We make no apology for writing earlier about student finance, but a majority of 18-24s are not in higher education: indeed, two-thirds of them are outside it. And it is not only the youngest tranche of voters who are deserting the Conservatives. According to Lord Ashcroft’s poll of 14,000 people on election day, 18 per cent of them voted Tory. But among the 24-35s that rose by a mere four points to 22 per cent. In the next group up, 33s-44s, the Party managed only 30 per cent.
The issue that brings these segments of young-to-middle-aged voters together is housing. Essentially, the fall in home ownership is helping to drive aspirational voters downwards rather than upwards: that’s to say, their immediate interests are more closely alinged to the 18-24s, who do not yet have a stake in the system, than the middle-to-old-aged, who possess one in the form of the property they own.
There are personal as well as policy consequences for the Prime Minister. If she is identified with a single cause, it is probably combatting modern slavery – and then only among those who follow politics relatively closely. She therefore has a very big choice to make. She can leave the political struggle to build more homes to Sajid Javid, or she can decide to throw herself into it.
If she does, she risks angering some older Conservative core voters who want no more building near them, thank you very much. If she does not, she will miss what is perhaps her only remaining chance to be identified with a big political cause. More importantly, she will signal by her silence that she stands with the property-owning haves, rather than the have-nots.
The Tories have no future without a mass electoral appeal to the under-50s. So in so far as Brexit allows, the Prime Minister should cut down end-of-week visits and trips that are not housing-related. She should get to openings of new estates; speak at housing conferences; raise her engagement with the sector; be seen to take a tough line, if all else fails, with councils that dig their heels in.
All this will not come easily to a politician who is more at ease administering a department, or campaigning locally in her back yard, than throwing herself into a single issue. Politicians are most effective when they are being themselves. Does part of May’s “irreducable core” really yearn for more homes?