THE BLOG

Prime Minister, Please Listen To The Many And Not The Few - Time To Restore Justice And Bring Back The Youth

26/06/2017 16:57
WPA Pool via Getty Images

As the dust begins to settle following such a dramatic election, we might well ask: what really went so wrong for the Tories?

Everyone's got a view of course: a negative campaign, a non-campaign, robotic, no charisma. An attempt at a cult of personality which repelled voters.

All these things may be true, but for me the main issue - what killed the Tories and what could have saved them - was the youth vote.

As with Brexit, I believed age would be the defining demographic. The Conservatives managed to alienate their traditional older supporters with the dementia tax while ignoring the younger voters who turned out in such force.

And what are those young voters guaranteed to care about? Tuition fees.

As a staunch Conservative party supporter and donor, I wrote to the prime minister ahead of the vote to urge her to make a last-ditch appeal to those young people flocking to Labour by pledging to reduce tuition fees back to their 2010 level of £3,290.

It was in 2010 that the Liberal Democrats committed political suicide by breaking their election promise to abolish fees, which have since trebled to more than £9,000. What's more, they've tended to rise during periods when the UK economy has been struggling the most.

The key point is that the coalition's decision to raise tuition fees was a temporary measure in response to the worst economic crisis since the second world war. We were only just out of recession and the public finances needed to be pulled back from the brink.

Seven years later, we keep hearing from Theresa May that we're the fastest-growing economy in the G7. If that's true, why can't fees return to their previous level? Other European countries offer low-cost or free higher education; why can't we?

Instead, the Conservative manifesto pledged to keep raising fees in line with inflation to pay for more free schools.

Those young people have now punished the Conservatives. While the party has traditionally been backed by an older demographic, we can't sacrifice the support of younger generations. I believe in social justice, and the current level of tuition fees - as well as the current Tory plans for them - are an injustice.

Even a small increase in fees is painful for students. They've recently risen by £250, and each time they go up it costs us vital support. It's time to look after the next generation - we can't just be a party for lords and ladies.

So how should we pay for it? Labour made the same promise after all, claiming (as with all their other promises) that it will be funded through their proposed tax increases. Those increases would have amounted to the heaviest tax burden for 70 years, which would have crippled the economy just when we need it to grow, and in any case would have had zero chance of generating the revenue Labour needed to fulfil its pledges.

Instead, we should be funding lower fees for British students by raising them for foreign students. Demand for studying in the UK is more than strong enough and will continue to be. Just as in Scotland, where it can be argued fees are part-subsidised by English and Welsh students, after Brexit we could help fund lower fees by raising the costs for students from both within and outside the EU.

Scottish universities are performing as well if not better than their English counterparts. Their example shows it can work. Tellingly, the Conservatives made gains in Scotland and did well among younger voters, who are joining the party and being vocal in their support.

That's a shift that we urgently need to see across the rest of the UK. We should see this as an investment for the future. Taking steps now to allow more of this country's talented youngsters into higher education will ultimately mean a stronger economy with less of a strain on benefits.

It is no secret we in the UK need more doctors, engineers and professionals who can drive the real economy in sectors like civil construction or manufacturing. Making degrees in these skills-shortage areas more affordable has to be a priority for this Government if we are to have the right talent in strategic growth areas.

We must also preserve key historic strengths, notably science. Tuition fees for science and related subjects should return to 2010 levels to encourage young people to pursue those degrees.

Would-be lawyers, managers or designers could pay more for longer. This will ultimately help rebalance the economy in areas where we already have too many graduates struggling to find jobs. Old Blair policies which have led to huge numbers of universities and degrees that churn out graduates with qualifications not fit for the job market must become a thing of the past.

However, the overall trend has to be towards lower tuition fees. Developing home-growth talent in key economic areas is more pressing than ever in light of Brexit.

As everyone can now see, grave mistakes were made by some of Theresa May's closest advisers. The Conservatives ran a negative campaign based entirely round the prime minister, and had nothing engaging or forward-looking to say to any group of voters.

It's clear that the party needs proper reform. We must move away from the current blind loyalty to the leadership to become more democratic and meritocratic, and to find a way to inspire a much broader range of voters. In particular, if we can't become the party of young people, we will not win another election.

If we do not act on tuition fees now, Labour will do it their way, more expensive and less well thought-out. Younger voters will likely lose trust in the Conservative Party completely, which spells electoral catastrophe.

Ignoring the youth vote was fatal. If the prime minister's circle and CCHQ had listened to the advice of the active party supporters, we would not be having to apologise today to colleagues who have lost their seats, and we would have the support of the generation who will have to build the country post-Brexit.

The message from this age group is loud and clear, and I will be doing everything I can to try to change the party's direction. If the leadership won't agree to an immediate change of policy, then I am committed to campaigning to gather enough signatures to force the issue. Now is the perfect time to start if we want to see a Bill in Parliament by the end of the year. It is my belief that already in 2018 students should be paying lower fees.

To young people I say: support the Conservatives, join us, and together we will campaign inside the party to give you the better deal you deserve.

Comments

CONVERSATIONS