Increasingly under fire from all sides, and yet, back in 2006 Cameron and the Tories appealed to the young and restless
On the 8th of March 2006 a young, fresh-faced Conservative MP won his party’s leadership election at a canter promoting a new future for the commonly nicknamed ‘nasty party’. David Cameron being the youngest of the four candidates was the most attractive option for the youthful vote within the party. The Tories were certainly incorporating much of the Blairite tactics of the mid-90s which brought New Labour closer to Britain’s 18-24 social demographic.
Once leader Cameron certainly offered a far more youthful picture than his competition in Gordon Brown. Fifteen years his senior, Gordon Brown was a failing Prime Minister with an economy on the verge of recession. Cameron filled the young and exuberant stereotype which the Conservatives were looking to satisfy. Along with their new leader, the party began to change its tone, with an increase in policy awareness around climate change and a concerted effort to legitimise the diversity of their MPs with more women and ethnic minorities.
The results ended up talking for themselves as Cameron closed the gap considerably on the Labour Party in 2010 in terms of the 18-24 vote. In fact, Cameron’s fresh approach meant his party only lost to Labour in the 18-24 category by 1 per cent in 2010, as opposed to 10 per cent in 2005. Moreover, the generation above the 18-24s saw a swing to the Conservatives with 25- to 34-year-old voters voting heavily in favour of the Labour Party in 2005 with a 13 per cent lead. Yet the Tories and their young leader bucked this trend and the Conservatives now had a 5 per cent lead in the demographic.
However, now a decade later from Cameron’s convincing leadership victory, what has changed? Why has Jeremy Corbyn, the newly elected leader of the Labour Party, the major opposition party to Cameron’s Tories, been so successful with the youngest in British society? Corbyn certainly does not match the physical freshness that Cameron represented in 2006, nor does he try to market himself as the vibrant junior option promoting a new future. His commitment to ’80s traditional socialism along with his nonchalant emotional and physical manner are hardly an attractive recipe for the average 18- to 24-year-old voter.
The nickname of ‘Jezza’ given to him by the satirists represents the way Corbyn’s down-to-earth nature has quickly grabbed the support of the voter who is simply looking for someone to admire in the Commons. His pure honesty and respect for those often neglected by politicians in Westminster, like students, has gained him significant support. Meanwhile his commitment to honesty and transparency has added a refreshing air of sincerity around him which will always sit well with the youngest voters.
Yet I ask, is the decline in youthful support fro Cameron due to Jeremy Corbyn or could it as easily be attributed to a list of Cameron errors?
Since he moved from one dispatch box to the other in 2010 Cameron has lost the tricks he learnt in opposition in terms of his young, modern approach. Whilst in coalition there were obvious moments of unpopularity like the tripling of tuition fees in 2012 and when nearly half of his MPs voted against Gay Marriage in February 2013. Since he won a surprise majority in 2015 his personal mistakes have continued to add to his spikier and more unkind personality. Only this month his defence secretary Michael Fallon declared Jeremy Corbyn as a greater threat to the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands than Argentina. Such drastic comments coming out of Cameron’s cabinet over issues the British people are indifferent to just spotlights his retreat in understanding of the issues that matter and how to debate them.
The Syria airstrike vote on the 2nd of December 2015 saw Cameron refer to those against military action as ‘terrorist sympathisers’ and more recently, he described those in the ‘Calais Jungle’ as a ‘bunch of migrants’. Both incidents were crying out for an apology but never received one. Moreover, his use of awkward quotes from Shakespeare in the first Prime Minister’s Questions of the year showed his insistence to mock the increasingly defenceless Jeremy Corbyn. Repeating mistakes like these will certainly not help in Cameron’s growing separation from the relatable values he embraced in 2006.
So what next for the future of David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn? Will Cameron’s seemingly desperate attempts to revert to being the leader of a ‘nasty party’ mean the Conservatives will inevitably find themselves in the political wilderness like they did from 1997 to 2010? Is Jeremy Corbyn’s kind and gentle approach going to swing voters back to 1980s traditional socialism and make him the second-oldest British Prime Minister behind only Henry Temple of 1855?
Although the point made here is that Cameron has lost touch with the values which once made him popular, and that Corbyn has embraced a type of politics which has increased his popularity amongst much of Britain’s youngest voters, I cannot see a Corbyn electoral swing. Corbyn is filling a gap, he is providing an opposite to what the Conservatives have offered since 2010.
In Manchester last week I attended a debate with the Manchester Debating Union with this title: ‘This House Regrets the Election of Jeremy Corbyn’. On entering the debate, the audience were asked where they stood and as anticipated it was a huge majority against the motion. Once into the debate it was clear that Corbyn and his party currently do not have that same ability as the Conservatives to win elections and votes.
Cameron and those around him in 2006 engineered his personality to fit the upcoming 2010 election. His party were and inevitably still are an efficient machine and hold all the cards when it comes to electoral predictions.