The Conservatives are set to sever links with every Tory university group in the country in a bid to detoxify their brand.
A confidential internal Tory report seen by HuffPost UK calls for “risky student politics” to be moved completely out of the party structures.
The recommendation comes after a series of embarrassing incidents involving student groups, including a member of the Cambridge University Conservative Association burning a £20 note in front of a homeless person and Tories at St Andrews setting fire to an effigy of Barack Obama.
The report also calls for the Conservative’s non-student youth wing to be brought “firmly” into the party’s “mainstream” to make it easier to dole out disciplinary action when needed.
Conservative Future (CF), the organisation for Tory members under the age of 30, has been virtually scrapped since 2015 after a young activist killed himself amid claims of bullying during that year’s election campaign.
Along with Brexit and speculation over Boris Johnson’s future, how to win the votes of young people has been one of the dominant themes of the Conservative Party conference in Manchester - with the age voters are more likely to vote Tory rather than Labour increasing from 34 to 47 during the recent election campaign.
A report headed ‘Conservative Future Proposals A – Confidential’, slams how young members have “for many years” been treated as little more than a “campaign resource without training, oversight or communication.”
The proposed changes are:
Take risky student politics outside the remit of the Party
Increase youth ownership and engagement in local Associations therefore strengthening them
Bringing the youth wing firmly into the mainstream Party therefore being able to award and discipline youth groups
Focus on activity that is tangible for party success, campaigning, training and formal party events.
The Conservative Party board will consider the recommendations at a meeting later this month.
Ben Howlett, the former MP for Bath who served as head of CF from 2010 to 2013, said the proposals did not go far enough to revitalise the party’s youth wing.
“There seems to be more sticks than carrot. It’s quite lacklustre,” he said, adding: “I don’t see the benefit to the Conservative Party by delivering those reforms.”
While Conservative groups on university campuses will no longer be officially part of the party, it is unclear whether they will still be able to use the Tory logo and branding.
That arrangement is not without precedent, with some universities already disaffiliated from the party.
The Conservative group at Warwick University is not formally linked to the party, and 21-year-old Ellie King believes the separation works well.
She said: “It gives us the freedom to do what we want and campaign for who we want.”
The report also proposes all Conservative Future branches should report directly to local associations instead of party HQ.
CF would no longer have a national executive body or regional chair positions, but a youth representative would be installed on the Conservative Party Board.
CF was was created in 1998 as part of William Hague’s reform of the party, with the aim of getting younger members more involved in the Tory machine.
As well as a presence in universities across the country, CF also provided the party with an army of activists to disperse around the country during elections.
This culminated in the now infamous Road Trip 2015 – a sister organisation to CF that saw young Tories bussed around the country to help campaign for the party in that year’s General Election.
The project gained notoriety after the suicide of activist Elliot Johnson, who took his own life amid claims of bullying and harassment. The Road Trip programme was shut down after the 2015 General Election, with the brand irreconcilably tarnished.
The Tories have historically had problems with its youth wing.
In the 1980s, then-party chairman Norman Tebbit scrapped the Federation of Conservative Students (FCS) after a serious of controversies, including claims of intimidating former Prime Minister Ted Heath and a ‘riot’ at Loughborough University.
The FCS was shut down in 1986 after one member accused former Tory Prime Minister Harold Macmillan of being involved in war crimes for sending Cossack prisoners back to the Soviet Union after World War 2.
Tebbit took libel action against the FCS, which at the time was chaired by future Commons Speaker John Bercow.