Read more : Read more : Ryan Shorthouse: October 2008

Friday, 10 October 2008

Cameron the Cool

You will never believe this. The three coolest people on campus- the editor of the student magazine, the captain of the football team and the president of the drama society- have all joined the University Conservative Association. You know, where all those spotty Harry’s hang out discussing free markets and dreaming of Margaret Thatcher. How did that happen?

Good question. Three years ago, voting Conservative for most young people would be like shoplifting Oxfam. Just wrong. When Cameron became Chief Tory Boy, only 12% of 18-24 year olds voted blue. 54% were Labour. It is a remarkable achievement for Project Cameron that 4 in 10 young people now vote Conservative, the number one choice of party for 18-24 year olds, when in 2006 it was well below the Lib Dems in third place.

Decontaminating the Tory brand has been a hugely successful strategy. The natural ally of the poor, eco-friendly, stylish: no wonder young people are proud to be out-of-closet Tories. Admittedly, it is David Cameron who has the most appeal. The party must keep up. The Tories are nowhere near the support Labour received from the young 3 years ago. So there must be no brakes on modernisation. More work still needs to be done to make the wider party acceptable to the young: a third of women should be ministers in a Cameron-led Government, more Black, Minority or Ethnic Conservatives candidates, and more cabinet members from a range of backgrounds, not just law and banking.

Why have the young fled Labour, support declining by nearly 10 percentage points since Gordon came in? After all, this was the party that gave more young people the opportunity to go to university. Why the lack of gratitude? Government incompetence over Northern Rock, lost data disks and the election-that-never-was certainly didn’t help. And old Gordo just looks miserable everytime he’s on television; Cameron, contrastingly, looks at ease and oozes coolness. Remember the young are idealists. Gordon’s narrative is overly pessimistic- its all doom and gloom with the credit crunch. Aside from the rhetoric of social breakdown, Cameron offers a positive message for the future: greater social mobility, more good schools and a family-friendly Britain

Blair must be fuming. He thought long-term: get more young people into university and be staunchly liberal compared to the social Conservatism of Hague et al and we’ll have the current twentysomethings on side for a long time. Brown messed it up. He has preferred a more authoritarian stance: obsessing about Britishness, pushing through 42 days detention without trial and reclassifying cannabis. Cameron’s liberal shift, the embracing of gay rights and civil liberties, has wooed the young and reversed all the hard work Blair invested into cultivating a generation of Labour luvvies.

Labour has also alienated young people by seemingly neglecting them after they’ve settled in at university. Social mobility is not just about getting more youngsters to university, especially from the poorest backgrounds; its about their success afterwards too. But twentysomethings are struggling. Its too expensive to get on the property ladder, there’s less jobs after graduation because of the economic slowdown and the Government has made the repayment of student loans even harden by deviously doubling the interest payable from 2.4% to 4.8% this year. Since 1997, the number of under-25 NEET’s (Not in Education, Employment or Training) has grown by 15%. Gordon Brown seems ignorant to young people’s concerns: when he announced the removal of the 10p tax band, he said only a few groups of people would suffer. That included 2.2 million low-paid young people without children. This reinforced the message that young adults are at the bottom of Gordon Brown’s priority list.

Labour is losing the support of young people. Fast. By modernising the party and promising to abolish stamp duty for first time buyers, Cameron has made the Conservatives acceptable to the young. Labour may fear defeat at the next election, but it has to start think about how it might avoid decades in the political wilderness. Lose the young of today and they may never trust you again.