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The Lib Dems Need A Fresh Pitch To Young Voters

14/06/2017 17:03
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I stood in the 2015 general election as the Conservative candidate in Rochdale, but the party's hard-line approach to Brexit made me realise I could no longer campaign for them and stay true to my principles. During the 2017 campaign, I defected to the Liberal Democrats, joining the party and introducing Vince Cable at an event in the final week of the campaign.

In one sense, I feel the election result vindicates my decision. Without a working parliamentary majority, Theresa May will not be able to lead the country into a hard Brexit, which would have been an absolute disaster for Britain. That's a good thing and I'm delighted she will have to moderate her approach.

But in another sense, I worry for our country. We are very unstable with no support for the government to implement a coherent Brexit policy. The Tories will be tarnished by their association with the DUP. Arlene Fraser is a tough cookie and she has nothing to lose by propping up the Tories; the Tories have everything to lose because they will be forced to make commitments that were never in their manifesto. A Conservative-DUP alliance will go down very badly with young voters. The anti-abortion, anti-gay rights stance is at odds with the prevailing political climate.

I don't feel any sympathy for Theresa May. She fought a very negative campaign and was also very arrogant. She said, "I'm going after the working-class vote" as if she already had the traditional Conservative vote sewn up. That was stupid and deluded. No politician can win across all parts of the political landscape; she pushed the boundaries too far and forgot about her core vote.

I don't blame her political advisors, Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy. She's a grown woman and needs to take responsibility for her mistakes. She could have opened up the campaign to the Cabinet and involved them more, but she chose not to. Her advisors were kids, not seasoned political operators who had been around the block a few times. She should have known that the core Tory vote is aged 60-65+ so why did she shoot herself in the foot with her manifesto?

The political pendulum is now going to swing away from the Conservatives. Young voters will play an increasingly important role in the future and the Tories will not get them onside. Jeremy Corbyn's campaign was amazing; we know that what he was promising was impossible to deliver, but that didn't matter. If you tell young people you are going to abolish tuition fees and you are going to do it immediately they will vote for you; they don't care about the deficit. And plenty of their parents will vote for you too because they have a vested interest.

We have seen a return to two-party politics in the last two elections. The Liberal Democrats gained four seats, but only won 7.4% of the vote, down 0.5% from 2015. The middle ground is there to be won. The party needs to re-brand; it needs fresh ideas and it needs to think outside of the box.

For example, while it's clearly unrealistic to scrap tuition fees for all fees overnight, you could scrap fees only for STEM subjects, which is where we need to focus our training if we are to ensure we have a workforce equipped for the 21st century.

The NHS has been a problem for all parties, regardless of who's been in power. With my background in management consultancy, I know it's ridiculous to expect fix the NHS in a five-year period. Take it out of politics. Come up with a 10-year plan that's independent of the political parties. This is the time for fresh thinking - young people are taking an interest in politics and we need to offer them something new.

I'm not sure enough people understand what the Liberal Democrats stand for. I want to help the party to develop a new way of thinking and a distinctive identity that allows us to make a strong pitch for the youth vote.

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