Yesterday I enjoyed reading Sam Bowman dunking on the conservative party’s new think tank 'Onward' and their attempts to appeal to young people without actually changing anything. I’d like to add some of my own thoughts, and most tweet threads should be short blog posts. I find it difficult to offer constructive criticism, as I don’t really want the conservative party to succeed, but these are some observations.
Right now the underlying reason conservatives do so bad among young people is that they don’t like us. There seems to be a collective amnesia within Onward’s politics about the events of the past few years. After May came to power the party made a shift in presentation and ideology. The Cameron era party was for a small state and vaguely liberal but big tent on social issues, and tried to appeal to young professionals like me. Off the back of the brexit referendum Theresa May saw an opportunity to reorientate the political divide. She made the Tories the party of 'closed' in the open-closed dichotomy of endless economist articles, and this is inexorably tied up to age, with younger voters being far more open across the board.
The shift wasn't an inevitable outcome of the vote, it was a deliberate choice. The conservative leadership figured that they could create a more moderate version of Steve Bannon type right wing populism, and hoover up older white working class voters in northern towns, and so lock down a certain conservative majority for generations. The apotheosis of this was her infamous 'citizens of nowhere' speech, a deliberate attempt to alienate me and people like me in order to chase older voters. I would never vote conservative, but if I met David Cameron in a bar he'd probably try to change my mind. Theresa May isn't interested in my vote at all.
As it is currently constructed asking how the conservative party could win over young people is like asking how the Bolshevik party could appeal to the kulaks. The conservative party represents the interests of the elderly against young people and there are fundamental policy trade offs which this entails. It controls the supply of housing to keep their house prices up, it protects their benefits in the face of welfare cuts elsewhere, it prioritises their wishes to have fewer foreigners around over jobs and growth.
This actually worked quite well for a while, May had a stonking poll lead until she fucked everything in the general election campaign. In an alternative universe where she wasn’t ludicrously incompetent she might have won a big majority. It’s not a requirement that every political party has to try to fight for my vote to win an election, but the strategy thankfully looks busted now though so they will have to change something.
Tories are obviously never going to win over Corbyn supporting teenagers, but wealthy young professionals should be a target market. The first step to winning over young people is wanting to win over young people though, and so far there’s not much evidence they want to. Pretending the last three years didn’t happen won’t help.