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Tory attempts to recruit youth are futile thanks to Brexit

by Lara Spirit | 17.05.2018

The Tories are after young blood. Many in the party seem increasingly concerned that electoral success relies too heavily on an older voting base. New schemes are therefore afoot to turn young voters blue. But this will be extremely difficult so long as this Tory-driven hard Brexit continues.

Last month saw the unlikely union of Leave frontman Michael Gove and outspoken Remainer Ruth Davidson jointly launching a new think tank to woo that allusive younger demographic. This week the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS), another centre-right think tank established by Margaret Thatcher, published a new pamphlet – “New Blue: Ideas for a New Generation” – full of ideas for turning the youth Tory.

A CPS survey found that 44% of 18 to 24 year-olds would never vote Tory. This sort of statistic has traditionally been met by a sense of resignation, and a belief that the youngest are often destined to inevitably and apparently sedately drift toward Labour. The director of CPS, for his part, puts this down to indoctrination from left-wing teachers.

But more concerning for the Conservatives is that the survey found a larger 48% of those aged 25 to 49 share the same anti-Tory sentiment. This is a trend which, if not stopped, could bring a mounting electoral cost over the coming decades.

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Gove spoke at the launch of the new report, warning his Tory colleagues that they had to find a new economic argument to appeal to the young. “The world has changed, capitalism has changed,” he said.

But what the report fails to address is the role of Brexit, which 75% of younger voters opposed in 2016. In fact, while investigating what issues matter to young people the most, the CPS only managed to go as far as asking: “Once Brexit has been resolved, what other issues will be most important for the government to address?”

Quite how the CPS considers its findings very constructive with such a glaring omission is bemusing. Although the collection of essays includes some welcome insights into young people’s desire for a better NHS, better mental health provision in schools and universities, better job opportunities and more affordable housing, the failure to see all of these as deeply intertwined with the broader Brexit mess is a mistake.

Having spoken with young people across the country as part of my work with OFOC, they are clearly aware of the difficulty of fixing these problems while politicians are preoccupied with fighting over just how damaging Brexit should be.

And it’s not that young people share no Tory values. For example, the CPS report celebrates its finding that many younger voters relate to the conservative value that there is a difference between “equality of opportunity” and “equality of outcome”. But this distinction becomes utterly redundant in a state reeling from Brexit which would make it harder for young people to find a job, buy a house or get an education. Both opportunities and outcomes are curtailed by Brexit. The CPS has missed the point.

On Tuesday, Gove recognised that young people are “thirsty” and “desperate” for control over their lives. He’s right. That’s why the young need a chance to vote on whether the Brexit deal is good enough for their futures. Otherwise the Tories risk closing the door on this swathe of the population for good.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

2 Responses to “Tory attempts to recruit youth are futile thanks to Brexit”

  • > For example, the CPS report celebrates its finding that many younger voters relate to the conservative value that there is a difference between “equality of opportunity” and “equality of outcome”

    There is, but Labour believes in equality of outcome, LibDems believe in equality of opportunity and Tories believe in inequality.