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.

Campus Conservatives Must be Empowered

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.

Building a Conservative Future

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.