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.