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Nick1
Nick
Vaughan
is the current National Chairman of Conservative Future,
representing over 18,000 young
activists. He is currently reading for a BA in Politics at the University
of Essex, having previously been employed in the House of Commons and
the European Parliament as a Parliamentary Researcher.

It is six months
since I was elected the National Chairman of Conservative Future, the
Conservative Party’s organisation for members under the age of thirty.
So I wanted to update CF members, as well as the wider party, on how
the time since has gone, and especially on my view of where CF can go
from here. ConservativeHome is a perfect platform to do this, in its
potential for reaching out to active Conservatives, to those who are
more loosely involved in the party, and to what I hope to be an emerging
conservative movement in Britain, including such organisations for right-of-centre
young people as the Young Britons’ Foundation.

CF and its
activities should not be a secret known only to those most involved
– not least because so often it’s been the arrival of a few cars,
or a busload, of CF members that has turned a small campaign by a few
hard-working activists into a major opportunity for canvassing and leafleting
multiple wards in sizeable portions of constituencies. As Conservative
Future’s membership grows, I want this to happen more and more, directing
the energy and readiness of young people towards the campaigns the party
needs to fight. And I welcome feedback and ideas from all Conservative
members on how this can best be achieved.

It is easy
either to ignore completely the role of a political party’s youth
organisation, or to blow its role out of all proportion. Naturally,
the truth lies somewhere in between. The relative size of the Conservative,
Labour and Lib Dem youth groups may not have much impact on election
results, but the ability of a party to attract young people in the wider
sense is at least reflected
in the results of successive General Elections. From 1979 to 1992, the
party regularly picked up in excess of 40% support amongst voters aged
20 to 34 – and went on to win. In the last three elections, this support
fell to below 30%. The results of these elections were of course less
happy.

And at the
campaigning level, as party membership declines across the board, the
importance of the political ground war actually increases, because as
it becomes increasingly rare, traditional activism is more liable to
provide a campaign’s tipping point. When they are young is an excellent
time to recruit the members and activists of future campaigns. Freed
of the pressures of full time work and children, young members can become
involved more easily than most, and start tipping that balance in the
party’s favour.

If this practical
view of CF’s role seems prosaic or obvious, it is so in contrast to
those cases where we may have gone wrong in the past. It is worth highlighting
two mistakes CF is overcoming, greatly to its credit.

First, there
has been some tendency towards in-fighting, natural to all political
organisations. But Conservative Future has probably been more evenly
divided than the overall party between those who want the party to follow
faithfully in the footsteps of past leaders like Margaret Thatcher and
those who see the modern world as it now exists as the guiding star
around which policies should be built. 

These ongoing
internal debates may not have been resolved to either side’s satisfaction,
but they have died down much more of late, as Conservative Future has
got down to the less idealistic but far more useful work of recruiting
members and organising events. I believe the reason for this is plain
political realism about CF’s position within the party: even if Conservative
Future were somehow to fall entirely into the hands of one or other
side (and of course nearly all members are to be found on the spectrum
somewhere in between), it would do little to change the overall membership
of the party, and do essentially nothing to the composition of the parliamentary
party. The only real effect would be for the party to lose the talents
of an awful lot of keen activists and young people who want to play
a part in getting the next Conservative government elected.

Second, there
was a tendency towards believing that the Conservative and Unionist
Party of Great Britain and Northern Ireland could be presented convincingly
as the wildest, coolest organisation young people could ever hope to
join. The language of ‘chill-out zones’ and the like was probably
a mistake. I sometimes shuddered imagining the sort of advertisements
that would be run on this theme, if money and time were no object: “Let’s
have Oliver Letwin in the foreground spouting gangster rap at 120 words
per minute, and in the background we’ll have Nicholas Soames and John
Redwood break-dancing… yes, perfect!” Such an approach is cringe-inducing,
and it doesn’t work.

But nor does
it need to. In my experience, the ambitious and motivated type of person
who becomes involved in the Conservative Party at a young age is as
prone as anyone else to enjoying good parties and good alcohol – so
certainly neither can be eliminated from CF’s agenda. But these aren’t
the only incentives they will respond to. I see political involvement
as appealing more on the level of a Law degree than a nightclub. There’s
nothing especially ‘cool’ about such a qualification, but plenty
of young people do pursue degrees in Law because they see them as a
worthy route to the sort of future they want for themselves.

Conservative
Future should likewise be a mirror for the ambitions of young people
who sense that their success and their future depends in part upon the
sort of economic and political environment that is favourable to the
hard-working and entrepreneurial. If young people believe that in Conservative
Future they can both meet likeminded individuals and do their bit to
advance the conservative cause of eliminating the barriers to getting
ahead that Labour ministers and Brussels bureaucrats inevitably place,
then
we have the makings of a successful and growing Conservative
youth organisation.

In the events
and campaigns that have been organised, and the efforts its members
have gone to, I am pleased to have seen Conservative Future move in
this positive direction in the last six months, and I intend to help
ensure this process continues, to the benefit of conservative-minded
young people, and of the party as a whole.

42 comments for: Nick Vaughan: Six Months On

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