A Tory minister has warned that his party’s voters are dying off and will reap the consequences of overseeing a Government system geared “against the under-40s”.
Justice Minister Philip Lee forecast that the Conservatives could lose so many of their voters through “natural wastage” that they may never be elected again.
Speaking to a fringe meeting in the party conference in Manchester, Lee claimed that younger voters were being asked to contribute to a “Ponzi scheme” on healthcare, social care and pensions, “that’s about to collapse”.
The outspoken minister added that former Chancellor George Osborne had presided over “intergenerational theft” that handed cash to pensioners but neglected the young.
He also said that younger voters were culturally opposed to Brexit because it meant closing off the world and warned that the Tories “need to be very, very careful about being solely associated with” quitting the EU.
Lee’s stark words about the ageing demographic of the Conservatives follow the ‘Corbyn surge’ in the last general election, when under-30s turned out in unprecedented numbers to back Labour.
Despite efforts by some MPs to change the Tory message to appeal to the youth vote, Chancellor Philip Hammond joked on Monday to the conference about the UK’s ageing population, saying “that’s us”.
Former Cabinet minister Lord Heseltine said in June that Conservative voters were dying at a rate of about 2% a year.
Lee pointed to remarks by former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg last week, in which he argued Brexit supporters were dying out and that a new EU referendum could produce a different result.
“Nick Clegg made some headlines recently for saying that Brexit wouldn’t have happened because of natural wastage now,” Lee told the Social Market Foundation/Opinium fringe meeting.
“Rather unpalatable, but I wonder actually, in ten years’ time, because of natural wastage, whether we’re going to be in a similar losing position.”
The minister said Britain’s economy and society were currently “set up for the over-65s and against the under-40s,” and the Conservatives had to find a way to change that.
Lee said that young people ought to be voting Tory because new Labour had landed them with huge public sector finance debts that one day they would have to clear.
“But at the moment, our economy and our society is set up for the over 65s and against the under 40s. And that’s how it is at the moment.”
Lee said people under 44 might see the welfare state, including the NHS and pensions systems, as a “Ponzi scheme” whereby they pay all their lives but get little at the end.
He said it was not fair to tell the under-44s who were “struggling” with a family: “Oh, by the way, we’re also going to tax you even more because this Ponzi scheme that we’ve had in play for pensions and for healthcare and for social care for the past 30 years is about to collapse.
“So therefore we want you to work really, really hard, but when you get to 65, it’s not going to be there.’ Hands up who thinks that’s a really compelling narrative?”
Named after Italian fraudster Charles Ponzi, a Ponzi scheme promises high returns for investors but generates its finances using money from new investors, before eventually collapsing.
Lee told the meeting how he had clashed with Osborne in 2015 after he described the then Chancellor’s plans for a pensioner bond scheme as “intergenerational theft” designed to woo older voters at the expense of younger people.
On Brexit, he suggested the party conference was out of touch with younger voters but the wider public too.
“The majority of people under 44 see the NHS as more important than Brexit. It’s pretty interesting, the fringe listings, you’d think Brexit was the only party in town, wouldn’t you? It clearly isn’t. Don’t get me started, I think it’s a sideshow when you look at the broader challenges facing the world.”