The Conservatives need to recapture the under 45s
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BY REBECCA RYAN
The Conservatives are facing a looming crisis – and, no, it isn’t ‘no deal’ Brexit, that’ll be fine. We have lost touch with 30 to 45 year-olds, both as voters, and as party activists and candidates. We need to re-capture this demographic – fast.
There is a huge gap, in both our vote and party structure, where the under 45s should be. Take the party machine: the average Tory member is 57. The vast majority of day-to-day grassroots work – the bread and butter of local campaigning, and the nuts and bolts of getting candidates elected – is done by people approaching retirement, or retired. It is, perhaps, understandable that the majority of under 25s are not excited by political programme offering choice and responsibility, community cohesion and security for your family. They have, for the most part, not begun to settle down. But 30 to 45 year olds absolutely should – and need to – be supporting us.
The idea, insidiously promulgated by the fervid twitter-left, that Conservatives are dying out is false. People naturally grow more Conservative as they get older. The hardline Corbynista at 21 can quite easily have morphed into a sound-as-a-pound small “c” Tory by 32. Of course, there are 20 year old Tories, and that’s great. But, traditionally, embracing conservatism is a natural evolution; congruent with getting married, having children, settling down. There are a few people who never throw away their Che Guevara tee-shirt. But, by 35, more often than not, the tangled hair has been cut; the ripped jeans replaced with smart trousers; and the home-made “down with capitalism” placards binned (along with much of the photographic evidence).
At the moment, however, we are not responding properly to this natural shift. This demographic are turning away from Labour, sure – but they are not necessarily coming to us.
Too often, as a quick fix, we focus on the under 25s, the least likely age group to support us, at the expense of 30 to 45 year olds. They are the people we need, to build a long-term coalition of voters, a strong party and secure ourselves in government for the foreseeable future.
On a purely practical level, the party should start actively encouraging those in their middle years to join us. Help canvass and leafleting, sure – but also have a meaningful influence on policy. That means more family friendly events – not just the carvery for the pensioners or boozy parties at conference. And we have to abandon the notion that retirement-age candidates make the best councillors. We need councillors of all ages – and that means creating space for 30 to 45 year olds.
There has to be a cultural change in how we view new members. Instead of eyeing them with suspicion, we should be asking what skills they have, what they can teach us, and how we can encourage them to stick around. Grassroots politics is hard, mainly thankless work; we need to make it rewarding for the overworked family generation. We need to provide both a policy menu and a party structure which encourages them to come along, get involved – and stick around.
Housing has to be a priority. We need a bold, new, housing agenda. This doesn’t mean the government building lots of little North Korea-style box-flats to sell off cheaply. It means the kind of housing provision which provides value for money and a high quality of life. Car parking spaces. Gardens. A spare bedroom. There is no reason whatever that we shouldn’t be catering to this need; the way to do so, however, is remove government, not increase it. Slash stamp duty. Lift planning restrictions. Deal with the problem.
Furthermore, we need to make it clear that we are the party of the family. Whilst we encourage the individual to flourish, as we grow older we desire partners, friendships, children – roots. Society is atomising and leaving too many younger people listless and displaced; we need solid policies to support families (whatever their hue), and provide the concrete foundations for raising children.
Our party should be more than capable of nailing this.
As people move through the first half of their lives, they naturally transform from “anywheres” – footloose, fancy-free – to “somewheres”. To win their votes and support, we must be the party of Somewhere.
Rebecca Ryan is the Director of Stand Up 4 Brexit and Free Market Conservatives. Follow her on twitter: @beccyryan