THE BLOG

Young People Need Money, Not Memes

08/09/2017 16:30

Like Crocs with socks, walking holidays, snap elections, wheat fields, boy jobs and girl jobs, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Brexit and capitalism, the Conservatives could never be cool in the eyes of most young people - but they can be less cruel.

First the Cameron coalition, then the referendum mess, now the May minority have seen youth issues drop lower and lower down the government agenda.

As our generation literally can't afford to forget, this gave rise to a staggering tuition fee hike, coupled with the abolition of housing benefits for 18-21-year-olds, and cuts in maintenance allowances and vital mental health services.

Yet the fact Theresa May has about the same chance of starring at Glastonbury as a five-year-old singing into a hairbrush - and we would sooner quit drinking than go around nightclubs chanting "Oooh Andrea Leadsom" - doesn't mean the government could get away with giving up on students and teenagers.

The way things are going, May can't even contemplate staying on to fight the next general election unless she engages with young people. Any Tory prime minister would need to avoid a repeat of 2017, when a surprise surge in youth turnout brought Labour and Jeremy Corbyn, showcasing policies tailored to our age group, closer to Downing Street than nearly anyone had predicted.

Conservatives have since ascribed his magnetism among young people to the success of socialists on social media. Michael Gove suggested over the summer that the Tories could "learn something" from the tactics of Momentum, the left-wing Labour faction which deployed an army of grassroots activists and savvy online campaigning in order to target younger than average voters.

In the last week alone we have welcomed Activate, an organisation launched as a "vehicle for young conservatives to get engaged", Our Conviction, calling themselves "a new independent young grassroots Conservative movement", and VicTory, who are claiming to be "fighting back against Momentum".

Attempting to copy the tech crusade led by Momentum, these groups have been hampered by a lack of policies, however, and are left to rely on empty rhetoric and excruciating internet comedy. Activate, for instance, unveiled their Twitter account by uploading a picture of Corbyn with his manifesto slogan, above Star Wars character Admiral Ackbar saying "It's a trap".

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Our Conviction and VicTory, which appear to have formed in protest after Activate members were caught joking on WhatsApp about "gassing chavs", have been trying the time-wearied art of Corbyn-bashing, parodying Labour posters by doctoring slogans on the banking crisis and nuclear defence.

While none of these are affiliated to the Conservative Party, although Activate is chaired by their former campaign manager Gary Markwell, they embody Tory attitudes towards young people and expose them as out of touch.

Conservative campaigns can toss insults at Corbyn all they like, but the truth is that they need their own youth policies to back it up. Our generation is longing for significant change, for our concerns to be discussed and addressed.

It should be a national embarrassment that according to a recent YouGov poll of 18-24-year-olds, less than one in 10 of us believe the current government has the best education strategy, 6% think the Tories are the safest bet for the NHS, and only one in 25 of us trust them to handle the housing disaster.

In short, young people need money, not memes. Policies, not pandering.

Now here is the most damaging figure for May and her ambition to stand again: if there was an election tomorrow, only 14% of young people would want to extend the mandate for this government and vote Conservative.

The humiliation of June has clearly shown the Conservatives that we matter, but overturning seven years of anti-youth measures will take more than a smattering of tweets. We need a more liberal, imaginative kind of Tory.

We need someone in government who is passionate about improving mental healthcare in schools and universities. Someone brave enough to restrict rises in tuition fees, as well as protecting the poorest students, to make a stronger case for mixed higher education funding. Someone willing to tear up the rulebook to provide young professionals with the housing they deserve.

If May is willing be that kind of Conservative, young people can save her career. Crucially though, she could save the future of our young people.

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