***Originally published at www.leonardsreview.co.uk and www.activate.uk.net***
The Conservatives can win the youth vote, but first, they need to understand the politics of my generation which is pretty easy to get to grips with. We want big government unless it costs more cash. We’re also inclined towards small government, but not if it involves scrapping government programs. We do usually care about responsible public finances, but not if it means “austerity”. And if spending did need to be curbed the answer would be tax hikes, unless of course, they would affect millennials. In short, the government should fix everything, without spending anything and without requiring anything of me.
The rate at which the political views of “Millennials” (those born roughly between 1982 and 2002) change, is often too fast to keep track of and at worst is defined by total incoherency.
But I would like to suggest that far from being the generation of socialism and entitlement, these observations are primarily a reflection that mine is a generation bearing the frustration of the mistakes made by previous generations, and suffering from being fed misguided ideas about what good government looks like in tough times. This has resulted in a plethora of expectations arising from among the murmurings of political discourse on social media, which are simply incompatible.
Age divides the nation
It is an observation almost inescapable to anyone who even remotely engages in the political dialogue that Conservatives are having a tough time making headway into what I characterise as the unclaimed generation.
They are unclaimed because their political beliefs are far less a result of considered opinion than we might think. We are tempted to assume that the policies of the Left are logical implications of beliefs which young people have been convinced by. But this is not so. As a child needs to be persuaded by his or her teacher of some of the counter-intuitive physical laws of nature, so do they need to be persuaded of the laws of human tendencies.
At the last general election, My Corbyn characterised the nation through the class lens – “for the many, not the few”. It’s an assumed disconnect which is rooted deeply in socialist ideology and has become somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy. But it is clear as crystal that the biggest schism of all is between the young and the old. According to YouGov, Labour’s lead among the Millennial electorate is a staggering 44 percentage points. That’s almost three times the size of Labour’s lead among the same generation back in 2015.
This division is a big problem for our nation. Conservatism is defined by the very principles which have made Britain the free, democratic and outward-looking nation that it is today, and if we fail to pass on that portion of our inheritance unmarred there is only one ideology to replace it and one outcome which will ensue.
So why is it that Conservatives not getting through at the moment?
Well, it’s not because Millennials are incapable of appreciating the merits of what conservatism stands for. Right across the board, Millennials understand the virtue of hard work and individual responsibility. They don’t consider themselves to be entitled to more big state programs or free handouts than their parents. Nor are young people opposed to free trade.
Put simply, as a result of the frivolous borrowing and spending of the last two generations, young people, out of necessity rather than choice, are faced with worrying prospects about their futures which were never faced by their parents or grandparents. Public and consumer borrowing was unsustainable. Pension promises were made irresponsibly. The rate of migration and the consequent rise in house prices and pressure on public services was simply not sustainable. And it is young people who will face the challenge of correcting for these mistakes and having their expectations realigned with what has now become necessary.
So what needs to be done to win young people over in the ballot box? I think there are three things.
How Conservatives can claim the Millennial vote
First, conservatives need to genuinely appreciate and identify with the legitimate frustration faced by young people today. If there is a change in the levels of anxiety among one generation compared to another, there is bound to be legitimate driving forces behind it. Simon Sinek, for example, speaks very persuasively on this in a way that few people are replicating.
No matter the logic which our arguments are infused with, if we fail to identify and connect with the sentiments and emotions of this frustrated generation, the conservative ideas and warnings will fall on deaf ears.
Secondly, conservatives need to communicate clearly and persuasively what our principles are and why they work. We need to get to grips with the historical evolution of our constitution and the values which underpin it. We need to understand the beliefs which have to lead to the prosperity we enjoy today: free markets, property rights, democracy, constitutional freedom, as well as the philosophy, faith and compassion which have motivated them.
It’s not that young people can’t resonate with conservative values and be persuaded of their merits. It’s simply that no-one is broadcasting them on the right wavelength. Truth, to be seen for what it is, must also resonate with the heart.
This includes unapologetically undermining the ideological assumptions of the Left. It’s not hard to show from history, logic, economics, or morality that socialism is broken. It has never worked, it does not work today, and there is no hope of socialism ever delivering the kind of progress which its adherents hope for. Its very essence is a denial of human nature.
Finally, Conservative governments need to be people who practice what they preach. Our policy agenda needs to be consistent with conservative principles, not in contradiction to them. An energy price-cap, for example, goes a long way to give legitimacy to the socialism of the Left and the protectionism of the far-right. It does nothing either for the good of the nation or for the cause of the Party.
This doesn’t mean we should neglect investment in public infrastructure. It’s a radical and positive step that the Chancellor has recently committed £44 billion, alongside planning reforms, to address the housing crisis. This fits squarely within a conservative vision of borrowing-to-invest rather than borrowing-to-maintain, as well as for a nation of property owners.
We need to get good at undermining socialism and at celebrating conservatism. We must do so persuasively and must apply our convictions directly to ambitious and creative policies in the national interest.
Let’s claim that unclaimed generation as Conservatives.