Whatever They do to Court the Youth Vote, Hard Brexit will Taint the Tories

The Tory MP George Freeman is attempting to launch what has been described as a ‘Tory Glastonbury’. The ‘Big Tent Ideas Fest’ is certainly no Glastonbury but it is part of a wider campaign to make the case for centre-right policies to the young.

According to recent polls 69% of 18-24 year olds would vote for Jeremy Corbyn. It may be that many will change their politics as they become older. The numbers though highlight a general direction; it is likely that many if not most will remain hostile to the Tories no matter how many festivals promote enterprise culture and a meritocracy.

For years both parties, but particularly the Tories, have gone out of their way to win the support of the grey vote. Giveaways in the form of bus passes, winter fuel payments and other freebies have been handed out to the elderly like sweets. The baby boomers coming up to retirement now are the wealthiest retirees in history; the average pension income is higher than that of someone of working age.

Now that the young know, they have broken the habit of a lifetime and actually started voting. Conservatives are scared.

Reducing fees will be popular: but all it does is reduce the headline figures of debt  

Baby boomers benefited from a preferential housing market and education system. With the expansion of universities in the 1960s, more people gained access to higher education. The numbers were still relatively small, so having a degree allowed the new graduates to stand out from the crowd. It probably didn’t hurt that there was a generous grant system and no fees.

Baby boomers enjoyed the privilege of access to affordable homes; it was easier to buy and own your own house, no case of ‘generation rent’ at all. This accident of birth has allowed them to ride the house price rise to make them asset rich. Private pensions they receive also tend to be far more generous than anything a younger person today can aspire to.

With this in mind, the government has decided that it now needs policies on these issues. Rumours that the Chancellor wants to slash tuition fees in his next budget as well as give relief to house hunters are legion.

The current market is probably due for a crash anyway. This means that the Chancellor may have to form a policy with a very different economic environment in mind, a similar situation in Dublin did not help the young. A crash may help ‘generation rent’ but they may well resent the government for contributing to the wider economic problems regardless of specific housing policies.

The government’s u-turn on tuition fees have been more widely reported. This includes slashing tuition fees, as well as shaming institutions that are sitting on huge surpluses used to pay enormous salaries while peddling many second-rate courses.

Reducing fees will be popular: but all it does is reduce the headline figures of debt that Labour have been unduly terrifying young people about.

Fees are structured to work in exactly the same way as a graduate tax: it is capped so you only pay for thirty years, after which all debt is wiped. Reducing the amount only helps the wealthy who can either afford to pay it back or who will earn more.

The Chancellor is right, however, to go after the exorbitant interest rate. A wider reform though needs to take place. Rather than concentrating on reducing fees, we should instead reduce the number of people going to university in the first place.

In many European countries it is about a third rather than roughly half in Britain. Reducing numbers will mean a university degree will actually mean something again, while more vocational courses will be given greater value by employers. Any savings could be put towards reductions in fees for higher degrees as well as more generous and wide-ranging grants. It is these secondary and tertiary degrees that are out of the reach. Failure to address this will have a lasting effect on Britain’s ability to do world-class research.

The Tory party’s nationalist view of Brexit mirrors the delusional nostalgia of the older generations

Of course, the elephant in the room is Brexit. It probably does not matter what the Tories do in terms of tinkering around at the edges in terms of policy: they are still the uncompromising party of hard Brexit, a title which they not only own but celebrate.

No matter how many gushing odes Boris Johnson writes about our glorious buccaneering future, it is unlikely the majority of the young will agree with him. The youth vote was overwhelmingly more Remain than Leave by a factor of 3:1, and age was the largest determining factor in how people voted in the referendum.

The Tory party’s nationalist view of Brexit mirrors the delusional nostalgia of the older generations; it is complete anathema to the vast majority of people below forty. Their triumphalism only serves to feed into the narrative that the younger generation’s future has been hijacked by the old.

Labour was able to capitalise on this feeling by being deliberately ambiguous about Brexit, allowing its young voters to project whatever feelings they liked on to the party. It probably won’t help that Brexit will also rub off the shine of the Conservative’s reputation for economic competence.

Unless the Conservative Party rejects Brexit or hard Brexit at least, they may as well accept their continual rejection by the young and the fact that this museum of a party will probably end up joining their aging voters in the political grave.



More about the author

About the author

Stewart holds a PhD in eighteenth century political history from UCL, having previously studied for a BA and MA in history at Royal Holloway, University of London. 

He is currently working as a Part-Time Tutor for Oxford University’s Continuing Education Department as well as helping to create and launch an online historical archive of magazine-style feature articles written by history graduates called The Past.

Follow Stewart on Twitter.

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