This week the Tories have been enduring yet another spate of negative headlines caused by their ‘youth wing’. This should be surprising, since for all intents and purposes the Conservative Party doesn’t have one.
Since CCHQ ‘suspended’ Conservative Future in the wake of the Mark Clarke scandal, there has been little effort to replace it. A few events aimed at young people at conference is about the size of the Party’s youth outreach efforts at the moment.
But it’s also worth pointing out that despite this, the ongoing PR disaster that is ‘Activate‘ shouldn’t have come as a surprise. This website warned CCHQ that they were inviting a problem of exactly this sort last year. We wrote:
“Whether the Party likes it or not, there will always be pro-Conservative young people who want an organisation to join. To the politically-minded the attractions of a group that offers development, companionship, and an opportunity to campaign with peers are obvious.
“It was the Party’s disinterest in this sort of thing that allowed outsiders to move in. Donal Blaney’s Young Britons Foundation and Clarke’s Road Trip were both different models of how ambitious and well-organised men spotted a gap in the market for young Tories and moved in.
“As CF remains officially suspended, we can see the same thing happening again.”
There wasn’t an Activate back in 2016, but there were still groups out there which were pitching to Conservative-minded young people and run by people CCHQ probably didn’t want to be associated with. The danger that one such group might blow up into a story, especially during the silly season, was clear and present. We reiterated the warning just last month.
Whether or not the Party is formally involved, this sort of story damages the Conservative image, especially with young people. Nor is that precious separation very apparent in much of the news coverage. A scandal in an independent, pro-Tory youth group will always rebound on the Party proper, whether it likes it or not.
As we argued previously, there is a market for a Conservative youth organisation. For as long as CCHQ refuse to organise one, that gap will be exploited by people who may drag the Tory brand into disrepute.