Male, pale and stale is the adage that has plagued the Tory party since its inception, with the race to be the next PM being heavily criticised for its absence of a youth focus. However, although the party still have a serious ‘youth’ problem, there are many high-profile young Conservatives, with strong views on this race.
Emily Hewertson made waves in the media last month for her renunciation of support for the Conservatives in the European Parliament elections. Instead, backing Nigel Farage’s Brexit party; delivering a renewed mandate to push for Brexit. But with her Tory membership card still to hand, Emily is ‘Ready for Raab’, to deliver the result of that now infamous 2016 result.
Dominic Raab has thus far struggled to gain significant momentum. Although he comfortably survived the first round of voting amongst MP’s, securing 27 votes in the first round, he is struggling to win the support of the wider party, polling at just 8% amongst Conservative members according to the latest ConservativeHome poll.
Where he has been successful, however, is gaining younger Conservative voters, with his clear policies on party engagement winning round many younger members.
On her support for Raab, Emily said: ‘The Conservative Party have typically been abysmal at engaging with grassroots members – particularly youth associations. Raab plans to tackle this with ideas such as having an elected party chair as well as an opportunity for debates at conference’.
Raab’s focus on engagement has played well amongst many young Conservatives, whilst his talent as an ‘awkward and able negotiator’, has generated support amongst those looking for a more favourable Brexit deal.
Emily has been impressed by this element of Raab’s campaign, stating that Barnier’s criticism of Raab for ‘asking for things Theresa May “never dared” to ask for’, shows his ability to secure a more favourable opinion, whilst his no deal stance ensures that the UK’s negotiating position is ‘elevated’.
This is a belief shared by Stephen Canning, a prominent figure within the party, first elected as a Councillor at 18. Canning believes that ‘Dominic Raab and Boris Johnson would both be the candidates who are most likely to force more concessions out of the European Union’.
Although a remainer, unlike Emily, Stephen shares her belief in no deal being on the table; with many young conservatives signalling that although this is an unfavourable option, it strengthens Britain’s hand in securing better terms.
This suggests that much of the parliamentary party are currently in line with the views of the young electorate, with the overwhelming support currently going to candidates that favour keeping this option on the table; despite the damage that it would inevitably cause our economy.
However, this view isn’t shared by all, with Salman Anwar backing the more moderate and pragmatic approach of Sajid Javid, despite acknowledging that most of the membership are either in support of a no deal exit or simply wish to use it as a negotiating tool. Instead, Salman believes that the current deal is the best we are likely to get and that a more moderate leader who can ‘unite the country’ is more likely to get Brexit done.
The approach favoured by Johnson and Raab causes ‘a big risk of the government falling’, given the expressed will of parliament to oppose no deal. This approach could potential ‘further divide our country’ and cause significant damage to our economy.
Given the potential for more hard line and divisive leaders to sew greater discord in British politics, potentially jeopardising Brexit altogether, Salman favours Sajid Javid. ‘A leader that seeks to unite the country can bring MPs along with them and Javid’s that man’.
Where most young members agree, however, is the need to get Brexit over with and focus on other priorities. Emily Hewertson noted the need to ‘crack on with other things’, given that the referendum happened over 1000 days ago, citing Raab’s progressive tax policy of ‘seeking to cut the basic rate of income tax by 1% a year’ as an extremely positive policy in building a post-Brexit Britain.
Emily noted the favourability of this policy over Boris Johnson’s ‘plans to cut tax for higher earners’, given that this policy only amplifies the notion of the Conservative party being a defence for the ‘privileged and prosperous’.
Salman Anwar struck a similar chord, noting Javid’s ‘infrastructure plan’ and the importance of addressing the housing issue. Given soaring house prices in the last decade, Anwar notes that ‘young people are, rightly, asking what will the Conservatives do to help them on the housing ladder’.
This priority not just addresses the housing crisis and the ongoing emphasis on demand-side solutions, but helps to address the issues facing younger people, going some way to prove that ‘we do care about young people’ and have the policies to win them round.
Similarly, Stephen Canning’s post-Brexit priorities focus on social care, showing the real want amongst young members to get Brexit over with and instead focusing on addressing real issues facing people every day.
With Rory Stewarts engaging #RoryWalks campaign, he has appealed to a wide range of untraditional Conservative voters, seeking to unite the party and pull in voters from across the spectrum.
Both Stephen and Salman commended the energy and dynamism that Rory has brought to the race, with Stephen stating that ‘it’s clear that he appeals to a wide audience’.
This has gained Stewart much support amongst young members of the party, however, his more moderate stance has been criticised as out of touch with the party base. Although latest polling puts him second amongst the membership with 11% and second in the bookie’s odds, he looks likely to struggle to gain support from the parliamentary party who are starting to unite around Boris Johnson, paving the way for a membership ballot that is nothing but a foregone conclusion.
Despite this energy and refreshing style brought by Stewart, making him the next closest challenger to Boris, Salman expects a final two of Hunt and Boris. Although it is clear that neither candidate is the favoured option amongst younger Conservative voters, the parliamentary party are moving towards these candidates, with Salman noting ‘not sure what we’ve done to deserve that choice’.
Although this election has seen many of the candidates appealing to the younger party membership – with Rory Stewarts NCS policy and Michael Gove’s ‘children’ focus at the Channel 4 debate – showing the growing influence of this group within the party, it seems as though the parliamentary party still only see this demographic as an afterthought.
‘Hunt and Gove being in second and third respectively highlights that MPs are significantly out of touch with their membership… nobody wants a reincarnated Theresa May nor a snake’ and while Emily trusts Boris over Brexit, she would much prefer a fresh face with clearer policies towards the lowest paid workers.
The most likely top two are not the first choice amongst the young membership, whilst Boris seems palatable to most, he is certainly not the most favoured option, showing just how far the Conservatives still must go to really engage their young members.
However, with the 2018 launch of the Young Conservatives (aimed at under 25s) and many high-profile young Conservatives getting involved in the party like never before, we are likely to see greater engagement by the parliamentary party.
The final two will be put to the party membership from the 22nd of June and although it is likely that the favoured candidates amongst young members won’t be on that ballot, thousands of young people will still have their say on who becomes our next Prime Minister.