Generation Z does not automatically share the same predilection for leftist identity politics as the Millennial generation which precedes them. But can conservatives do enough to appeal to this newest group of emerging voters?
Many conservatives, myself included, have been worrying a lot about how we can better resist the relentless encroachment of leftist identity politics and the regressive, illiberal social justice warriors at the movement’s vanguard. But what if we have now reached Peak SJW? What if the spell is wearing off and a new generation is emerging with less time for the pervasive victimhood culture spawned by the 1960s radicals and their fragile children? And if so, how can the Right appeal to this generation (or at least cease driving them toward the parties of the Left)?
These are the questions explored by Sam White over at Country Squire magazine, in a thought-provoking piece which explores how conservatives might find favour with (at least some) young people again.
Corbynism has been painted as rebellious and anti-establishment, but underneath the endorsement from Stormzy and the party leader’s appearance at Glastonbury (not that Glastonbury is pushing any boundaries) it’s nothing of the sort. If the current Labour leadership’s schemes were ushered in, they’d lead to constraint and conformity. And the new establishment would be authoritarian to a degree that its youthful supporters had not felt before.
There wouldn’t be much of a celebratory mood in the air then, as it slowly became clear that all that rebelliousness was nothing more than a carefully-managed means to an end.
Conservatives should be highlighting all this, and at the same time pushing the message that a free market model provides the best possible mechanism by which for changes to occur organically. Crucially, that model is how we safeguard the capacity to change, but it isn’t a change in itself.
If the Conservative Party were to realign around its libertarian element, then it might achieve resonance among younger voters, particularly those who come after the Millennial Red Army. Generation Z are shaping up to be open to a conservative message, and will surely react against the postmodern nonsense bought into by Millennials. Conservatives must be ready to meet them.
And the message should be simple: that the right-wing will safeguard classical liberal values and ditch victimhood-fetishizing identity politics. And it ought also to be made clear that socialism represents the polar opposite of all this: it’s a half-fossilized ideology that would usher in micro-management, politically correct hectoring, and state imposition.
The idea of the Conservative Party realigning around its libertarian element seems ludicrous at first glance, considering how few genuinely small-government, pro-liberty MPs exist within the party (and the even smaller subset of those whose views are vaguely coherent and pragmatic rather than ideological fantasy).
But then one remembers how Jeremy Corbyn first captured his party and then vast swathes of the country with a hard left message that his opponents and nearly all the commentariat dismissed as being terminally unpopular, and suddenly it doesn’t seem quite so unrealistic. One also thinks of how devotees of Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman were able to establish a beachhead within a Conservative Party which still fully bought into the statist post-war consensus. And suddenly the idea of a radical shift in the Conservative Party seems feasible, if still unlikely.
Of course, such a shift would require somebody with vision and political courage – a conservative version of Jeremy Corbyn. And necessarily somebody without very much to lose, given the high probability of failure. Like him or not, Jeremy Corbyn possesses this conviction in spades, and even many people who are none too keen on 1970s socialism respond warmly to his candidness and the fact that he is unwilling to apologise for his beliefs. It is hard to see anybody within the current Conservative Cabinet playing a similar role on the Right. Indeed, all of the candidates most hotly tipped to succeed Theresa May are either grasping opportunists (Boris Johnson) or bland nonentities with no clearly articulable political philosophy of their own (Philip Hammond, Amber Rudd).
But even if the Tories were to search deep within their party and find a leader with moral and ideological backbone, could they make political traction with any group of voters by standing up to the identity politics Left? Sam White argues yes:
Conservatives needn’t pay regard to the social justice diktats which have taken over left-liberal discourse and muffled people’s rational capabilities. Simply by speaking directly and honestly, the politically correct narrative can be disrupted. And if that ruffles some left-wing feathers then all the better, let’s refuse to apologise and then offend them some more.
[..] The Conservative Party ought to be rejecting SJW new-leftism unequivocally. Why not just state it clearly? If you value the sovereignty of the individual, if you want the freedom to say what you like, create what you want, and make of yourself what you will, then steer well clear of collectivist movements.
A serious party would throw out badly defined hate crime regulations, reject the CPS’s garbage about policing what people say online, and get a grip on the police force so they stop tweeting photos of their trans-friendly, rainbow coloured cars.
There’s a gap in the market right now as common sense, libertarian ideals go under-represented, and there’s a Conservative Party that needs revitalising.
I don’t disagree with Sam in principle, but I do believe that the approach he advocates would require a degree of political courage and holding one’s nerve that I have not yet seen in any potential future leader, with the partial exception of Jacob Rees-Mogg (who disqualifies himself from serious consideration in several other ways and is therefore irrelevant).
We have seen time and again the ability of the social justice, identity politics Left to summon national outrage, to raise a mob, to hound people from their jobs and careers and even to incite violence when they sense a threat to their illiberal worldview. Even when it transpires that the target of their fury is innocent of the charges levelled against them, the damage is often done and no retraction or apology is forthcoming – see the inquisition against decent people like scientists Dr. Matt Taylor and Sir Tim Hunt.
We have seen, too, the unwillingness of senior politicians to take even the mildest stand against a leftist orthodoxy which demands 100 percent compliance on pain of excommunication from polite society. Even on his way out as Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron equivocated and resigned rather than stick to his guns and defend what were presumably his true, religiously-motivated feelings about gay marriage. And regardless of one’s feelings about gay marriage (this blog is supportive), how many conservatives will have watched these various witch hunts play out in the news and concluded that to speak out on other issues like climate change, the gender pay gap, affirmative action or radical gender theory means career suicide and likely social ostracisation as a bonus?
In short, it would take almost superhuman bravery to stand in the face of this potential hurricane. Even Jeremy Corbyn didn’t have to fear such public opprobrium for stating his political beliefs. When running for the Labour leadership, despite being on record as supportive of dictatorial leftist regimes and terrorist groups from the IRA to Hamas, Corbyn was still very welcome in polite society, and regarded at worst by most his critics as a harmless curiosity from the past. By contrast, if a conservative politician were to publicly question or doubt the “institutional racism” of swathes of British society, denounce affirmative action or even state that there are just two sexes and genders, the dinner party invitations and television interview requests would dry up instantaneously. To even state political opinions held by a plurality of people effectively makes one persona non grata in Westminster and other elite circles.
Therefore, given the hostile environment and lack of courage seen in our politics, we will likely have to look for salvation from outside, in the form of Generation Z. As Sam White correctly points out, this emerging generation – unscarred by the great recession, less coddled (so far) by helicopter parenting, more individualistic and sceptical of identity politics narratives preaching collective racial guilt – may yet react against the politics of their older siblings and illiberal, leftist parents.
And this is why it is more vital than ever that the Conservative Party stop bickering over which of three or four identikit centrists replace Theresa May, and instead articulate a positive conservative vision with concrete policies that actually inspire young people rather than continue to screw them over. In short, they need to do precisely the opposite of what they accomplished during their car crash of a party conference in Manchester.
The newly-minted young adults of today are still politically up for grabs. There is nothing written in stone which decrees that they must become the perpetual property of a moralising left-wing movement which combines 1970s statism with 21st century, self-obsessed identity politics. Many of these new voters can still be called to a higher, better and more conservative purpose if only somebody was there to show them that there is more to conservatism than droning on about the deficit, apologising for their principles, chasing after Labour and messing up Brexit.
Tick tock, fellow conservatives.
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“Simply by speaking directly and honestly, the politically correct narrative can be disrupted. And if that ruffles some left-wing feathers then all the better, let’s refuse to apologise and then offend them some more.”
You may hate him but Milo Yiannopoulos has been doing this with a large degree of success.
He’s also pointed out why mainstream conservatives fail in the face of outrage-politics – they have no backbone. Don’t apologise, take on the argument and stand for truth, facts and reason and you’ll win the middle over.
No one backs this leftist politics but everyone is afraid. Start by making it a criminal offence to hound people out of jobs because of political difference. Reform the libel laws so that anyone can take another person to court for defamation of character.
Make it possible for the public sphere to be genuinely liberal in diversity of ideas.
And the other element is to go after socialism, collectivism and totalitarianism all over again. The death toll, the economic and personal misery, the corruption and chaos that this “idealist” politics brings in its wake
If not Jacob Rees-Mogg, whom? Because we Conservatives need someone NOW, not in five or ten or twenty years time.
Currently, we’re heading for disaster over Brexit (mishandled by the ultras) and the damage will destroy the party in the public’s eyes and you’ll have Corbyn’s Labour for a long time – Britain will be ruined.
So, we need someone now. I accept that JRM is one of the ultras but since we’re heading down that path anyway, unless you can suggest a plausible alternative, then we’re heading for total disaster.
You hate May and bland, authoritarian statism. So start making the argument *for* someone to replace her.
Regarding the risk of coming across as idealistic as opposed to pragmatic, and Corbyn getting away it…I could be wrong, but didn’t Rothbard and Hayek both state that it was better to go all out and paint the utopian version of what free market, libertarianism could achieve as opposed to inching away at the end goal? I vaguely recall it being framed along the lines of “Gradualism in theory is perpetuity in practice” when Tom Woods discussed it on his podcast.
At least in US terms:
“But what if we have now reached Peak SJW?”
Social Justice Warriors or otherwise Social Liberal Values are dependent on Conservatives ceding the ground on globalization, open border policies, and expansionist foreign policy; this is made doubly worse when moderate conservatives or UK’s “compassionate conservatives” cede the field to social liberal values proponents.
Under present dynamics of political ideological movement’s balance of power, it’s just warming up.
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I think you are probably right, at least in the short term. While the emerging Generation Z may indeed have different ideas and be something of a backlash against the millennials and previous generations, they are still very young and far from mature adulthood whereas millennials have graduated and are beginning to enter mid to senior management in many companies and institutions. So while we may hope to see Generation Z reject the worst excesses of the leftist, identity politics ideology and hopefully win some of them over to conservatism (or at least a few more than the millennials which preceded them), in terms of guiding policy and affecting everyday life, the social justice warriors will likely remain in the ascendancy for some time yet.
Still, interesting ideas to chew over, and some potential hope for the medium to long-term future, assuming that we can ride out the storm until Generation Z come to maturity.
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