Young people have deserted the Conservative Party in droves. Polling from YouGov for the Centre for Policy Studies earlier this summer revealed that nearly half of 18-24 year olds say there is zero chance of them ever voting Conservative. Among under-40s, those who say they are certain to vote Conservative is now less than one in 10. Why is this? One of the core reasons is that the party seems to have given up on social justice and in the eyes of the younger voter only appears to represent the interests of the rich. The Conservative Party must address this and place social justice at the heart of its aspirations and its work.
When Theresa May stood on the steps of Downing Street as the country’s new Prime Minister in July 2016 she spoke passionately about the need to create a country that works for everyone. In that first speech she said: “That means fighting against the burning injustice that, if you’re born poor, you will die on average 9 years earlier than others; if you’re black, you’re treated more harshly by the criminal justice system than if you’re white; If you’re a white, working-class boy, you’re less likely than anybody else in Britain to go to university; If you’re at a state school, you’re less likely to reach the top professions than if you’re educated privately.” The Prime Minister laid out the vision for a government that would prioritise the poor and the vulnerable and would help anybody, whatever their background, to go as far as their talents take them.
But that vision of implementing a responsible, compassionate, one nation Conservatism has disappeared as Brexit has taken centre stage and parts of the party have decided that social justice is Labour territory and should therefore be left alone. Of course it’s crucial that the UK’s departure from the EU is taken forward successfully and the UK is positioned as a strong global nation trading effectively with all corners of the earth. But there are domestic injustices that must be resolved. It is unacceptable that half of prisoners have no qualifications compared to 15% of the working-age population; that a child living in one of England’s poorest areas is 27 times more likely to go to an inadequate school than a child living in one of its richest areas; and that the number of people sleeping rough has more than doubled in the last eight years. A Conservative Party that recognises the value of every human being regardless of age, health and circumstance and gives opportunities for everyone to flourish and make the most of their skills is in the best place to resolve these injustices.
It’s clear from spending a few hours at Labour Party Conference this week (for work reasons I should add) that young people want to be involved in social justice issues and stand up for the rights and freedoms of the vulnerable and marginalised. There is a widespread belief that this can only be achieved through significantly increased taxes and more state intervention. The Conservative Party must show that this is best achieved through other means, notably encouraging more people into work, increasing life opportunities for people in disadvantaged circumstances and instilling a culture of philanthropy particularly amongst the wealthier sections of the population. A new narrative must be constructed – that the Conservative Party is committed to eliminating poverty and promoting freedom for all. In addition to this real policies must be taken forward such as the suggestion made by Robert Halfon for a new Social Justice Unit to be established in Downing Street advising on social justice policy and assessing the impact of all domestic legislation on social justice.
The Conservative Party must stand and work for a more compassionate United Kingdom, above all because Conservatives care about the welfare and futures of the poor and disadvantaged. Embracing such a position will enable the party to reconnect with younger voters and ensure that people have the right view of the Conservative Party as a party for the many, not the privileged few; a one nation conservatism.
Ben Rochelle, Senior Political Consultant, Whitehouse Consulting