In September 2016, I wrote that the suspension of Conservative Future had opened up a gap in the market for a pro-Tory youth group and that if CCHQ didn’t act it would get filled by something embarrassing.
A year later, in September 2017, we got the ‘Activate’ fiasco and – along with a hearty dose of “I told you so” – another call from this site for the Party to get its act together and sort out something for young members.
So we’re six months ahead of schedule to be returning to this theme, but this time there is some better news: Brandon Lewis has announced the rebirth of the Young Conservatives to (sort of) replace the moribund CF.
Why only ‘sort of’? Because as this slideshow published by Guido reveals, the new YCs aren’t going to cover universities, which almost certainly constituted the bulk of CF’s activist strength outside London. Instead pro-Tory student associations are going to be independent and unaffiliated, although “members will be encouraged to join the party”, which is nice.
As I said in my previous articles on the youth movement, this sort of official distance-keeping doesn’t tend to offer the Party very much protection when things go awry – note that Lewis has been answering questions about Activate in the press coverage of the YC launch, and they weren’t even semi-official. What benefit will flow from leaving the student branches adrift is thus not immediately obvious.
The actual YC branches will be “integrated within local associations”, although they will elect their own officers – eligibility for voting will be capped at 25, which suggests that the Party has abandoned CF’s somewhat higher and greatly more tragic threshold of ’30 or under’.
One notable omission: there is absolutely no mention of a national structure or leadership, let alone elections to the same.
Is that such a terrible thing? The author’s own experience of CF national elections is that they diverting enough for a small group of very engaged people but were otherwise largely pointless. Some who won the glittering prize did go on to become MPs and more, so your view on the lack of a ‘Chairman’ of the YCs may depend on how you feel about Ben Howlett and John Bercow – not to mention our own editor, Paul Goodman.
Beyond that, the programme looks very worthy but, perhaps, somewhat dull. The slideshow suggests that the emphasis will be on practical campaigning, which is undoubtedly very useful and worthwhile, but makes little mention of the all-important social side.
Road Trip worked – and as a campaigning vehicle it did work – because it recognised how important a strong social offer was to getting out a blitzkrieg force of young activists. One reason that Tory-inclined students join the university associations is to meet like-minded people in what can often feel like an unwelcoming political environment in the student union.
Perhaps there is more to come on this side of things – at present the official YC page consists of a 22-second video of Ben Bradley inviting the viewer to “have a look around the website” which has nothing else on it, which suggests so.
If not, it is something Bradley should consider sooner rather than later. Socials (much like internal elections, really) are the fun side of political activism. Few but the most committed will train themselves up as Party campaigners and hit the pavements week after week if they’re not having any fun. As ever, if CCHQ doesn’t provide something then someone else will.