The underlying issue that the Conservative Party seems almost destined to ignore further is that of its disintegrating youth vote.
In the 2017 general election, nearly 64 percent of registered voters aged between 18 – 24 headed to the polls to vote for Labour. Some would argue that this was due to Jeremy Corbyn’s very likeable manner, or perhaps his pledge to scrap tuition fees. Regardless of the reason, there’s no denying that Jeremy Corbyn has captivated a once disenfranchised youth vote.
So how can Theresa May and the Conservatives win back this crucial part of the electorate?
One idea that’s often passed around is that the Conservatives should perhaps set up an organisation like that of Momentum; as Momentum’s success in reeling in the youth vote was phenomenal. However, this was recently attempted with Activate, and it didn’t go well.
Rather than try to win the youth vote with sensible ideas, Activate became a laughing stock moments after its first post on social media. After criticising Momentum for so long, it now sought to copy it and in doing so, failed. One needs only to look at the twitter page of Activate to see the absolute quandary that Activate has become in its short-lived time.
Quite often the wrong kind of rhetoric can drive away an electorate, rather than spending money on ways to help engage young people with Conservative ideals; the Conservative Party chose instead to focus their attention on attacking Jeremy Corbyn, labelling him as an anti-British, terrorist sympathiser.
Whilst this wasn’t the main reason that young people chose to vote against the Conservatives, it does tell us that young people chose to stick by him even during the media onslaught, something that perhaps the Conservative party hadn’t anticipated. Corbyn spoke to young people, he engaged with them and he earned their trust.
As a former member of the Conservative Party, and former Vice-President of my alma mater’s Conservative Society, I can sympathise as to why young people may not choose to vote Conservative Despite numerous attempts to engage more people, the majority still saw the Conservatives as heartless. Student societies such as OUCA (Oxford University Conservative Association) reinforce this stereotype of drunken debauchery and snobbishness that so encapsulates the Conservative Party, it becomes almost impossible to break free.
As a university society, we tried to get more people involved. We had organised nights out and even a football match with the Labour Society. These were somewhat successful, however we were still seen as “evil Tories”, especially as we were regarded as supporters of an extremely unpopular local Conservative MP.
But is it really a riddle as to why young people don’t vote Conservative? Not really.
If Conservative ministers such as Matthew Hancock continue to say things that those under twenty-five are not productive and don’t deserve a living wage, then the Conservatives risk losing the youth vote almost entirely. Labour MP Jess Phillips tweeted about this saying the Conservatives need to lighten up and perhaps refrain from referring to those under twenty-five as lazy and saying that they are not worth the minimum wage or housing support.
Though there have been some strides in recent months, the Party is still a while off fully gaining the support of the youth. That doesn’t mean to say that there haven’t been suggestions thrown around on how to win back their support.
One of the main issues surrounding the youth of today is housing. The housing market continues to spiral out of control and more and more young people find themselves with little or no chance of ever owning their own home. Though the government introduced the Help to Buy scheme, which has shown some success, it is still not enough. Ed West of The Spectator proposes that the Conservatives seek to rectify this by building houses in the outer boroughs of cities like London which would drastically reduce the costs of housing in the city.
In addition to housing, the Conservative Party needs also to take a long-hard look at tuition fees and the rising cost of higher education. Now, I am not in support of abolishing tuition fees, despite being a Masters student myself. What I am strongly in favour of is a reduction tuition fees, the re-introduction grants to help those from less well-off backgrounds, and a greater emphasis placed on apprenticeships.
Tuition fees are extortionately high, I would certainly agree, but scrapping them entirely could mean that universities don’t receive the funding they require to deliver would class education and research. But that’s not to say that fees should be scrapped entirely, no, only reduced. Instead, perhaps the Conservatives need to take a German mind-set, of encouraging more young people to take up apprenticeships which would end up befitting them even more than a degree would, and would also mean that they won’t be tarnished with debt.
If the Conservative Party is ever going to win back the youth vote, it needs to take drastic action to make sure it doesn’t isolate them any further. The Party needs to tackle housing, education, and of course the elephant in the room, Brexit, which many young people are seeing as a hindrance to their future.
We’re a young while off, but maybe sometime in the future, 64% of those aged between 18 – 24 could end up voting Conservative in a general election.