Bolder policies, and a defense of liberal values, must be accompanied by serious thought on how to handle Brexit if the Tory party want to convince young peopleby Nicholas Earl / June 26, 2017 / Leave a comment
“Under 30s love Corbyn, but they don’t care enough to get off their lazy arses to vote for him.”
Those were the words of a long-serving Tory MP two days before the 2017 UK General Election.
Perhaps, after the election result, he is glad to have been quoted anonymously. In vivid contrast to the sluggish showing of previous general elections in 2010 (43%) and 2015 (44%), turnout from the 18-24 demographic surged to fifty nine per cent, only eight points below the national average. Meanwhile, the Conservatives not only failed to achieve a majority, but nearly lost the election. The result showed that the Labour-Conservative voter transition age—the age at which the average voter is more likely to vote Tory, rather than Labour—had increased to 47.
The reasons why this young demographic did not turn out for May are key to understanding what the party must do to recapture their votes. Angus Hatton, co-founder of the Intergenerational Fund said: “For too long younger generations have borne the burden of austerity and politicians have learnt the hard way that they will have to improve their policy offers to younger generations. Cheaper housing, better pay, fairer student finance terms, and a fairer pension settlement between the generations should all be on the agenda.”
The strength of this narrative was compounded by the fact the Conservative arguments on these issues weren’t defended in a campaign light on policy detail. Corbyn, meanwhile, was granted open season in painting the Conservative Party as heartless and cruel.
To win back young voters, it is clear the Tories will need to go further in promoting their liberal values and in recognizing the economic impact of austerity, associated with a lack of job opportunities and cuts to needed financial benefits that young people rely on in between education and employment—such as the EMA and housing benefit.
According to conservative think-tank Bright Blue, it is vital that future manifestos address this. Senior researcher Sam Hall said: “The next Conservative manifesto … should embrace, rather than reject, social and economic liberalism, which is appealing to young people.”
“To turn this situation around, the Conservatives need a bolder policy offer on the issues young people care about, like housing, climate change, and immigration.”
These are sentiments echoed across the party. Remy Osman, 23, a young member of the Conservative Party who previously volunteered with the Warwick University Conservative Association, also felt that the party could be doing more to entice young people in, including promoting British liberal values.
He said: “The Tories need to offer a positive vision, particularly for young people. They need to offer a clearer, more positive vision for what Britain is. When it comes to progressive values, I would emphasise our record on gay rights and women’s rights.”
Hannah Ashcroft, a young Conservative party member based in Scotland, also felt that there weren’t enough policies to benefit young voters, and wanted to see a fully costed manifesto alongside it.
She said: “A focus on job opportunities for graduates, lowering tuition fees for home students, and really helping people buy their homes across the UK are a few things I think the Tories could introduce. Apprenticeships for those that the current education system does not suit would be a great thing.”
“I truly believe the young people of this election voted so on compassionate grounds, and voted Labour because it seemed like the nice thing to do.”
Whatever Tories can make themselves more liberal in the eyes of the increasing youth turnout really depends on how they deal with the UK’s biggest potential banana skin: Brexit.
Young people will remember the EU referendum result and could take memories of a bad deal Brussels deal with them as they move up the age brackets. Given that 75% of under-25s voted to remain, the Tories need to show they can approach Brexit in a responsible way. Tory safe seats in University safe seats such as Canterbury, Bristol West and Reading East fell to Labour due to an upsurge in student voters, chiefly angered by the referendum result and the proposed “Hard Brexit.”
To entice back young these voters, the Conservatives could consider offering an olive branch to other parties. David Davis, the Secretary for Exiting The European Union, could give progress updates openly to the House of Commons every week. A young person’s guide on leaving the E.U could be produced before the negotiations, looking at key details that the Tories ought to safeguard during negotiations—for instance, visa-free travel or continued participation in the Erasmus scheme. Combined with a commitment to spend money saved from EU membership on apprenticeships and training schemes, such measures could encourage younger Remainers to re-consider their animosity to the Conservatives.
More importantly, the Conservative party has to reject the nationalist sentiments of populist parties and shelve any of the more suspicious policies they flirted with in last year’s party conference such as a state register for foreign workers. It world also be wise to sign trade deals across the globe before the next election, proving that Britain would remain open to trading with the rest of the world.
These actions might not convince young people to change their mind about leaving the E.U, but it would show the Conservatives as a far more open party to both Europe, and to being scrutinised.
If the Conservatives can combine this openness with political savvy, they still have a hope of enticing young voters back.