Ben Jeffreys is a secondary school history teacher, was parliamentary candidate for Cheadle at the 2010 General Election.
The Conservatives’ problems with younger voters are going to get worse and worse in the build up to the next election. Every day, more and more Jeremy Corbyn voters are turning 18 and gaining the vote. With some 67 per cent of the youngest population group voting Labour in the June 2017 election, according to Lord Ashcroft’s post-vote survey, this means increasing electoral trouble for the Tories.
The statistics are clear. At this election, there was a clear and direct parallel between age and voting. The relative Labour-Conservative vote was 67 per cent to18 per cent amongst 18-24 year olds, 58 per cent to 22 per cent (ages 25-34), 50 per cent to 30 per cent (35-44), 39 per cent to 40 per cent (45-54), 33 per cent to 47 per cent (55-64) and 23-59 per cent (65 plus). These statistics suggest that the younger people are, the less they believe the Tories will offer them. Therefore, the less likely they are to vote Conservative. The north-south or rich-poor divide is becoming an old-young divide.
Increasingly, the Tories are seen as protecting the interests of those who have acquired wealth by their old age. But they are not seen as offering equal opportunity to all young people to achieve the same success. They are the party of the canny granny, but not of their aspirant grandchild. What makes this worse is the Conservative fixation on the family unit. Because Tories obsess about families as single units, they have ignored the separate generational units within the family.
This is the equivalent of a Conservative canvasser knocking on the door, speaking to mum or dad, finding out they vote Tory and putting the whole family down as Conservative voters. But the interests of young people often coalesce across different families, as do those of working mothers or retired grandparents, far more than within families. And young people do not always want to vote to put more power in the hands of their parents. University students and first time home buyers do not want to be dependent on the bank of mum and dad, not least because that means mum and dad calling the tunes and telling them what they should really be doing with their lives.
Nor should Tories hide behind the numbers of the June 2017 results. It is true that the 13,667,213 votes achieved by Theresa May was greater than the 13 million achieved in Thatcher’s landslide victory of 1983 or the 13.5 million won by Tony Blair in 1997.
But the 1992 General Election showed us that the Conservative Party needs these days to clear 14 million votes to win even a small majority, once the Labour vote is properly galvanised (which Ed Miliband was never able to do in 2015 with his Wallace and Gromit appearance, his bizarre EdStone and his nasal voice). In June 2017, there were 500,000 votes missing from the Tory target block vote. Not many – but enough. Given these voting statistics, these missing half million were almost certainly voters younger than 44. This is a constituency where the Conservatives are not winning the seat.
It seems to me that the Tories could start to address this problem at the younger end of the electorate with a three point programme and yes, it will mean bumping up the pocket money. It looks like this:
- The Conservatives should pledge to abolish all tuition fees for university and college students. There is no logic at all in the argument that we should extend grammar schools to provide specific academic focused tuition for students from poor backgrounds while at the same time discouraging the same poorer but academically gifted students from going to higher education by associating it with eye watering debt. The next Conservative manifesto needs to include a promise to abolish tuition fees and then we need actually to do it.
- The Conservatives should revisit their reformulation of school funding. The Conservative proposal appears to be to reorganise funding so that a greater share of money goes into less privileged areas. That means that in many parts of the country, young people are given less well funded education just because their parents are relatively wealthy. The opportunities of those young people at school are diminished because of the opportunities their parents were given and took advantage of. How is that fair? Tax parents, and invest the money in good schools for children. The next Conservative manifesto needs to scrap this reformulation and concentrate instead on increasing state funding for schools as much as possible.
- The Conservatives should bring the voting age down to 16. Radical voting reform has always been delivered by the Conservatives, admittedly often under pressure from radical opposition. In 1867, Disraeli brought working class voters into the electorate with universal male suffrage. In 1918, Conservative votes gave women suffrage. St Benedict of Mercia wrote a legendary rule for monasteries. In Chapter 3, he said “Whenever any important business has to be done in the monastery, let the Abbot call together the whole community and state the matter to be acted upon… The reason we have said that all should be called for counsel is that the Lord often reveals to the younger what is best.” Wise words passed down. 16 and 17 year olds are perfectly capable of considering the issues, talking to each other and then having their collective say. And if they had voted in the Brexit Referendum, perhaps we wouldn’t be in this mess now.