The Conservative party is clear on its goal, get a chunk of the youth vote. But its divisions could stop it from achieving it.
Having attended the Conservative Party conference these last three days, two things have been imprinted in my mind. The first is the VERY direct and heavy emphasis on young people in almost all fringe events and main conference speeches. Whether you think that’s due to the youth sector pushing the vote or Labour and Momentum awakening the sleeping giant that is the next generation, it is clear that the Conservatives have taken note. They are listening and are on a mission to drive their message to young people across the UK.
Casting my memory back to the 2016 conference, the youth voice was strictly pushed back to a dark corner known as the ‘youth zone’. This year, the youth zone had its own room and its message was encoded throughout the Conference. The urge to gain youth votes will ensure its survival and swell the ranks of its grassroots base, which will need to contend with the behemoth that is Momentum if it’s going to gain ground at the next general election.
Although it is refreshing to see a party, ordinarily orientated at older voters, gearing up to win over young people. It is clear that a larger fundamental problem remains that they need to deal with first: division. Division forms the second aspect noted.
I remember the unity and upbeat spirit that existed in the 2016 Conservative conference. Tory activists turned up in good numbers, press had to be pushed to a far corner of the balcony when listening to the speeches, and Theresa May was a God on earth …
Bring this forward to 2017 and much has changed. The conference halls are empty with the exception of a few speakers, to the point that we (the press) got a front row seat in most speeches; the mood is mixed, and Theresa May is a mere mortal again.
Speaking to a few conservative members and listening to some fringe events, the reasons for this are clear. Apart from the disaster that was the snap general election, divisions are now deeply rooted in the Conservative Party on a number of fronts.
The obvious ones we all know about, Brexit for instance has clearly split the party with many remainer Conservatives not seeing eye to eye with hardcore Brexiteers. There is also the feeling that Theresa May has further split the party, with many suggesting she needs to go, while a small few cling onto the magic she once had.
However, the divisions go deeper. One that we rarely hear about is education. Two conference speeches from members of government directly contradicted each other, with one official from the department of education stating that the UK has one of the lowest skill levels in the G7. This was then directly refuted by another member of the department that same day.
It is clear the Conservatives are moving in the right direction and are finally beginning to tackle their lack of youth engagement, which is a must if they are to keep power at the next election. However, talking about it is very different to actually doing it. To do something about it, they need to also have a concrete plan and to have that you need to have unity.
The Conservative Party clearly have the right agenda, the next generation. That goal is clear. However, to be in a fit state to fight Labour they must deal with their internal struggles and conflict before the next election or else face decimation by a now united Labour powerhouse. The clock is ticking.