Alex Woolf is the Public Affairs Officer for NCS provider The Challenge, and a Communications Assistant for a Conservative MP.
I was an unashamed (okay, maybe a little ashamed) user of the dating app Tinder – used by millions around the globe every day. As a young Conservative, however, I found that ideological values can act as a real barrier to meeting new people in London. The line ‘I think we would just disagree too much’ has become a bit of a catch-phrase, as Green and Labour supporters fight to keep their circle of acquaintances pure of young Blues.
Perhaps the cause is the liberal nature of Tinder and its free love business model – or just the new wave of red that has engulfed the city. Whatever the reason for the ideological leanings of youth-dominated dating apps, it seems somehow wrong to close yourself off from people who think differently from you. After all, many young people deplore the adversarial tribalism of PMQs, but then themselves contribute to the conservation of partisan politics by confining themselves to ideological sects.
In response to bemused Labour supporters who simply could not understand how anybody could have voted Conservative in the General Election, Ed West wrote a Spectator article in which he advised them to simply add a Tory on Facebook. One such Labour supporter was Rebecca Roache of Royal Holloway University of London, who proudly announced after the election that she had unfriended anybody in her Facebook friends who had ‘liked’ the Conservative Party page.
Unfortunately, this problem seems to extend beyond the political grassroots and into the halls of power. When asked by Buzzfeed how her friends reacted to her becoming an MP for the SNP, Kirsty Blackman responded: ‘most of the people I associate with are involved in the SNP – or they’re my family.’ No wonder the politics of consensus and compromise are dead.
Having studied political science at a northern university, I came to accept that young socialists were by far the most close-minded and intolerant of all the political gangs. But are any of us really as inclusive as we could be, and if not, is it a problem?
We can conjecture that rivalries became much more bitter following the premiership of Margaret Thatcher and the opposition she provokes. As members of the historic party of government, Conservatives have never really been filled with such loathing towards a Labour leader. It is unlikely, for example, that you will ever see groups of young Tories defacing cenotaphs or throwing street parties at the passing of a former head of state.
However, having campaigned in various branches of Conservative Future, I know from experience how people on the right also surround themselves with people who think as they do. While it is true that Conservative Future is a broad church, it is a broad church of people with very similar backgrounds, beliefs, and values.
Now I don’t know about anybody else, but I find politics to be an extremely tedious topic of conversation if I am sat at a pub table with people who share my perspective. Sadly, this view does not seem to be shared across the various political youth groups, and perhaps parliamentary parties. This raises the question: is close-minded tribalism in British politics a left-wing problem, or is it in fact a generational problem?
In an era of open communication via social media and social networking, it is easy to assume that healthy debate and information-sharing would make us all more tolerant and understanding. Alas, if you look at any e-broadsheet comment section you will find that change is stifled by an intensification of traditional stereotypes: socialists = stupid; capitalists = evil.
If Labour supporters believe that they hold the moral high ground and Conservatives believe that they hold the intellectual high ground, will they ever meet in the valley and compromise on what needs to be done. The truth is that people of every (reasonably) political persuasion want what is best for the country – no matter what they believe the solutions to be. Losing sight of this reality cannot be healthy for our democracy and may become more problematic with every new Parliament.