Edward Frith is a student at Aberystwyth University.
Reading Margot James’ article on this site about wealth creation earlier this week, it became evident to me that government thinking is in the wrong place when it comes to getting young people to vote Conservative. I am a university student, the exact demographic that she is referring to, and have to say it is naturally tempting to
support Jeremy Corbyn when he promises us everything and says that we won’t have to pay for any of it!
None the less, although most of my peers did indeed vote Labour, I don’t believe that it was because they are brainwashed, and simply want free stuff. They put it to me that he would be better for many reasons such as, yes, tuition fees – but also for the environment, for housing, for the internet and for nuclear weapons, as well as presenting himself attractively, in their view.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister didn’t seem to meet with young people – or at least when she did it didn’t go viral on Facebook and Twitter, as it appeared to do whenever Corbyn did. So, consequently, young people were only ever exposed to him. I don’t believe that the Conservatives addressed these concerns or marketed themselves effectively. Labour used the internet far better than the Tories did.
A good example of Conservative failure was how the phrase “strong and stable” became an online meme. It was totally ridiculed, while Corbyn was praised. My generation are a generation who don’t watch TV and don’t read newspapers – but do watch YouTube and get their news from Facebook. This requires two simultaneous campaigns: one targeting young people and the other targeting everyone else, rather than thinking that the same old tricks work.
However, there is a ray of hope. Children of successful entrepreneurs and those who have made their own way in life nearly all, in my experience, voted Conservative. James was right that young people need “opportunities for young people to gain skills, start businesses, and access better jobs”. The current education system does not encourage its pupils to gain any skills other than how to pass exams. We need a change of the education system, which needs to include more apprenticeships, and learning how to start up a business. Currently, our system is perfect for anyone wanting to become a university lecturer – but for little else.
Meanwhile, it is a struggle to get a graduate job, since graduates are forced to take years of unpaid intern work in order to perhaps get a career – but even then, it is not a guarantee. Even those who don’t go to university are struggling to find work and, because the education system teaches them to herd sheep-like in pursuit of exam success, don’t even consider starting up their own business.
Now imagine Corbyn saying that everything will be fine, and that the rich will pay for it. It is an offer anyone in this situation could hardly refuse. More paid graduate work is a must, because Labour can only offer the illusion of work.
What we need is a new way to get young people to vote Conservative. New initiatives are needed. In the 2017, manifesto we saw the return of the Right to Buy scheme – a truly brilliant scheme – but there was seldom mention of homes for young people. “Sajid Javid has very ambitious plans to build millions of new homes”, we read elsewhere: this should be a good sign. But what young people need is a first-time buyers only scheme which helps them to buy their own home. A policy like that would gain support.
Young people, myself definitely included, were also worried about our internet access. The concern is that politicians don’t fully understand terrorist activities, and are simply announcing blanket policies which represent the beginnings of a big brother state. If these are implemented, terrorists will simply use more secure forms of networking to hide their activities, leaving the state spying only on innocents.
This fear is backed up by the fact that terrorists attack, both in the UK and abroad, involve people who were previously known to the authorities. The state conseqeuntly knows who these terrorist suspects are, and young people would rather see a proactive police who’ll protect their liberty rather than pointlessly oppress their reading – an approach which only actually work in terms of generating good headlines.
The Conservative Party has the potential to get young people to vote for it. We need to look critically at our situation, and try to come up with new, innovative solutions to attract young people, rather than trotting out cliche catchphrases and the same old policies. The Conservatives need at least to accept we are now an important voter base. Corbyn promised us the moon; May pretended we didn’t exist. No wonder there was such a high youth turnout – and that most of it voted Labour.