Ellie King is a masters student at the University of Warwick, and a former Deputy Chairman of University of Warwick Conservatives.
This is not another article explaining why we need a youth movement. We’ve had enough of those, we get the picture. But now what? What should this movement look like? How do we make it happen? Consider this a blueprint.
Listen to Us
Let’s be clear: the issue is not that we don’t have young conservative activists. Yes, we don’t have as many as the increasingly poisonous, hateful, and prejudiced organisation of Momentum, but we do have enough to make a difference to the conservative movement.
The problem? The Conservative party refuses to see our worth, refuses to listen to us, and refuses to give us any credit for the work we voluntarily put in for our party. It is demoralising, it is patronising, and it needs to change.
And it really isn’t hard to fix: simply just listen to us. We have ideas on what policy we want to see, so ask us. We are a force on social media and have ideas on what kind of online campaign the party should run, so ask us. We have opinions: let us express them without fear of a slap on the wrist from CCHQ.
And when we’ve told you our opinions, implement them. The election review that was published in October had some excellent recommendations for youth engagement, but it seems that little is being done. I ran a poll on twitter the other day, and of the 230 responses it got, 36 per cent said they didn’t feel valued at all, and 31 per cent said they felt valued only a bit.
This cannot go on: we cannot have members of the party who do not feel they belong, because eventually, they will stop putting in the effort. And if they do, the Conservatives will really suffer.
If you’ve read anything of mine before, or follow me on Twitter, you’ll know how passionately I feel about this. Young conservatives, unless they’re already very keen, will not become involved with the party if they do not know anybody in it. I’ve met some of my closest friends through the Conservatives – both in local associations and online – and that’s part of the reason why I”m so involved.
So any new youth movement needs to have a strong (and stable) social programme across the country so activists (especially those who may not feel confident in expressing their political leanings) can meet new people. There is strength in numbers: and confidence in being a Tory grows from knowing you’re not alone. It really is that simple.
So with this social base, young Tories can be a strong campaigning force. We’re really really good at this during elections, so we need to start utilising it again. Provide us with food, drinks, transport, and petrol money, and we will be there.
Currently, this is the area the Party mainly utilises its young members in, but this alone is not enough, especially if they don’t feel appreciated their efforts. All we will be left with is the really keen campaigners, and unfortunately, these are usually the people who reinforce the negative conservative stereotype.
I hate to generalise, but if we want to dislodge the image of young Tories as posh private school boys, we need to get as many people as possible out campaigning. This can only be done by the party encouraging them out onto the doorstep, not waiting for them to turn up. The attitude of ‘if they want to campaign, they will’ is not sustainable.
This is hands down the biggest area we can improve on. The Tories on Twitter all have a general consensus: the content put out by central office, the Prime Minister, and Conservative MPs really needs work. Theresa May has 411,000 followers, Corbyn has 1.6 million.
It has improved, but there is still no recognition of just how powerful social media can be. The main reason why Labour did so successfully with younger voters in the last election was because they made use of platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat so unbelievably well. The way politics is communicated has massively changed, and it appears our Party has not yet adapted.
But the young members have. So use us in this respect, work with us to produce a social media strategy that can be used by all MPs and members so we can start being an engaging and accessible party online. If there’s an area young people know best, it’s the internet. Give us some power to use it.
We’ve said time and time again that a youth movement needs to grow organically, rather than being imposed from above. But honestly, all of the tools are already there, we just need to get the bright young people of our party to join the dots up, and the green light from CCHQ to do this. Central management won’t work, because all it does is make the movement London-centric, cliquey, and off-putting to everybody else.
Regional organisation works better, with managers and representatives focusing on the areas mentioned above. They need to be linked to central office, but not restrained by them and forced to tightrope walk on the party line all the time. Appoint trustworthy people, and let them do their thing.
The youth movement doesn’t necessarily need to be anything official, and I don’t think it should be, because all this does is draw a line between the main party and it’s youth wing, and that will only cause more problems. Instead, just include the youth in the party, and make them feel like they belong there. Listen to them, hire them, support them in all the voluntary promotion they do for the Conservative cause.
We are the future of the Party, and if you don’t bring more of us in now, we won’t be there when it really matters. It really is that simple.