Monday 7 October 2019

The Tory Party's Young People Problem

I have a favourite genre of politics writing. It's quite niche, and doesn't even manage the meagre numbers Trotskyist sectariana can command. It is neither a big seller in the so-called quality press, nor the combustible stuff of a Twitter knock about. Enough scene setting. The commentary on which I'm commenting is writing by Tories on the future of their party, and particularly how they should engage with young people. The miserable attempts we've addressed in the recent past include thin gruel on the fourth industrial revolution, and a hodgepodge of initiatives and minor policy tweaks designed to appeal to young people. You can judge how serious the Tory party takes its own reproduction when you know none of this, slim as it was, never got taken up.

The latest entry in the Tory futures genre comes from Harry Phibbs, courtesy of CapX begins promisingly enough. His argument is the Tories aren't just weak with young people, the problem is that they haven't even tried. He notes some in the party aren't likely to care, especially when the Tories are handsomely ahead in the polls. They don't need to pander to the snowflake generation because what they lack among the young is more than make up among the old. And as anyone who knows a little bit about politics will tell you, the old vote. Nevertheless, Harry says it would be a mistake to dismiss the young, but he cannot articulate why - he relies on a touching fealty to One Nation Conservatism and how, if it means anything, the party should advance the interests of all sections of society. More obviously, one might suggest alienating younger people now poses problems for the party over the long-term. 60 year olds 20, 30, 40 years hence are still going to have memories, and few are going to look back with fondness upon what the Tories did to them.

After a sensible observation, and at least the acknowledgement of a pull in the direction the Tories need to travel in, Harry goes off the deep end. Apropos of nothing, he starts ranting about how the education establishment is in the "hands of the left", leading to a "pernicious distortion" of education and a pushing of "socialist ideology". It's funny how the more education at all levels has become subordinate to the demands of business, with the building of curricula around vocationalism and employability, and underpinned at all times by market competition between courses and institutions, these sorts of observations by rightwingers grow more frequent, and is a compulsive tick any Tory writing about education, particularly tertiary education, can't help but indulge. Nevertheless, the implication is clear. Schools, colleges and universities are factories for brainwashing, and if tackled the Tories' task of winning over young people becomes easier.

Nevertheless, this is not enough. While Boris Johnson has the va-va-voom to win over younger voters, the Tories need to contest the battle of ideas too. Buying the usual 'the young are more idealistic, the old more practical' assumption, he believes the Tories can resonate on individual freedom (look at Hong Kong!), on the party's promotion of new technologies to help the environment, the increase in youth employment, and a universities' free speech tour by prominent Tories. There is an almost ethereal character to such breathlessness. Commitment to individual freedom, in so many cases, is the freedom of atomised individuals divorced from lives outside of shitty jobs on shitty wages, commitment to the environment is aggressively pushing fracking and cheering on heavy-handed policing of Extinction Rebellion protests, and most young people would snort with derision at boasts about more insecure non-jobs and university stunts no one but right wing and centrist middle age hack men care about.

The Tories need to do more than this, Harry says. Too right. Central is the programme of home ownership and on this, he's right. His party is hit by a triple crisis. There is the split in the core constituent of the Tory party, and this comes against the backdrop of long-term decline understood as the tendency of the party to shrinkage and shrivelling, and the non-replacement of its vote. The second crisis of the Tories is the changing class composition of British society, combined with the fact time and again, especially these last nine years, the Tories have been seen to be trampling all over young people like a malevolent ogre wanting to deny the young their best years out of the spiteful fact that theirs lie long in the past. The values of the rising generation and the Tory party do not align, and the Tories have done their damnedest to remind young people of this fact. And last of all, the breaking down of the conservatising effects of ageing. The tendency for most people to acquire property as they pass through life is broken, and without that the "idealist" young people of today are never going to replace the massed grey ranks of Tory voters tomorrow.

Again, Harry acknowledges this at an instinctive level. And yet with his party imperilled and staring into the abyss, he can't bring himself to advocate the kind of programme that could secure the health of the Tories in the medium to long-term. Yes, increase the housing supply. But by tearing up planning restrictions, as long as future buildings are beautiful not brutalist. What was that about planning rules? And selling off surplus public land for building, et voila. No state-led strategies for house building, let alone anything about a right to buy for private tenants.

And that is it. Another feebly weak prospectus, and more proof how - as if it were needed - the Tories cannot attend to a modest policy agenda that might tackle some of the problems underpinning the party's long-term decline. In fact, so far removed from anything resembling an accurate picture of political realities is how Harry "forgets" Brexit and how Tory positioning, like so many other things, puts them on the opposite side of the fence to most young people. The truth of the matter is the Tories cannot adequately address their youth problem precisely because they are constitutive of the policy environment screwing them over. The party is dependent on petty landlordism for its base, poor employers for their cash, and an old vs young culture war promulgated through Brexit and stirred up by its shrinking but still powerful press. Perhaps one day someone will come along from the right that frankly and honestly address the party's problems free from comforting illusions and clustered delusions. If this piece is anything to go by, it won't ever come from the brain of Harry Phibbs.


Dialectician1 said...

I'm not sure the Tories have anything to worry about. Educating the young to become Tory voters is effortless. It is much harder trying to be a socialist in a society with such a long historical tail of plunder, exploitation and a self belief in its in-born superiority. As Stan Cohen once said, being a socialist in a capitalist society is discomforting, much the same a stroking a cat's fur in the wrong direction. The soft machine of subliminationation is constantly at work, such that it doesn't require much overt propaganda to convert the masses towards a life of compliant producer and mindless consumer (Marcuse etc.). When that doesn't work, it is possible to play on good old fashioned fear. Fear of the invader/foreigner/terrorist/ or even the fear of a pauper's grave. Anyone who has been to university will also know that despite some exceptional lecturers, education towards a methodology that promotes a working criticality of contemporary capitalism is rare. Postmodernism has taken over the academy. This dominant model (metanarrative) doesn't encourage the young to seek the truth but to be sceptical of those that promote it. History is simply dominant discourse. All is ideology. The young are not encourage to change the world but to change themselves (self activate). The Tories have nothing to worry about. The young will willingly fall into place. Now, where's that dead cat?

Dipper said...

Some young adults of Dipper's acquaintance recently attended the Conservative Party conference. Members under 25 get a special deal because the Tory party wants to look young. They met just about everybody including shaking hands with Boris, and had photos taken with Matt Hancock, James Cleverley, chatted with Penny Mourdant and Mark Francois.

I wonder if Labour politicians in government would be so easily available? Or would all the cliques jealously guard access to only the 'right' people?