Theresa May is that unity candidate.
Arguably even more important at this time of uncertainty is experience. As we sail HMS Britain into new and uncharted waters, do we want a captain who has previous experience as a first mate, learning from the previous captain, or do we want a captain who has brief experience manning the oars but considerable experience as a passenger? Theresa May has been Home Secretary for the same length of time that Andrea Leadsom has been an MP. May has considerable experience in the Cabinet and the Shadow Cabinet and on top of that she has 19 years of legislative experience in Parliament; whereas Andrea Leadsom has no experience in the Cabinet or the Shadow Cabinet – she has only had 2 years of experience of any form of government role, during which time she was described as the ‘worst minister ever’.
If we are looking for a firm hand on the rudder, then Theresa May is the obvious choice. Indeed, the choice between one of the longest serving Home Secretaries and the ‘worst minister ever’ seems an obvious one. People will point to Leadsom’s considerable experience in the private sector – but with significant elements of that experience under question, it is not clear that she is overly qualified. In addition, private sector experience does not qualify you to be Prime Minister – otherwise everyone in a board room would be running for the job – and now is not the time to have a Prime Minister who is learning on the job.
It is a time of uncertainty we face, and that is not a period in which we need an anti-establishment candidate. It is not a period in which we need a candidate with little experience and no record. It is not a period in which we need a candidate with questionable tax affairs. It is not a period in which we can afford a candidate whose media gaffes are either the result of naivety or incompetence – or perhaps a genuine belief that being a parent is a requisite requirement to occupy Number 10.
There is a clear choice in this leadership election. A choice between experience and inexperience. A choice between a candidate with a cool demeanour in the media – and one who seems prone to gaffes. A choice between the person who was the Minister for Equalities who championed equal marriage – and a candidate who questions it.
We need a candidate with experience. We need a candidate to unite our country behind a Brexit tolerable to both Remain and Leave voters. We need Theresa May.
Michael Gove’s combination of liberal Conservative politics and experience of high office make him the ideal candidate to be our next Prime Minister. He opened his campaign with a speech which represented the sort of positive and optimistic view of Britain’s future we need, and within that vision we saw Mr Gove’s ambitions to continue and extend David Cameron’s agenda of liberal reforms.
In his plan for Brexit, we see the sort of positive, globalist ambitions that Britain must embrace to succeed in the future. Michael Gove wants Britain to use this opportunity given to us by the referendum to make our country a global player once again – a leader in science, education, business, and in every other possible aspect. He believes that we need to become an even warmer, tolerant and inclusive country than we are at the moment, and at this moment when division is striking at the very core of our society and politics is setting friend against friend, neighbour against neighbour – it is a message of tolerance and inclusiveness that we need to see.
If you believe that Britain can do better, then Michael Gove is your candidate. What we saw in his opening speech was a conviction politician discussing the reforms he so passionately wants to bring to make this country a better place. He has, in his own words, ‘a belief in human potential’, and now more than ever we need a Prime Minister with such a positive, liberal reformist agenda. Gove will strength our family of nations with a plan to treat our devolved countries with respect – a vote for Michael Gove is very much a vote for unity and togetherness.
When Mr Gove speaks of liberal reforms, when he speaks of creating a better, more tolerant, more equal society, he means it. These are not just empty words but commitments. When Michael Gove talks of renewing our democracy, of reforming our capitalist system, of creating a new relationship with the European Union and the world based on trade and cooperation, these are not just empty slogans but real, empirical commitments to the British electorate. We need a liberal reformer with the conviction to act in all of our best interests – Michael Gove is that candidate.
With six years of experience in the Cabinet, Mr Gove is well placed to step up and lead this country. In his time as Secretary of State for Education, Chief Whip and Secretary of State for Justice, he has built a record of delivering the reforms desired by the Prime Minister, and that experience means he will be a capable PM from day one – understanding exactly what the role entails. He also has the advantage of not being just another career politician – Gove is a journalist who decided to go into politics, not for career, but because he thought he could make a difference.
Not a careerist but an intellectual who became a conviction politician to help people. That is the message to take away from the Michael Gove campaign – a vote for Mr Gove is one to help the people who have suffered from our current system. A vote for Mr Gove is one for the liberal reforms we need to see in this country. A vote for Mr Gove is one for someone who worked his way from a working-class background in Aberdeen to Oxford University, to a successful career in journalism, and ultimately, to a position where he can make a difference to people and ensure that opportunity exists for every person in this country, regardless of their circumstances or their background.
In Michael Gove we have a leadership candidate who is modest enough to know his limitations. He has often spoken of his desire not to be Prime Minister, which is why many are throwing archived footage at him as a reason not to elect him leader. It is actually another reason why he would make an excellent Prime Minister. A Gove premiership would be one led by a man who knows his strengths and his weaknesses – it would be one based on teamwork, cooperation and delivering things together. Less a premiership, and more a captaincy.
A vote for Michael Gove is a vote to bring far-reaching liberal reforms to our country – to bring opportunity and its benefits to millions more in our society. A vote for Michael Gove is one to deliver a global Britain – trading and cooperating with the world. A vote for Michael Gove is one for respect, unity and tolerance – at a time when we so desperately need those values. We need a passionate, principled, compassionate Prime Minister who can build on David Cameron’s legacy of reforms. Michael Gove is the heir to that legacy, and that is why Michael Gove is the best candidate to become the next Prime Minister.
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.