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Goldsmiths' Official Student Magazine

How can the Conservative Party win over the youth?

13 September 2017
First year, Mitchell Foyle-York explores the ways in which the Tories won the vote, but alienated the youth.

Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn championed the youth vote. Pic: Andy Miah (Flickr)

How can the Conservative Party win over the youth?

Firstly, I feel obliged to point out that I actually didn’t vote for the Conservatives in the 2017 General Election.

Instead, I voted for the Labour Party, despite being very torn towards the party leader Jeremy Corbyn for various reasons, this seems to be a constant theme for my fellow millennials. Under Corbyn’s spell, the turnout for 18-24 years olds surged from 43% in 2015 to 66.4% in 2017, with 63% of those young people voting for Labour.

So, given the statistics, it was no surprise that Tory MP Damian Green recently said that the Conservative Party must “change hard” to win over the youth. No matter how old (or young) you are, or where your political allegiances lie, it is simply impossible to deny that the Conservative Party are failing to win over young voters, especially when it comes to getting those potential voters to turn up to the ballot box in the first place. We must now ask ourselves – with Damian Green’s comments in mind – what must the Conservatives do to inspire the youth?

To begin with, we must contemplate whether the problem is actually the Tories, or is it perhaps the millennials themselves?

Yes… We need to talk about my fellow millennials, and I’m no longer afraid to say it – although, I will rush to say that I think the problems lies with both the Tories and the youth. The ‘problem’, so to speak, with the millennials is clearly reflected on many of our university campuses and social media platforms. A huge proportion of the politically engaged youth, for various reasons, seem to have an obsession with playing the victim.

“Safe space policies” are ripe on our university campuses, and Postmodernism and identity politics is seemingly more popular than ever. However, I feel as though it is important to remember that the youth have always been radicals; which 16-year-old doesn’t want to free the working classes from their chains? So, naturally, many of these millennials may shift to the centre of the political spectrum as they get older, in that all-so cliché way. Corbyn has, to his credit, hacked into this social climate. His slogans, campaign material and policies were often centred around equity, state-funded opportunity and giving the future of Britain a helping hand. But before I put forth a potential Conservative cure for these issues, I will swing the finger of criticism from the youth, and point it firmly in the direction of the Tories.

One of the most obvious problems with the Conservatives is their image, or at least how the youth perceive that image. Despite Theresa May’s fairly modest upbringing as the daughter of a vicar, the Conservatives still continue their age-old tradition of being a, shall we say, posh boys club. Everything from the media to technology has changed, and it is very easy for the computer savvy youth to look past the mainstream media and discover the history behind key Conservative figures.

It is only natural for an 18-year-old working class student to look at Boris Johnson’s etonian upbringing and think: “How could that person possibly know what is best for me?”. Something simply must shift in the Conservative’s image; they cannot survive on their current dose of etonians and bullingdon boys. As history proves, Prime Ministers are more than often elected based upon how connected a television viewer feels whilst watching them deliver a speech in the comfort of their own home. Especially in the age of identity politics, where awareness of social-class among the electorate is so evident, the Tories must take a different approach.

But, of course, politics shouldn’t be about personality (and it’s a risky game of classism to start purging etonians from the Conservative Party). The Conservative Party’s policies are unpopular with the youth, as well as many older people too. Most strikingly, it is the economic policy of austerity which has disgusted and angered the vast majority of young voters. The education, NHS and Social Care systems seem to be severely underfunded, and understandably this is a huge worry for many a voter. In order to win over some young voters, the Conservative Party simply must make a giant U-turn on austerity, and bring it to an end once and for all.

Equally as damaging as problem of austerity, in my opinion, is the lack of Conservative principles. With Labour’s shift to the left, Theresa May scrambled desperately in the chasms of Blairism in a pathetic attempt to snap up those Labour voters who felt alienated by Jeremy Corbyn. But, as Fraser Nelson said in his article for July edition of The Spectator, “If voters are sold Labour ideas, they’ll buy them from the Labour Party”. So, what should the Conservative Party be offering the electorate? And more importantly, which kind of alternative to Labour and the status-quo can the Tories offer young voters?

Of course, given my political preferences, I am more than happy to be accused of being biased at this point. But, I feel as though a shift towards Classical Liberalism – a more centrist approach – and conservatism – with a small “c” – would offer the youth something to believe in. It feels as though the Conservatives have abandoned the importance of liberty and the individual. By developing such principles, and deeply rooting them in their future policies, the youth – and everybody else, for that matter – could have an alternative to the identity politics which is flourishing within our university campuses, faculties and society in general.

It seems cliché and predictable, especially coming from myself, but if the Conservative Party even want me to consider donating my vote to them, they must make a shift away from their fetish for the Neo-Liberal economy, and place all emphasis on the values of freedom, individuality and opportunity for all.

Find more from Mitchell Foyle-York, @mfoyleyork