The Tories have never really appealed to young people, have they? And even when they threw up freak politicians such as William Hague and Jacob Rees-Mogg it’s been because as individuals they were about 40 by the time they left their teens anyway. And perhaps because ideas such as radical free enterprise, the preservation of establishment institutions, and the shrinking of the state are hardly the stuff of youthful conversations as teenagers gather on street corners/play their PS4s/contribute to the vitality of the nation in their own way (delete as appropriate). How can a party obsessed with the here and now, with naked self-interest and immediate financial gratification, wrestle with such an abstract concept as youth? It’s everything they and their ideas are not.
I was thinking about the Conservative appeal to the youth of the nation when I read a recent report that said 53% of Britons no longer have a religion, and that non-religion among the young was particularly high. Of course it is. Ok, so the young haven’t had decades of cynicism pumped into their brains by a succession of horrendous governments and compliant news outlets, but then young people were never that important to politicians, especially on the right, where various shades of grey were all that mattered. And growing up the Tories were always strong supporters of the institutions of state, such as the Church and the Windsor clan (the only time, in fact, they want the state to be protected against outside interference). A common theme of news stories from my own youth (I was an avid current affairs observer) was the phrase ‘the average age of the Conservative Party member’, because like their beloved Anglican church, they were dying. It may not be quite as high as it once was but today that average age is almost 60. So what to do about that? Well, that’s where those awful young people, with their loud music and outrageous fashion sense, come in. And its name? Activate.
Activate is here to rally Britain’s young and get them to engage in politics and become card-carrying Conservatives. You don’t have to come from a particular class to join, you just have to know your place when you get in there. Their founder is a nice young chap who recently left the Army and decided he would get into politics as a Conservative activist, because he believes that they have a great ideology, and the economic interests of everyone at heart. To that end its trying to ape the success of the burgeoning grass-roots Labour movement Momentum.
At the 2017 election the youth vote looked like this: 60% of 18-25s voted Labour (while 61% of over 64s voted Conservative). More than half of those aged 18-25 turned out to vote, a 16% increase on the 2015 election. And current polling shows that Labour enjoy a 46% lead among the 18-25 demographic. These statistics matter. With the ageing Tory base shuffling off this commodified mortal coil at an alarming rate, the right need to inspire a bigger chunk of that 60%. So is Activate the answer to their problems?
Well, listening to an interview the other day with Activate spokesman Sam Ancliff (talking to the Jist’s Josh Hamilton) wasn’t particularly enlightening, as he droned on in an unconcerned manner about the privatisation of the Green Investment Bank, or how the government will undoubtedly meet its 2020 house-building target of one million new homes (it’s currently on 162,000).
Sam Ancliff interview conducted by Josh Hamilton from 'The Jist' political website : http://www.thejist.co.uk/podcast/chatter-episode-9-sam-ancliff-activate
Ancliff doesn’t seem to have his youthful finger on the pulse (he doesn’t seem to know what asset stripping is); and on education he wants a return of “technical colleges”, ensuring they provide the service of plumbers, electricians and bricklayers that the wealthy will need as older people who have those skills start to die off. Once upon a time those skills were developed by employers who paid wages for apprenticeships. (The much-revered Margaret destroyed apprenticeships in the 1980s and replaced them with 16-week YOP schemes or YTS programmes, creating worthless work schemes that could never be translated into well-paid jobs, and which kept the young off the unemployment figures.) Universities are charging a tuition fee as a deferred tax, Ancliff says, so that people who eventually earn six-figure salaries can rightfully be asked to pay back their fees. His defence of limitness boardroom pay for those who earn those six-figure salaries is indicative of a member of the 1922 Committee. He also thinks that it’s ok for private companies to provide student loans for people who go to university and will never be repaid, which are underwritten by all of us who pay taxes. At the same time as he defends boardroom salaries he warns against rapid increases in the minimum wage, as it will lead to job losses. Different leopard, same spots.
Perhaps I have failed to mention also that the core of Activate’s membership want Jacob Rees-Mogg to become the next leader of the Conservative Party. You really couldn’t make this up. Rees-Mogg’s reactionary views are well-known, and yet the youth wing of the Tory party is happy to embrace them. It seems that by going further to the right they hope to regain the centre. Oh, the impetuosity of youth when they find themselves agreeing with their grandparents on gay marriage and cutting benefits, but without having to undergo those awful years of their 30s and 40s beforehand. It’s like a Rees-Mogg cloning machine. We might ask Ancliff what he thinks of Rees-Mogg, but according to the official Twitter page of Activate he's no longer part of the organisation. He's been sacked! (allegedly). It's all extremely shambolic! See below some of the many memes Activate have placed on their Twitter account. All of us from Political Provocateur believe their Twitter account is extremely hilarious and too funny for words. For a take on the light side, try Evolve Politics great expose @ http://evolvepolitics.com activates-ex-spokesman
Perhaps this is deliberate; and it used to be that people would turn rightwards as they got older. They’d get more fearful for the future, more parochial and more concerned with their own self-interest. But perhaps those crusty old certainties are finally crumbling, because as journalist Stephen Bush pointed out, for the first time in history the 2017 election showed that Labour are appealing to every working-age demographic. Add to the fact that as the next generation head towards retirement age the same sort of certainties are no longer there. They’re not as affluent, and not guaranteed to have mortgages. They will have known real hardship thanks to economic stagnation and crippling austerity. This really ought to worry the Conservative Party.
So in this context Activate can be seen as a desperate, late-to-the-party reaction. Of course some of their members are happy to talk about ‘gassing chavs’ or performing medical experiments on the unemployed, because they’re a broad church of the right, and we know that the right doesn’t concern itself with tolerance or understanding. And this thinking, combined with the filterless brain of youth doesn’t blend particularly well. We’re not surprised they talk in this way, because we expect it of them. There’s no subtlety, content or depth. If Activate’s spokesman is to be believed, it’s just a younger generation saying the same things their elders say, but in a squeakier voice. For the sake of comparison look at some of things the Labour grass-roots organisation Momentum engages in: encouraging young people to register their vote, volunteering at food banks, and working hard to promote green issues. The comparison is astonishing; the two movements are poles apart. The right just don’t seem to get it.
Parody take on 'Maggiez Mates' 80's style Activate movement with a rather interesting 'Nigel Farage' lookalike. Can it really get any more mind numbingly crass for the Conservatives? Try the great Skwawkbox's article here and see for yourself !
And here we are a few months on from an election that gave us a government that seems to fall further apart every day. There is barely nothing else to privatise; the next generation of pensioners are turning against them in droves; most sections of society are happy to leave behind their so-called religious traditions, and the Brexit talks are an utter disaster as Britain’s future with its nearest trading partners are gambled away (and therefore the futures of many of our young people). It would seem the Tories are trying to work from the bottom up in reinventing themselves in light of these facts. It will fail.
Max Webster is the editor for Politcial Provocateur