Is There Hope For Conservatism In Generation Z?

Generation Z conservatism

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.

Sam writes:

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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Don’t Mistake Labour’s Party Conference Triumphalism For Complacency

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Don’t waste time laughing at over-enthusiastic Labour activists who claim that their party “won” the 2017 general election despite falling 56 seats short of the Conservatives. Labour will soon be celebrating for real unless the Tories can close the enthusiasm deficit with Corbyn’s motivated activists

Abi Wilkinson makes an important point in Total Politics today, refuting the growing accusations that the ebullient and positive Labour Party conference in Brighton is somehow a sign of derangement or complacency on the part of left-wing activists:

To dismiss the jubilance on display at the party’s recent conference as hubris is to misunderstand what’s going on. The MPs who claimed, at fringe events and on the main conference stage, that they believe Labour will win the next election were not, on the whole, complacent about what such a victory might require. Nor were any of the smiling, energetic young activists I met at Momentum’s The World Transformed parties and panel discussions naive about the challenge the party faces.

These are individuals who’ve spent the past couple of years campaigning and persuading, as the majority of the mainstream media and parts of their own party screamed that they were idiots, wreckers and dangerous hardliners. They’re people who were determined enough to drag themselves out door-knocking even when the polling gap appeared uncloseable. They built apps, organised car pools and slept on sofas to ensure that key marginals were flooded with volunteers. Many of them donated their time and skills to outmatch Tory efforts on a fraction of the budget.

This is absolutely true. Politics is an expectations game just as much as it is a net results game. Surpassing expectations can inject unstoppable momentum into a political party or movement, while failing to meet expectations can drain energy and enthusiasm faster than air escapes a burst balloon. That’s why Theresa May’s Conservative Party has the unmistakable pallor of death about it; grey-skinned, dead-eyed and utterly bereft of purpose, it shuffles forward to its party conference in Manchester like a zombie.

But even more than expectations, politics is about narratives and ideas. This was seemingly forgotten in the centrist, technocratic age ushered in under Tony Blair and growing to full fruition under David Cameron. For a long time, political elites have professed bland managerialism, aiming to do just enough to keep the population quiet with “good enough” public services and not much more. There was certainly no soaring national ambition or optimism for a different future preached the whole time that I grew up under Tony Blair and came of age under Brown, Cameron and Clegg. And the people miss it. You can explain Brexit and the rise of Jeremy Corbyn a million different ways, but one absolutely irrefutable component is the fact that people responded to politicians who offered something more than to hire a few more nurses and make the trains run on time.

Jeremy Corbyn has a compelling narrative because he actually believes in something, and people know he believes in something because he has been banging on about the same things for thirty-odd years, and doesn’t have to consult a focus group before he opens his mouth to respond to a question. So Labour’s confidence comes from a combination of new-found charisma at the top (say what you will about any of Corbyn’s centrist leadership competitors, but none of them could be described as charismatic) and huge energy and enthusiasm within the base. This is a potent combination, not to be sniffed at by cynical journalists and arrogant Tories who utterly failed to predict the 2017 general election result.

Wilkinson continues:

Enthusiasm is one of the most important resources Labour has. A party pursuing an agenda of increased tax and redistribution, regulation and nationalisation is never going to have a cosy relationship with media barons and big business in general (though it’s worth noting that the corporate lobbyists who stayed away from last year’s conference came flooding back this time) but it can reach people in other ways. Keeping activists’ spirits up ensures they’ll keep doing the work that’s necessary to maximise the likelihood of a Labour win.

Maybe it’s possible the current mood could tip over into slack triumphalism, but I’ve seen little sign of it yet. Many of the conference fringe events I attended involved smart discussions about what the party’s strategy going forward should consist of. Is it realistic to think that youth turnout could be increased further? Are the Tories capable of coming up with a decent answer to the housing crisis, and if they do so how will that impact our vote? What can we do to win over pensioners? What about self-employed tradespeople, a demographic we performed comparatively poorly with?

Does this sound like complacency? Hell no – it is determination. Labour might not be measuring the curtains in 10 Downing Street, but they have certainly tapped the address into their GPS and turned towards Whitehall.

This should be enormously worrying for conservatives, not least because the Conservative Party conference in Manchester promises to be a constant parade of recriminations and mediocrity, with Theresa May’s vacuous Labour Lite conference speech the rotting cherry on a very stale cake. The only enthusiasm on display will be among the cheerleaders and acolytes for the various potential Tory leadership challengers, waiting in the wings lest the prime minister make one more fatal error of judgment or messaging.

And if the government falls or the country otherwise gets dragged to the polls again before the Tories have had a chance to get their act together, what then? Corbyn is already on the brink of becoming prime minister, and increasing numbers of Britons are swallowing his story. The Conservatives, meanwhile are organisationally, intellectually and ideologically exhausted after seven years of being in office, but never really in power.

This blog has already warned how Labour’s hard left wing spent their summer busily plotting and organising for the next election to get them over the finish line, not licking their wounds, sunning themselves in Italy or plotting future leadership challenges. Momentum has been actively learning from the surprisingly viable presidential primary campaign of Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, who fought Hillary Clinton nearly all the way to the Democratic convention. And now groups of Momentum activists from sixteen to sixty years old are gathering in meeting rooms to learn how to make better use of online campaigning coordination and voter turnout software, while others are learning how to run a viral video campaign on social media even more successful than the 2017 effort.

Unfortunately, aside from last week’s Big Tent Ideas Festival and a series of articles in Conservative Home, the Tories have been engaged in no introspection and no reorganising of any kind.

As I recently fumed:

Meanwhile, what are we conservatives doing to retool ourselves to better fight the next general election? We are creating juvenile Jacob Rees-Mogg fanclubs on Facebook, engaging in pointless speculation about a cast of future leadership contenders all alike in blandness, and spending more time trying to ingratiate ourselves with the Tory party machine in constituency and at conference than figuring out what we should actually stand for, and how we can persuade others to stand with us.

Abi Wilkinson and I obviously come at this from opposite angles – she does not want Labour complacency and is reassured because she sees the frenetic organisation efforts taking place on the ground, while I would love to see a bit more Labour complacency and am disheartened by the fact that left-wing activism and organisation so utterly outstrips any efforts on the Right.

I campaigned for the Tories in 2010. God only knows why, in retrospect, but I pounded the pavements in my hometown of Harlow, Essex to help unseat Labour incumbent MP and minister Bill Rammell and elect Tory Rob Halfon in his place. But today you couldn’t pay me enough money to slap on a blue rosette and stump for Theresa May’s Conservative Party, which has somehow managed to blend barking authoritarianism, a statist, centre-left approach to the economy and the general incompetence of Frank Spencer. And if the Tories can no longer get enthusiastic conservatives like me to actively support them at the constituency level, then there’s a real problem.

Abi Wilkinson is right – there is no general complacency within the Labour Party, only a frightening seriousness of purpose. The only complacency for the past seven years has been on the Right, and specifically within the Conservative Party.

And now that complacency is metastasising into something even more deadly and hard to eradicate – resignation and defeatism.

 

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British Conservatives And The Youth Vote: The Failed Promise Of Activate

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It is easy to mock youthful conservative activists when their attempts at social media outreach go awry, but at least they are trying – none of the supposed adults in the Conservative Party seem remotely interested in salvaging conservatism’s toxic reputation among younger voters

The media has been having a lot of fun today at the expense of an organisation called Activate, a newly-launched independent conservative campaign group of young people, by young people and for young people.

Some of this criticism has been justified – the launch on social media was uncoordinated and the messaging…suboptimal, at best. One could certainly argue that Activate tried to run before it could walk, entering the political fray before the values and priorities of the group had been fully defined and agreed.

(Full disclosure: I was very tangentially involved in the pre-formation of this group earlier in the summer, participating in several group chats and offering occasional words of advice. This was in line with my strong belief – stated many, many, many, many times – that British conservatism will die out unless it urgently finds a way to reach and inspire younger voters with a positive message).

Inevitably, the reviews have not been kind, with outlets from the Independent, New Statesman, The SpectatorHuffington Post, Political ScrapbookRed Pepper and Esquire all forming an orderly queue to mock the group and question its grassroots bona fides.

The Guardian was actually one of the kindest:

A new Conservative grassroots campaign inspired by Labour’s Momentum movement will attempt to engage more young people in rightwing politics, though the group’s launch has been widely mocked on social media.

Activate, which aims to “engage young people with conservatism”, has close links with senior party activists, and is chaired by former Tory campaign manager Gary Markwell, a councillor in West Sussex. A Conservative spokesman said Activate was “not officially linked to the Conservatives and it receives no party funding”.

The group’s constitution says it will be independent from the party, though all members are expected to be members of the main party.

The campaigning group launched with a Twitter picture of the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, followed by a picture of Star Wars character Admiral Ackbar, saying “It’s a trap”.

The group’s use of multiple hashtags and a meme that was last popular in the early 2000s led to widespread derision on the social network.

Somewhat cringeworthy? Of course. Not what I would have done or recommended. But you can look at this two ways.

On one hand, you can take the attitude of the scornful left-wing press (and even some of the right-wing blogs like Guido Fawkes) and make fun of Activate’s enthusiastic but undeniably amateurish initial foray into grassroots political campaigning. And indeed, many journalists and commentators have been only too happy to mock the sincere efforts of 17-year-old students who at least take the time to educate themselves about political issues and live up to their responsibility to be good engaged citizens. That is certainly one approach, albeit a rather cynical one.

But the other attitude – a far more constructive one – is to ask why the hell it is being left to a group of enthusiastic but inexperienced teenage and twenty-something activists to do what the Conservative Party should have been doing all along, namely trying to engage in meaningful outreach to sceptical younger voters.

Recall: Theresa May’s brilliantly inspired general election campaign saw the Tories lose the 18-19 year old first time voter demographic by a margin of 47 points. The Conservative Party is getting nowhere with young people and struggling with nearly everyone else because they cannot clearly articulate what they stand for and simply offer a bland, repetitive, uninspiring and entirely defensive message.

With no positive message to rally around, no formal conservative youth movement and national party leadership totally devoid of charisma, the combined forces of present-day young conservative activists could probably all fit comfortably within a League One football stadium, with room to spare. Unfortunately, people who unironically wear bow ties and read economics at Cambridge are pretty much all we have right now in terms of boots on the ground – would that it were otherwise. But at least Activate is trying to expand the appeal of conservatism.

Maybe rather than mocking the earnest sixth-former wearing a bow tie in his bio picture, the likes of Guido Fawkes should instead be asking why it has been left to young kids like this to take all the initiative of creating a grassroots youth conservative movement on their own, with almost no help from senior Tories, party grandees, external think tanks or anybody else with abundant time, money and influence.

Maybe they should ask what possible excuse party leader Theresa May and her CCHQ cronies can offer for falling down on the youth outreach job so spectacularly. Maybe they should try holding the prime minister to account for swanning off to Italy after having presided after this disaster of an election campaign rather than staying put to undo a small fraction of the damage that she has done to the Conservative brand.

Maybe the likes of the IEA, Adam Smith Institute and Centre for Policy Studies should be a little more concerned about where their pipeline of future fellows and supposed thinkers will possibly come from when nearly every young person in the country hates the Tories with the burning heat of a thousand suns, and retains that hatred well into middle age. Kate Andrews is great, and a breath of fresh air on Question Time, but there is a limit to the number of articulate young conservative thinkers we can import from the United States. At some point we will have to develop some more homegrown talent.

But no. Rather than engaging in the slightest bit of introspection, too many conservative voices seem content to continue writing their asinine hot takes about the daily developments in the Brexit negotiations, speculating pointlessly about the next Tory leadership contest or simply getting drunk on Pimms and having Jacob Rees-Mogg’s face tattooed on their chests. Because summer silly season nonsense is so much more fun than tending to the existential question of who will keep the flame of conservatism lit when its present custodians are no more.

Maybe Activate did make a really bad start to their campaign. Maybe their name lends itself too easily to mockery. Maybe their logo wasn’t produced by the best graphic designers that money can buy. Maybe their initial foray into social media was more worthy of a Jacob Rees-Mogg fanclub than a serious political entity. But everything they have done thus far, they accomplished without a scintilla of help from anybody else in the British conservative movement. Contra much of the leftist press, this really is an unaffiliated grassroots movement.

Faced with the immense tarnishing of the conservative brand and reputation among young voters inflicted by Theresa May, her Cabinet and all the other supposed adults in the room, a group of sincere and well-meaning young conservative activists stepped up at a time when our elected conservative politicians have effectively fled the field of battle. That counts for something, and deserves acknowledgement.

Activate received no help from from the increasingly unworthy political party that bears the conservative name, and certainly no help from the constellation of think tanks, institutions, media outlets or commentators who think themselves so well-connected and influential. Unlike Momentum on the political Left, Activate has no prominent champions in the wider conservative movement, no real mentors (so critical to getting a youth organisation off the ground) and no funding that I am aware of. If anything is embarrassing, it isn’t a dated Star Wars meme on Twitter – it’s the fact that besides these well-meaning if sometimes naive people, nobody else is even making an effort.

It is time to face a number of difficult truths. Conservatism as an ideology and a political movement is radioactive to the majority of today’s young people. We are in retreat in schools, on the university campus, in the world of the arts, in the laboratories, in popular culture and the media, not to mention the House of Commons. And our inability to connect with younger voters and inspire them with a positive message about how conservative values and policies will benefit them and benefit the country is arguably the biggest threat that we face.

Faced with this shameful lack of leadership from anybody in Westminster, Activate is at least trying to do something to face up to these threats and begin tackling conservatism’s huge deficit of trust and inspiration among young voters.

And that is vastly more than can be said of all those people who spent today laughing smugly at their struggle.

 

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Peter Hitchens Demands A Real Conservative Alternative To Jeremy Corbyn

Margaret Thatcher hologram

The current cast of characters jockeying to replace Theresa May are almost as underwhelming as the prime minister herself. British conservatives of all shades need to have a full and open debate about how best to move the Conservative Party and the country forward, and then find a future leader with the charisma to take on Jeremy Corbyn in the battle for hearts and minds

Exactly two years ago, I wrote a rather despairing piece asking “Where is the Conservative Party’s Jeremy Corbyn?” Now Peter Hitchens is rightly asking the same question, having long ago despaired at the direction of the Conservative Party and its accommodation with Blairite, centrist managerialism.

Back in August 2015 I wrote:

I want a standard bearer for the Right who actually makes me feel excited, not resigned, when I enter the polling booth. I don’t necessarily expect that person to be elected by a landslide on the first attempt, and to immediately implement their entire agenda in full. But neither do I expect – as presently happens – all of the soul-sapping compromising and watering-down of core principle to take place before the candidate even gets their name on the ballot paper.

Jeremy Corbyn has not done all of his compromising upfront – he is proud of his beliefs, and does not seek to apologise for them. And he doesn’t talk and answer questions as though he is responding to the twitches of a focus group’s instant polling dial. That’s why he is surging in the polls. That’s why previously dejected Labour activists who support Corbyn are suddenly walking a little taller again. That, I think, is why Owen Jones is walking round with such an infuriatingly wide smile on his face at the moment.

It cannot remain this way if we are to be successful in advancing the cause of smaller government and greater individual freedom and autonomy. We cannot allow the Left to monopolise inspiration and ambition, however far-fetched, while we conservatives occupy and embody the dull, managerial, technocratic and remote politics of austerity.

And conservatives will never win a real mandate for change so long as we are content to be the party of last resort, the failsafe option voters pick when all of the other choices are too wacky or offensive to contemplate.

I concluded by asking:

If David Cameron’s Conservative Party was voted out of office today, what will future historians and political commentators say about this government fifty years from now? What will be the Cameron / Osborne legacy? What edifices of stone, statute and policy will remain standing as testament to their time in office? Try to picture it clearly.

Are you happy with what you see?

Substitute Theresa May’s name for David Cameron’s, and pose the same question to yourself. Is the answer any clearer or more satisfactory than it was two years ago?

Clearly not. And now Peter Hitchens has arrived at the same conclusion, writing in the Mail on Sunday:

If (like me) you have attended any of Mr Corbyn’s overflowing campaign meetings, you will have seen the hunger – among the under-30s and the over-50s especially – for principled, grown-up politics instead of public relations pap.

Mr Corbyn reminds mature people of the days when the big parties really differed. He impresses the young because he doesn’t patronise them, and obviously believes what he says. This desire for real politics isn’t just confined to the Left. Ken Livingstone is right to call Mr Corbyn Labour’s Nigel Farage. Ukip appeals to a similar impulse.

Millions are weary of being smarmed and lied to by people who actually are not that competent or impressive, and who have been picked because they look good on TV rather than because they have ideas or character.

Indeed, ideas or character are a disadvantage. Anything resembling a clear opinion is seized upon by the media’s inquisitors, and turned in to a ‘gaffe’ or an outrage.

Actually, I dislike many of Mr Corbyn’s opinions – his belief in egalitarianism and high taxation, his enthusiasm for comprehensive schools, his readiness to talk to terrorists and his support for the EU. Oddly enough, these are all policies he shares with the Tory Party.

But I like the honest way he states them, compared with the Tories’ slippery pretence of being what they’re not.

I have indeed attended one of Jeremy Corbyn’s massive rallies, in which the Labour leader (then fighting to cling on to leadership of the party in the face of a challenge from the hapless Owen Smith) managed to pack out the vast Kilburn State theatre in North London with excited and motivated activists of every age. It was quite a remarkable sight to behold, with energy levels more like those you would see in a hard-fought US presidential primary than a dour Labour Party leadership contest.

Contrast this with the pathetically phony photo opportunities orchestrated by Theresa May’s hapless 2017 general election campaign, with a small huddle of telegenic young activists, clearly bussed in from London, holding up professionally printed placards in front of the Tory campaign bus while the prime minister grated her way through that godawful “strong and stable” stump speech. There was no authentic grassroots enthusiasm for May or her policies, to the extent that CCHQ was terrified to allow the prime minister to get into any kind of unscripted interaction with the public, let alone a televised debate.

Theresa May - conservatives - campaign rally crowd

 

There may well be an appropriate time for dull managerialism and “steady as she goes” leadership, but Britain in 2017 is not it. Obviously Brexit must be handled with skill and sensitivity (not that the government has shown either of these attributes), but in every other respect Britain requires radical solutions to deep-seated problems rather than Theresa May’s brand of denial and incompetence. Whether it’s low productivity, education, the housing crisis, a failing nationalised healthcare system, dangerously pared-down national defence or a society fractured by toxic identity politics, this is a time for bold and unapologetically conservative solutions. But instead we have a weak prime minister at the head of an incoherent government, terrified of proclaiming conservative principles and desperate to move closer to the Labour Party on nearly every issue.

Hitchens goes on to describe what he sees as the ideal future Conservative leader:

My hope, most unlikely to be realised, is that a patriotic, conservative and Christian equivalent of Mr Corbyn will emerge to take him on, and will demonstrate, by his or her strength of conviction, that there is an even greater demand for that cause than there is for old-fashioned leftism. In any case, I think any thoughtful British person should be at least a little pleased to see the PR men and the special advisers and the backstairs-crawlers of British politics so wonderfully wrong-footed by a bearded old bicyclist.

Patriotic and conservative would be a good start, but I don’t think that this is specific enough. Theresa May, for example, ticks all three of Peter Hitchens’ boxes (one can make a valid argument that May represents a serious thread of conservative thought) yet is completely and utterly unequal to the role of prime minister, ideologically and temperamentally.

And as far as being Christian is concerned, Theresa May is a practicing Christian and famously the daughter of a vicar, and yet she has shown no real impulse to halt the suppression of legitimate religious expression where it comes into conflict with the free speech-averse forces of social justice and identity politics, for example. What, then, is the point of cheerleading for a Christian prime minister when they fail to defend religious freedom when in office? I would much rather have a prime minister who is secular-liberal when it comes to religion, eager to separate church (and faith) from state as far as possible while simultaneously protecting the right of British citizens to worship freely.

When it comes to choosing the ideal future Conservative prime minister, I maintain that the Tories could do far worse than select somebody who fits the profile I set out shortly before the disastrous general election back in June:

Ex armed forces (of either gender), mid to senior rank, with an illustrious overseas deployment history. Someone who exudes unapologetic patriotism yet never lapses into cheap jingoism, and whose commitment to defence, national security and veterans affairs is beyond question.

Followed up by a successful later career, possibly in the third sector or the arts but better still in the private sector, having founded a stonking great big corporation that also gives back to the community by employing ex-offenders or partnering with charities to do meaningful work in society.

A solid and consistent record (at least dating to the start of the EU referendum campaign) on Brexit, able to tell a compelling story about how Brexit – properly done – can be good for our democracy and at least neutral on the economic front.

A person who believes that until somebody comes up with a viable alternative to (or augmentation of) the democratic nation state, this institution remains the best method yet devised of ordering human affairs, and that consequently we should not needlessly undermine and vandalise it by vesting power in antidemocratic supranational organisations or pretending that we can sidle our way into a post-patriotic world by stealth rather than with the consent of the people.

Somebody who will not bargain away our civil liberties chasing the chimera of absolute security from terrorists and madmen – particularly while refusing to face down radical Islamism as an ideology to be confronted and defeated – but who will also stand up to expansionist, nonsensical definitions of human rights and an identity politics / political correctness agenda that values hurt feelings more than freedom of expression.

Somebody with the articulateness, gravitas, sincerity and quickness of thought capable of doing the near impossible in 2017: single-handedly turning the tide away from the vapid, broken politics of me, me, me. Somebody willing to ask – as John F. Kennedy once did – not what our country can do for us, but what we can do for our country. Somebody who dares to call us to a higher purpose than merely living in a country with “good public services”, deifying “Our NHS” and having the goddamn trains run on time.

Somebody who chooses for us to go to the moon (or rather its current day equivalent in terms of spectacular human achievement) “and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills” (John F Kennedy).

Doubtless my idea of the ideal conservative prime minister and Peter Hitchens’ conception will differ somewhat – Hitchens is more socially conservative than I, while I see myself as more of a conservatarian with pragmatic, tempered libertarian instincts.

But these differences of opinion only make it all the more important that we have a full and open debate about the future of conservatism, and what kind of leader would be best placed to move the conservative movement and the country forward. And far better that this conversation first take place in the abstract, as a discussion of principles and ideology, so it does not immediately descend into personality-based infighting and jockeying for position among Theresa May’s likely successors.

And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, it is also vitally important that conservatives (I deliberately speak of small-C conservatives rather than the often toxic and inept Conservative Party) find a way to re-engage with a youth vote that the Tories have been shamefully quick to write off and cede to the parties of the Left. This abandonment of the youth vote is absolutely untenable going forward, and is yet another reason why the next Tory leader needs to have sufficient charisma and authenticity to cut through anti-conservative prejudices among young people that have often been baked into their consciences since they first became politically aware.

Until the Conservatives figure out who and what they actually want to be, both Peter Hitchens and I are likely to remain underwhelmed and disappointed. An urgent reckoning needs to take place in order to answer this question: Has seven years of Cameron/Osborne/May-style accommodation with centrist Blairism delivered any real tangible improvement to the trajectory of Britain, or are we largely treading water? And if the latter, is the solution to move even further to the left, as Theresa May and her political spirit animal Nick Timothy seem to want, or is it wiser and better to bring real conservative values to bear on 21st century problems?

As far as I am concerned, the choice is self-evidently clear. The Tories can stubbornly cling to their current philosophy and hope at best to remain in office but not in power for a few more years as they desperately scamper after the Labour Party in their march to the hard left, or they can renew themselves, stop apologising for their conservatism and start enacting it instead.

But in the meantime, let’s start the debate.

 

Theresa May cabinet - Tory conservative leadership

Top Image: NewsThump

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British Conservatives And The Youth Vote, Ctd.

YouGov vote by age chart - general election 2017

Through their arrogance and sheer incompetence, the Tories have turned an entire generation away from conservative politics. But the solution is not to go marching off to the socialist Left

It doesn’t have to be like this.

It doesn’t have to be the case that people under 30 years of age vote so overwhelmingly for the parties of the Left, predominantly the Labour Party, while the Conservatives manage to sweep up barely a fifth of the youth vote.

The Tories have shot themselves in the foot by failing to court the youth vote or even speak to their concerns, the result of unbridled arrogance and sheer political incompetence. But the situation is not irreversible, if the right action is taken quickly. Unfortunately, the Tories – hopeless keepers of the conservative flame – look set to learn all of the wrong lessons.

I discussed this on my election night live blog and then again in this separate piece, but since that time several other commentators have jumped into the fray with their own takes, and it’s worth seeing what they have to say.

Former cabinet minister (sacked by Theresa May in her Weakness Reshuffle) and Harlow MP Robert Halfon won a lot of plaudits before the election for being one of few Tories to understand the need to reach out once more to the aspirational working class, and again after the election for criticising the Tories’ lack of vision going into the campaign.

From the Guardian:

Robert Halfon, who lost his frontbench role as minister for skills on Tuesday, said the Conservative party was “on death row” and had failed to offer a positive vision to voters.

The Harlow MP was scathing about the election campaign in which the prime minister lost her Commons majority, saying the Tories did not have a message to rival Labour’s promise to stand up “for the many not the few”.

Writing in the Sun, he said: “The Conservative party is on death row. Unless we reform our values, our membership offering and our party infrastructure, we face defeat at the next election – and potentially years of opposition.

“If we don’t change it wouldn’t matter if we had Alexander the Great or the Archangel Gabriel as leader. We face the wilderness.”

In an attack aimed at the Tory hierarchy – and campaign guru Sir Lynton Crosby – Halfon said: “Our election campaign portrayed us as a party devoid of values. ‘Strong and stable’ is hardly a battle cry. I cannot remember a time in the campaign when the Conservatives attempted to explain what we are really about: the party of the ladder, of aspiration and of opportunity.

“We let ourselves be perceived primarily as the party of ‘austerity’, failing entirely to campaign on our record of a strong economy or strong employment.

“Virtually nothing was said on the NHS or schools or the caring professions that work within them. Instead we created fear among pensioners, and threatened to take away school meals, handing a gift to our opponents. Is it any wonder that the Conservatives did not get a majority?”

Yes and no. Halfon is absolutely right to criticise the Tory campaign for its lack of a positive vision of any kind, let alone a coherent, recognisably conservative vision. But the specific targets of Halfon’s ire are all wrong. To follow his advice, the Tories should have engaged in a race with the Labour Party to shower praise and money on an unreformed NHS, wittered on endlessly about public services and exacerbated Britain’s corrosive culture of universal benefits, where everyone becomes accustomed to receiving handouts from the state regardless of their wealth or individual circumstances (see free school meals, the winter fuel allowance, child benefit and so on).

At least the Cameron/Osborne government, ideologically woolly as it was, made a token strike against universal benefits culture with their child benefit cap. Robert Halfon now sees support for giving benefits to people who don’t need them as the price of political survival. If this is true then there may as well not be a Conservative Party at all, because the Labour socialists will have won the war.

Here’s Nicholas Mazzei, writing in Conservative Home:

“Yeah I did; he was gonna write off my student loan. Come on!”

These were the words of a 25-year-old voter who text me early this morning, who had always voted Conservative and, up until the campaign began 5 weeks ago, was anti-Corbyn.

If you want to understand why the youth vote surged for Corbyn, I want you to read that line and look at the offer the Conservatives have made to the youth of Britain from our own manifesto. From this 25-year old’s own words, “the Conservatives have done nothing to reach out to those under-35”.

Now while most us would agree that the promises of wiping out debts and free university education by Labour were dangerous, unaffordable policies, we need to remember that the youth of the UK have been lumped with endless debts, rising costs in homes and education, and lower potential of earnings.

Much like in the US election, where voters turned out for Trump’s pro-employment message, youth voters in the UK turned out for a party which actually addressed their concerns.

Again, the problem is accurately diagnosed. The suite of Conservative Party policies, such as they were, did very little to even acknowledge the concerns of young people in a cosmetic way, let alone meaningfully address them. The Tories had no plan to encourage the building of sufficient houses to tackle the housing crisis because the status quo works just fine for their older core vote, thankyouverymuch. They remain obstinately committed to the most stubbornly self-harming form of Brexit possible, for absolutely no good reason, when most young people are sceptical of Brexit altogether.

And as icing on the cake, Theresa May and her lacklustre team preached a parsimonious message of fiscal restraint as a regrettable necessity – willingly accepting Labour’s framing of the economic debate! – rather than even attempting to sing the virtues of freedom, liberty and a smaller state dedicated to helping people in real need rather than a large state parcelling out insufficient morsels of assistance to everybody regardless of need.

Theresa May’s team seemingly forgot that people don’t become more conservative as they get older automatically or without some prompting, and that if the Tories continually screw somebody over through their formative years, young adulthood and early middle age then they won’t magically become Tory voters when they get their first grey hair. People become more conservative as they get older because historically, sensible government policy has allowed them to become greater and greater stakeholders in society, largely through property and equity ownership. Cut off millions of young people from this ladder to prosperity and security, and the conveyor belt which gradually moves people from political Left to Right as they age will come grinding to a halt. We see this in the YouGov poll. where the Tories now only overtake Labour among those aged over 50.

But while Mazzei effectively diagnoses the problem, his solutions also seem to involve lurching to the Left:

The UK has the highest average tuition fees in the world, second only to the USA (which is at around £5300 a year compared to £6,000 in the UK). We cannot lump all this debt on to young people. Education in general needs more investment and should be protected at all costs.

No. Why should somebody without a university degree subsidise the education (and future higher earning potential) of somebody who wants a free degree? While tuition fees at some American schools are horrendously expensive and poor value for money, UK fees are much cheaper, to the extent that they still often do not even cover the full cost of tuition. They are by no means outrageous, and those unwilling to make the investment in themselves are under no obligation to attend university. If anything, the presence of tuition fees clamps down on the number of pointless degrees in non-subjects being taken by students. Lower or remove tuition fees and we will likely see an explosion in gender studies and other pointless social justice-related pseudo-courses.

The unnamed government minister who spoke scathingly to the Telegraph about the Tory election campaign hits closer to the truth:

The Conservative Party has become “too shallow” and needs a “re-invigoration of political thought” that can draw young people to the party, a minister has said.

The MP warned that the Tory election campaign had relied on “poxy little slogans” to attract the youth vote and failed to counter Jeremy Corbyn’s offer of “free money” in the form of state-funded university tuition and other hand-outs.

The minister told The Telegraph: “You’ve got to persuade a new generation of people of what’s what. We never even tried, so Corbyn just came in and basically bribed people to vote for him with other people’s money that doesn’t even exist.”

[..] The minister said: “It’s all about political education and argument. The problem with the whole campaign is that it was about politics and politicians. “Everything is too shallow. Politicians have all got their experience but they lose if they forget to re-educate a new generation. You’ve got to persuade a new generation of people of what’s what.

“This is about political persuasion and think tanks and all that stuff.”

Another MP said the party had failed to properly engage younger votes on social media, where many users were instead targeted with videos attacking Mr Corbyn.

“Frankly the party has done very, very little to engage with young people,” he said. “We have made no real effort to garner support, even on social media, which is where everybody gets their news and views these days.

Yes, a thousand times yes. The case for conservatism has to keep being made for each new generation. The very presence of Jeremy Corbyn as the leader of the Labour Party should have been a huge wake-up call to the Tories that defunct, failed ideologies do not simply slink away to die once they are exposed and defeated.

Margaret Thatcher’s government may have rescued Britain from 1970s decline, but this was before the living memory of half the electorate. Two generations have come since the Winter of Discontent, with many in the millennial generation probably unable to even explain what it was, or how the failed socialist post-war consensus brought Britain to the brink of irreversible decline.

Thus we now have a generation of young people who take relative material abundance, peace and security for granted rather than appreciating that capitalism is the source of our prosperity, not a drain on it. A pampered generation who simply don’t realise that British and Western values need to be cherished and defended (as the Second World War and Cold War taught older generations).

Ross Clark makes the same point in The Spectator:

The under 35s have never been exposed to the negative images of socialism that were familiar to older generations. Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, to my age group socialism was inescapably associated with the failures of the Soviet bloc: it conjured images of queuing half a day for a cabbage, putting your name down on a long waiting list for the prize of a choking, belching Trabant – and of getting shot if you tried to escape. To my generation, capitalism was synonymous with freedom. But I am not sure that holds for a generation who see only large, tax-dodging corporations and bankers who wrecked the economy yet carried on skimming off vast bonuses.

Neither, when reading of Jeremy Corbyn’s renationalisation plans, do the under-35s have memories of nationalised industries in Britain in the 1970s. They don’t recall the three day week, the Winter of Discontent, dirty, late trains, or realise that the chaos on Southern Railway was once symptomatic of labour relations in huge swaths of nationalised industry. All they see are over-priced trains run by private companies which have ruthlessly exploited the private monopolies which they were granted in this, the most botched of the privatisations.

The Corbynite Left (and even Labour centrists) have been incredibly adept at presenting what are really regulatory failures or corrupt crony corporatism as failures of capitalism itself, which – as shown by the willingness of young people to vote for politicians like Bernie Sanders, Jean-Luc Melenchon and Jeremy Corbyn – has led many young people to demand that we throw the baby out with the bathwater. They sit and angrily Tweet about the evils of capitalism using handheld computing devices that only capitalism made possible, and nobody in British conservative politics seemingly has the balls to point out the absurdity to them.

The anonymous government minister is absolutely right to point out that Conservatives have an existential duty to “persuade a new generation of people of what’s what”, that showering public services with endless money and taking back state control of industry would have already happened if repeated lessons from history did not show that this approach simply never works.

The minister is right too when he says “this is about political persuasion and think tanks and all that stuff”. Yes it is. But you won’t reach young people with think tanks and white papers, and it is becoming increasingly obvious that the toxic Tory brand will not persuade them of the merits of conservatism either. That’s why we need strong new independent grassroots organisations to emerge, to promote the idea of freedom, self-sufficiency and a smaller, better-targeted state as an inherently good thing in and of itself, rather than a regretful response to recession.

As I wrote the other day:

For reasons of branding and basic administrative competence, any future small-C conservative movement hoping to gain traction with young people must be distinct from the Conservative Party, free of that residual toxicity and free to criticise the Tory party in government and in opposition when it proposes policies which either betray core values or threaten the interests of young people. A British CPAC and Young Brits for Liberty-style organisation could nurture talent of its own, outside the corrupting, nepotistic influence of the Conservative Party hierarchy, and would greatly increase their collective clout by helping or withholding support from future Tory election campaigns and individual candidacies based on policy, not party loyalty.

It is only through outside groups like this that the image of conservatism stands a chance of being rehabilitated among young people. It is only through a British version of CPAC or YAF that young conservative or agnostic students at university stand a chance against being steamrollered by the fashionable left-wing identity politics which are almost de rigeur for social acceptance and advancement.

[..] We need a strong external repository for conservative principle, capable of engaging with young people who have been continually taught that leftist progressivism = forward-thinking “compassion” while liberty, independence and self-sufficiency from government are evidence of greed and moral failure.

We particularly need to work closely with conservative organisations in the United States, which face a similar uphill struggle in overcoming a historic disinterest in the youth vote but which are now starting to have some success, generated in part by their opposition to the illiberal Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics sweeping American university campuses, with its disregard for freedom of speech and toxic obsession with the politics of victimhood.

We should be sharing best practice back and forth with American conservative organisations as to how to build strong redoubts for conservatism in overwhelmingly leftist places, so that conservatism isn’t washed away altogether. Frankly, British conservatism is in such a parlous state that we need their help. And then, once things have stabilised, we can look to reclaim some of the ground we have lost among young voters.

Skot Covert, Co-Chairman of the College Republican National Committee in the United States, offered this advice for a young conservative revival in the United States:

Due to an extended absence on the right’s part, winning the youth vote won’t be easy and it certainly won’t happen overnight.  However, when the GOP communicates our policy positions in culturally relevant terms in the right mediums, we see progress.  This means understanding how and where young voters communicate and having a discussion on the issues most important to them.

I believe it’s also critical to understand that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to winning young voters.  My generation is diverse and vibrant.  We thrive on uniqueness and self-definition and instinctively reject the notion that we should “go with the flow”.  Crafting an effective youth outreach strategy must be developed around this understanding.

This is certainly true. People crave authenticity in a politician – somebody willing to speak extemporaneously and answer straight questions honestly without first running them through a focus group or a Comms Team. Young people especially, it seems, like an optimistic, forward-looking message rather than lashings of grim tidings delivered by a malfunctioning, cautious android like Theresa May. Who knew? That’s why young people preferred socialist firebrand Bernie Sanders to calculating, establishment Hillary Clinton. That’s why Americans elected Donald Trump as their next president.

But there is no reason why these qualities of openness and relatability cannot be vested in a politician who doesn’t hail from the hard left or the populist pseudo-right. There is no reason why a liberty-minded Conservative MP could not similarly enthuse young people with a message of individual liberty, economic freedom and the advantages (rather than the costs) of restraining the state.

Anoosh Chakelian explains in the New Statesman just how Jeremy Corbyn and Corbyn-supporting outside groups used this quality of authenticity to their advantage:

Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign focused heavily on young people – a key manifesto pledge being to scrap tuition fees. His campaign style – rallies across the country, and fewer stage-managed speeches and press conferences than Theresa May – also appealed more to this demographic.

In addition, Labour had viral news on its side. As BuzzFeed reported, pro-Corbyn articles by “alt-left” sites were shared on an enormous scale on social media. I hear that nearly 25 per cent of UK Facebook users watched a Momentum video on the website in the penultimate week of campaigning. This is a particularly effective way of reaching young people, and inspiring them to vote – something the Tories weren’t as good at.

But who in the current Conservative Party hierarchy is remotely equipped for this task? Boris Johnson is probably the most charismatic of the senior Tories, but even he could never pack a large 2000-seat theatre for a political rally the way that Jeremy Corbyn can. And of course Boris Johnson is something of a charlatan, with sky-high negative ratings and absolutely no fixed political compass.

The cold hard truth is that the Tories don’t have anybody who can match Jeremy Corbyn for charisma right now – and how depressing that is. The best we can hope for is to give some of the better backbenchers (I keep banging on about Kwasi Kwarteng and James Cleverly) some ministerial experience to groom them for a few years down the road, but rather than looking to the future, Theresa May seems to have decided to keep her cabinet stuffed full of bland non-entities with her latest reshuffle. In her infinite wisdom.

That’s why we cannot rely on the Conservative Party to save conservatism from itself. The Tory party is corrupt, inbred, nepotistic, dysfunctional and ideologically bankrupt. Right now they are seriously considering skipping after Jeremy Corbyn on a fun political jaunt even further to the hard Left. Yes, somehow the Tories squandered the opportunity to use Corbyn’s rise to move the Overton Window of British politics further to the right, and instead are doing all they can to help him shift it to the left. These people are incompetent clowns who cannot be trusted to walk with scissors, let alone safeguard the ideology and worldview which we depend on to keep us prosperous and free.

We need outside groups to pick up the burden so shamefully dropped by Theresa May and her dysfunctional party. Student organisations, business organisations, bloggers, the works. The Tory Party as it currently stands will never persuade any more young people to vote Conservative. We need outside organisations with legitimacy and untainted reputations to make the positive case for conservative, pro-market values, and then pressure the Tories to hold the line rather than fight every battle on Labour’s terms.

I repeat: do not look to the Conservative Party to successfully engineer an improvement in the youth vote. The Tories are not going to make things any easier for themselves when it comes to youth outreach, and given the level of competence exhibited by CCHQ they have the potential to make things a whole lot worse.

We few young small-C conservatives need to pick up the slack ourselves.

 

Jeremy Corbyn - youth vote - t shirt

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