Why Conservative students should utilise social media platforms and publications like the Mallard

How people receive information has changed vastly over the last couple of decades. With a new generation of voters increasingly reliant on social media for news, views and campaigning, conservatives need to adapt quickly to stave off a demographic problem in our voter base. Labour’s 2017 General Election campaign successfully converted young people into voters and activists with a social media-heavy strategy, both in its official party organisation and through proxy groups like Momentum, the Canary etc..

Conservative students are well placed to take the fight back to Labour on social media. Knowing the sorts of angles that other people our age consider to be convincing, we are able to tailor snappy and viral posts on social media that provide a sensible, progressive set of reasons to vote for the Conservatives. Equally, we can see the things our friends are sharing from other political perspectives and so can be on the frontline of factchecking and providing alternative narratives, so as to prevent left-wing echo chambers building up on social media and misleading points going unchallenged.

That point about breaking down echo chambers on social media is vitally important. If the majority of young people who are politically vocal on social media are anti-Conservative then there is no counter-narrative for people who are less politically active to engage with. Positing viewpoints that these people may not have considered will get them thinking and might bring them around to a Conservative position. It is worth particularly considering that most young people tend to respond best to moderate, positive arguments, so framing points in a positive way is especially helpful to counter the hopeful narrative provided by Corbyn and Labour.

In essence, we need Conservative students to utilise social media platforms to make points and arguments that can reach our colleagues in a way that other forms of campaigning cannot. In 2017, we lost control of the narrative in its entirety on social media and that cost us because we didn’t provide anything to make young people think about.

Publications like The Mallard which allow young conservatives a platform to publish their opinions and present their reasoning for their political positions are also vitally important. Providing young people with a vast range of different reasons to support Conservative policies ensures that we can successfully target people across many political positions and could help to convince wavering voters to vote Conservative. Articles are also useful tools to back up short points with – one can make a brief argument on social media and then share a link to an article with a more in-depth explanation to emphasise their point and really make people think about the issue under discussion. Furthermore, a decent range of opinion pieces gives shy conservatives evidence that they are not alone in their beliefs, and will be accepted for them, which could help to drive up the number of young Conservative activists available to the party, and increase the conservative presence on social media.

Giving exposure to the writings of young conservatives also helps us refine our ideas and gives us food for thought on how we sell the things we believe in. Debate and looking at different nuanced positions are the best ways for people to develop and strengthen their policy prescriptions and ensure that they stand up to scrutiny. Even within conservative-dominated platforms there will be nuance and disagreement, and that is a positive that can help all conservatives reach better and more unassailable points.

Ultimately, even if the Conservative Party can improve its social media presence, it needs young people to take the fight to Labour on social media if it hopes to beat the Momentum machine next time around. Social media provides both an incredible challenge and an incredible opportunity: if conservatives fail to regain some portion of the narrative online, we risk losing control of it for a generation; if we can regain it and establish publications like The Mallard to provide pro-conservative narratives, then we could end up stronger than ever.

This article can be found in print form in the new 1828 Journal from the King’s College London Conservative Association, as of Wednesday the 15th November 2017.

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If you challenge nothing, you challenge no one

One of the first things you learn in debating is that understanding the arguments in favour of your position is only half the battle when making a watertight case. A good debater should be able to understand in detail the arguments that their opponents might make, because in understanding those arguments you can find potential weaknesses in their positions, but more importantly, you can ensure that you know where the pitfalls of your arguments are and how to strengthen them against likely points.

Thinking about things from someone else’s perspective is a vital part of ensuring that our arguments are coherent and cohesive. It is also an important means of improving the policies that we are espousing. There is (within reason) no such thing as a wrong argument in politics, and every ideology isolates a different series of problems and solutions dependent on their worldview. With that in mind, putting yourself into the mindset of a political opponent ensures that you can tailor your arguments in such a way that they will appeal to people who might be less inclined to agree with your preferred policy prescription for the same reasons that you do.

Ideology really isn’t very black and white. Different ideologies can support the same policies for remarkably different reasons, and oftentimes non-political people who don’t subscribe to a particular ideology will have a distinct worldview that fits in nicely with ideological tropes, so knowing how others might be convinced to perceive your policy positively is important in political campaigning.

It helps that there are usually common patterns to what each ideology desires, but short of actually debating from the other perspective and thereby learning how to put yourself in that mindset, the best way to really shape good arguments is to follow a twofold system: talk to people of all political perspectives and try to avoid echo-chambering your social media to ensure that you come across a multitude of nuanced ways of looking at and thinking about issues; and constantly look critically at the things you believe in to try to refine your positions and ensure that they are built on as strong a foundation as possible.

This is all fairly obvious stuff, but it in an era of increasingly acrimonious debate and partisan politics it is important to say it. Partisanship can breed complacency in politics because it doesn’t encourage people to put policy under the microscope and because division makes it much more difficult to understand someone else’s perspective. If you judge people, or worse policies, by their party and not by their own attributes, then you close yourself off from a real opportunity to improve your personal convictions.

No one person can come up with perfect policy, but you can come up with solid, well thought through policy only by being open to challenging the fundamentals of your own worldview and tweaking things to add nuance when something seems weak. Debate and discussion with an intention to reach common ground and gain greater understanding of an issue is always important – even the nuance in reasoning between two people with a similar ideological perspective helps to make better policy.

In an era of increasingly divided politics, never has it been more important to take the time to talk to opponents and really consider why it is that we advocate the policies that we advocate. Ultimately in politics, if you challenge nothing that you believe, you’ll challenge no one.

It’s time to change the status quo of statehood

“National aspirations must be respected; people may now be dominated and governed only by their own consent. ‘Self-determination’ is not a mere phrase; it is an imperative principle of action.” – Woodrow Wilson, 1918.

Forgive me for opening with a quote, but it is an important one. 100 years ago in February, the status quo that had governed ideas of statehood and self-determination began to change. In the last century, the principle that people whose states had been taken away from them by foreign powers should have the right to govern themselves once more was the prevailing belief. The United Nations, formed after World War II, was devoted to the idea that colonies should be decolonised and control returned to the people of those nations, and it still is devoted to that cause.

The problem with that is relatively simple: former colonies are not the only peoples who deserve self-determination, and their borders are not always the fairest. With regards the borders, this is largely a problem that colonial borders were drawn for convenience, not because they incorporated an historical entity. Take, for example, Iraqi Kurdistan, which last week voted overwhelmingly to begin the process of becoming a new state. Kurdistan was divided by foreign powers amongst various colonial mandates and neighbouring countries (modern day Syria, Iran, Turkey and Iraq) because that was what was geopolitically convenient at the time.

This isn’t just a problem in Kurdistan, areas like Barotseland in Zambia, and indeed in a plethora of other locations across Africa and the Middle East, were incorporated into other territories and have since been abandoned, as their parent state’s departure from colonial rule produced a big tick in the UN’s list of areas which had been decolonised and can now rely on the full backing of the UN to keep minorities without statehood. Likewise, a lot of conflicts in the post-Soviet nations comes back to Soviet policies of deportations to create governable blocks of land, irrespective of smaller regions’ cultural or national backgrounds. The fact that debates around such nations always boil down to matters of geopolitics is, frankly, insulting, given that geopolitics often robbed these nations of their right to self-determination in the first place.

Debating whether or not to support the existence of an independent Iraqi Kurdistan is simple: do you believe that people may be dominated and governed only by their own consent? If you do, then congratulations, you should support the independence of Iraqi Kurdistan and other states like it, and worry about the geopolitical implications as a secondary priority.

In fact, the United Nations itself has largely been useless in responding to the fact that circumstances have changed in the last twenty years. Newly independent countries won’t be easily distinguishable former colonies, but more complex and dynamic scenarios where groups within well-established countries with to secede and follow their own national destiny. The UN actually often causes more problems for potential states than it solves. That UN membership is seen as one of the clearest indications of state sovereignty means that the ability of other, large, powerful nations to veto membership is merely an extension of an imperialist attitude that, regardless of how legitimate your claim to statehood, you need the backing of all of the ‘big powers’ to become a fully-fledged member of the international community.

States like Kosovo, Palestine and Taiwan have long been recognised by a multitude of UN members, but have been persistently denied their place as a full member of the organisation because they either have spats with powerful nations (Taiwan), with their allies (Palestine), or simply because it would set a precedent (Kosovo).

The UN has principles for decolonisation that set out important provisions for self-determination. They argue that being unprepared politically or economically for independence should not inhibit a nation’s right to self-determination, yet they allow their most influential members to hide behind this as a pretence as to why certain regions should not have self-determination. They argue that armed action to prevent self-determination should cease and that states should allow dependent peoples to exercise their right to statehood, and yet routinely fail to exercise this when it is a region of the home nation, rather than a colony that demands secession. Most importantly, they echo Woodrow Wilson and argue that all peoples have the right to self-determination, yet do not act on this unless it is a case of decolonisation or the new state has the blessing of the nation from which it is seceding.

Around the world, prospective states are routinely trampled on by the nation from whom they wish to secede, yet the UN refuses to apply its principle of self-determination in these cases. Instead, they have chosen a list of 17 territories to focus on that it deems the last vestiges of colonisation – many of whom (Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands, French Polynesia, etc.) have made it clear that they have no desire for statehood. Rather than focussing on areas which do not seek self-determination because of a commitment made when the areas occupied by dependent people were very different to the modern day, a body truly committed to global justice would focus on the multitude of areas that do.

Today the people of Catalonia will vote in a referendum that the Spanish government has repeatedly tried to prevent. If they vote for independence, and then make a unilateral declaration to that effect, it will create a difficult geopolitical situation in Western Europe. Usually big powers are able to ignore secessionist movements because they occur outside of the Western world, but with Catalonia it will be imperative for countries to take a side – and there are no prizes for guessing which side they will choose.

The thing is, the Catalan people have a right to self-determination. If they choose independence, then we have a moral duty to support their efforts to achieve it, and so does the United Nations. This could be a chance for the UN to show that it is still relevant, and can go beyond obvious examples of decolonisation to take a principled stand that says once more that upholding self-determination isn’t a choice, it is the duty of a free society.

But even in the unlikely event that the UN sides with Catalonia (provided they vote for independence, of course), there is still more to be done to transform it into an organisation fit for a changed world. The principles of the Montevideo convention should be what governs whether or not a nation is sovereign and entitled to attend the UN: a state is a state if it possesses (a) a permanent population; (b) a defined territory; (c) government; and (d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.

UN membership shouldn’t be an elite club which is designed to maintain the status quo, make it harder for secessionism and allow big nations to continue their imperial roles as the international community’s bouncers (“if you’re not an ally, you’re not getting in”). The people of Kurdistan have a right to self-determination, whether that is convenient or not, as do the people of Kosovo, Taiwan and all the other varied independence movements which meet the conditions of de facto statehood.

Nearly 100 years on from Woodrow Wilson delivering the words that reflected a change in the international order, it is time to go back to that doctrine that people may be dominated and governed only by their own consent.

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.

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.

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 NUS has Failed Students, We Deserve Better

Where the NUS belongs is at the heart of government fighting for improvements for students in areas like education, housing, public transport etc. It cannot do that job if it is shouting incoherent babble from the fringes of politics. The only time the NUS should be overtly political is as a facilitator of student campaigns. The whole point of a student movement is to be the mouthpiece of students, rather than telling them what they should think. If the NUS was an apolitical body amplifying the voices of all students, then it would be able to support the campaigns it does currently, but it would also be able to encourage those who feel marginalised within it to find their voices once more.

They claim to represent all students, they do not. They show students in the worst possible light. They are a major cause of apathy about student politics. Students on the ground don’t feel represented and, worse, know that whatever they do they cannot make a difference. So they don’t take part, they drop out of student politics, they stop listening, and the NUS continues to elect delegates who belong to the governing clique on ridiculously low turnouts.

The fact that someone elected on a ‘moderate’ platform is on record as having such a left wing position which will put her directly at odds with the Conservatives she represents is remarkable. How exactly a President with such beliefs will engage with Conservative Societies and the political campaigns that they may desire support from the student movement for is unclear. Perhaps she will follow the path of her predecessor, and not bother?

If the NUS believe that kicking out the Tories is a suitable agenda for the student movement, then they should hand back the money that Conservative-supporting students send them every year through their Unions. That’s my challenge to the NUS: if you seriously believe that you represent students with these sorts of policies, offer them the chance to prove it. If you won’t reimburse dissatisfied students, then perhaps the best way to show that you represent them would be by letting them vote directly, with a One Student, One Vote system. We all know that that is not something that you’ll do.

The time has come for a new movement. The student movement cannot be reclaimed from within the NUS – Tom Harwood’s fantastic campaign for real change securing only 35 delegates showed us that much. The systems and the structures simply prevent anyone beating the out-of-touch elite who build careers off the back of gesture politics and pointless protests. Outside the NUS though, there is a way.

Non-NUS Unions are much more capable of reform. Building a student movement that works for students is not a short-term process, but if we can show NUS universities that there is a better way outside of the NUS, then we can play an active part in facilitating a better student movement. So lets. Let’s set an example by building Unions which do not vilify you for having an opinion, but support you.

Unions should lend their resources, their expertise, and their support to student campaigns, even where those campaigns are conflicting. Most importantly, we should facilitate actual change, working pragmatically with local government and with any politicians who will listen to us to pursue an apolitical agenda that seeks to improve the outcomes for students in policy-making. If we can work in politics without being political, then we can ensure that our Unions do not alienate those who they represent, and by delivering real change we can show our members that there actually is a point to SUs.

SUs aren’t better together all of the time. The NUS is a formalised version of a set of relationships that should be much more informal. Its existence numbs the voices of individual SUs where they disagree with the overarching power structure – because it speaks for us, no one is interested in hearing us speak for ourselves. Yes, student unions should work together on important issues, but we don’t need a formal body to do that. The NUS hears the words ‘student politics’ and believes that the most important word is ‘politics’ – if they stopped playing politics and started representing students, we’d have a much better student movement.

One of the best things about university is discovering that not everyone agrees with you. That the NUS doesn’t reflect that is why it is no longer fit for purpose. One of the best things about Unions are their power to amplify the voices of their members and tackle apolitical issues on their behalf. That the NUS only tries to represent one small group of students is why it is not fit to represent all of them. The NUS is obsolete, the time has come for a new movement.

Let’s stop playing politics with students, let’s start listening to them.

The Conservatives are the Only Viable Party on June 8th

On June 8th, the country will have a choice. It will be a choice between a strong, united Conservative Party with a plan for Britain and the capacity to deliver a stable Brexit; and a Labour Party divided and led by a leader completely unfit to occupy 10 Downing Street.

The only thing that unites the Parliamentary Labour Party is their loathing of Jeremy Corbyn – they are not fit or able to govern this country. Their policies are limited and poorly thought through. Free school meals for middle and high income pupils, funded in such a way that they would have to ensure enough pupils went to private school, which combined with their opposition to grammars shows once again that Labour are not the party of opportunity, seems to be the only thing of any real note.

Not only do Labour not have any policies, but they couldn’t deliver them if they did. They are a party of ideological division, gesture politics, and personal ambitions. Corbyn isn’t strong enough to control his MPs or stand up for Britain on the world stage. He u-turned on his long-standing opposition to the EU for political gain – he shouldn’t be trusted to keep short term policy positions if he can’t even stand by his long-held beliefs. He won’t stand in the way of Scottish independence and stand up for our Union. He can’t keep a Shadow Cabinet together, let alone a government. He couldn’t even get a seat on a train, on June 8th don’t let his MPs get a seat in your area.

The Liberal Democrats won’t listen to the people. In 2010, the people trusted the Lib Dems not to raise tuition fees, they did. In 2016, the people told us they wanted to Leave the European Union, the Lib Dems didn’t listen. If you vote for them in 2017, can you really trust them to deliver what they promise? They want this election to be Remain vs Leave, stirring up the division of the last year once more – on June 8th, reject the Lib Dems’ politicking with the will of the people and don’t let them prop up an incompetent Corbyn government.

UKIP are divided and obsolete. They are a protest party without any credible political figures and an inability to keep the ones that they do have. If you want to see what a UKIP presence in Parliament would look like, look no further than their European Parliamentary group – disorganised, prone to (literal) infighting, and with a poor attendance record. A vote for UKIP on June 8th is a vote against Brexit and against a strong government. It is a vote for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour.

This election will define the future of our country. For a strong, stable, united United Kingdom vote for a Conservative Party who will stand up for Britain in the Brexit negotiations and who will stand up to the Scottish Nationalists in Edinburgh. It is time to put aside division, and petty politicking and come together behind the Prime Minister to deliver a solid mandate for this country’s future.

Theresa May has shown that she is able to represent Britain on the world stage. She is a proven statesperson with a solid record in government. The Conservative Party has a strong platform of policies and a record of delivering on our promises. If you wanted to find a direct contrast to Labour’s incompetence, you needn’t look much further than Theresa May’s Conservative Party.

A vote for the Conservative and Unionist Party is a vote for a strong and united United Kingdom. A vote for the Conservative Party is a vote for a proven government filled with experienced legislators who can continue to build a strong economy and a fair society. A vote for the Conservatives is a vote for a party who will listen to, and work for, the people of this country at home and abroad.

Now, more than ever, we need a strong and stable government working for this country. Labour and UKIP can’t deliver, the Lib Dems won’t deliver – on June 8th let’s continue building a country that works for everyone.

Today Marks the Dawn of a New Britain

Today after many (literal) trials and tribulations, the Prime Minister fired the starting gun on Brexit. In the next two years, we will get more of a glimpse into what Brexit will look like, but here is a quick take on what Brexit should actually mean for Britain.The first (chronologically) and easiest thing for the Prime Minister to achieve in the negotiations is a guarantee that British citizens living and working in the EU27 will be allowed to remain, and that EU citizens living and working in the UK should be guaranteed the same. This is an important first step to securing peace of mind for the thousands of citizens in both areas who are deeply concerned about their right to stay in the country they now call home. Both sides seem to be committed to this principle as an early goal for negotiations, and so it should be achieved without too much strain.

Another important issue for the Prime Minister is to ensure that we created a globalist, outward-looking Britain, which matches both the desire of Leavers, and of the Remainers who support free trade and other liberal values. We should be aiming for free trade with the European Union after Brexit, but we must ensure that we are not tied down by the Customs Union. The regressive isolationism of tariffs on non-EU states has prevented Britain from harnessing the power and growth of emerging markets like China, India and Brazil, as well as inhibiting our ability to conduct trade with our traditional allies: particularly Canada, Australia and the United States.

Securing global free trade deals is an important aim of Brexit, and was something heavily pushed for by Vote Leave and mandated by the 17m people who voted for it. A global, free trading Britain is the future for this country, and becoming a beacon for trade can only bode well for our economy. Particular focus once trade restrictions with non-EU nations have been lifted should be securing deals with our traditional Commonwealth allies and other countries where there are fewer non-tariff barriers to entry, as well as ensure that the economies of tomorrow are included in any such deals.

With a globalist Britain in mind, we should also be looking to retain our cooperation on initiatives on important global issues, such as security and climate change. Britain should be a world leader in such areas and should retain its links with European nations to continue working to solve them – as was often repeated in the campaign: we are not leaving Europe, nor are we saying that we no longer wish to be friends and allies, we are simply leaving a political union. Cooperation within Europe should continue, and Britain should use the opportunity to build a new network of allies across the world to continue to tackle important issues.

Another goal of the negotiations should be an end to the automatic free movement of labour. Retaining free movement for tourism and for other leisure pursuits should be encouraged, but we must put an end to a discriminatory immigration system which weighs a person’s nationality more than a person’s personality. Our immigration system should be based on the person and not the passport that they hold, and everyone wishing to come and live in the UK should undergo the same process. If we accept that there must be some upper limit on immigration (whatever number that may be), then a system of free movement of people gives an unfair advantage to people from 27 nations over those from 169 – that is not just, not right, and not fair, and it must end.

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

It may also bring 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.

Finally, it seems a given, but we should also use the opportunity to strengthen our Union, and not give in to those who seek to divide it. We share a common history and a common destiny. We share a common language and a common culture. This isn’t an English and Welsh Brexit, it is a red, white and blue Brexit, and it should work for England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Gibraltar, London and Cornwall.

Together, we take our first steps into a bright future.