All my life I have had a certain idea of Britain. A sense of patriotism that is derived from the instinct to defend and preserve one’s own home. But what happens if the prospect of owning your own home is merely a dream of generations gone by?
Last week I attended my third Conservative Party conference: I encountered many energetic and optimistic Young Conservatives (YCs) who shared my once glowing optimism. I also encountered many older, veteran Tory members who didn’t share that level of enthusiasm but rather stubbornness to defend the tired, mediocre and boring status-quo of conservatism. Dislike some aspects of Tory policy? Lib Dem Labour leftwaffe loony. Want more houses built? Not in my borough you’re not. Want a better Britain? Woke. This is not an environment in which young conservatives’ interests are welcomed.
The biggest barrier to any centre-right young person voting Tory is the lack of commitment to homeownership by the government and by local associations. This can be divided by examining the demand side and supply side aspects of this issue. On the demand side, the government has failed to lower net immigration to the ‘tens of thousands’ since 2017, inevitably resulting in more homes being occupied and thus shooting up house prices. On the supply side, the government consistently promises a bold target of housing that mysteriously fails to come to fruition. Why? Partially the threat of Lib Dems sucking up the core Tory vote of older, relatively wealthy voters on the local council level that run on the platform of NIMBYism. Also, however, a shared generational trait of stubbornness and disdain for the future generation, that cannot be denied. Some may be aware of a certain Vox Pop of a Somerset Conservative councillor by Times Radio urging young people to be ‘more realistic’ on homeownership. Help-to-Buy is not good enough: if the government is failing to meet housing targets, betraying their promise to cut immigration and local councillors/backbench MPs actively opposing housing development then what is there for the next generation to achieve in society and thus conserve?
On this theme of holding a stake in society, young people want to see a vision resulting in them reaching personal milestones along the same trajectory as their parents. They want to choose life. They want to choose a career, choose a family, choose a starter home. These facets are the fundamentals to sustaining conservatism and thus the Conservative vote for generations to come.
To quote Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies’ Forgotten People speech ‘Now, what is the value of this middle class, so defined and described? First, it has a “stake in the country”. It has responsibility for homes – homes material, homes human, and homes spiritual.’ Look to those nostalgic Conservative election posters championing ‘New homes for a million folk last year’ from decades gone by. The solution is there: Homes for Britons and Make Every Briton a King. Combine populist messaging to deliver basic conservative policies and the Zoomer vote can be tapped into and thus sustain the long-held notion that people gradually become more conservative as they get older.
What is to be Done?
To view the Corbynite Momentum movement, despite however left-wing this organisation is, serves as a good example of how the youth can be energised and organised. Momentum serves as a hub for welcoming radical policy proposals that can be relatively easily pitched to MPs and thus become party policy. Let us not forget that the Monday Club essentially was a right-wing Momentum in the 1980s advocating for ‘radical’ policies such as curbing immigration, ‘cancelling’ left wing agitators such as Ken Livingstone and Gerry Adams, and condemning the European Economic Community. God forbid those things ever happened today.
The Conservatives have become too scared of radicalism in the present day. The conference agenda is tightly controlled and so is the Conservative Policy Forum and, too, the Young Conservatives organisation. Margaret Thatcher is consistently idolised at conference yet in a caricature manner, rather than understanding that it was her radicalism and commitment to the strong state and free economy that energised a generation of conservatives. Sadly, the Labour Party is much better at listening to its youth grassroots. Young Labour members feel more welcome, their ideas are welcomed by the party leadership, and they are energised. The CCHQ led organisation of the Young Conservatives’ only function in the present day is to connect YCs to campaigning opportunities and little beyond that. Treating YCs merely as free labour to campaign for policies which do not directly benefit them is not a sustainable strategy for future elections.
What is the alternative? Ignore the next generation of conservatives and the Tory Party will find its vote share steadily declining as years go on. Real wages have stagnated since the 2008 Financial Crisis and today’s average house prices are between 12 and 24 times the average workplace-based earnings in 23% of local authority areas. This gives today’s youth no reason to vote Conservative but rather to destroy the system (the free market) which has failed them. Recall that 42% of 18–24-year-olds voted Tory in 1979 and 1983. Today that number is less than 10%. My generation are not ‘woke’ en masse, my generation is more attracted to a bold, hopeful and alternative vision – as consistently hammered by the idolised Jeremy Corbyn. Look to Hungary and Poland, who have eliminated income tax for under 25s, and 26s in Poland respectively, and you will discover an attractive and successful environment for young conservatives to emerge from.
The conservative future is real and must be transmitted from the grassroots membership, moulded by the philosophy of conservatism itself. The Conservative Party must move beyond the repetitive ‘Same Old Labour’ attack lines and adapt by offering a principled and optimistic Conservative future if it wants to survive beyond the 2020s.