The politics of my generation is pretty easy to get to grips with. We want big government, unless it costs more cash. We’re also inclined towards small government, but not if it involves scrapping government programs. We do usually care about responsible public finances, but not if it means “austerity”. And if spending did need to be curbed the answer would be tax hikes, unless of course they would affect millennials.
In short, government should fix everything, without spending anything and without requiring anything of me.
The rate at which the political views of “Millennials” (those born roughly between 1982 and 2002) change, is often too fast to keep track of and at worst is defined by total incoherency.
But I would like to suggest that far from being the generation of socialism and entitlement, the observations made above are simply a reflection that mine is a generation bearing the frustration of the mistakes made by previous governments, and suffering from being fed misguided ideas about what good government looks like in tough times. This has resulted in a plethora of expectations arising from among the murmurings of political discourse on social media, which are simply incompatible.
Age divides the nation
It is an observation almost inescapable to anyone who even remotely engages in political dialogue, that Conservatives are having a tough time making headway into what I characterise as the unclaimed generation.
They are unclaimed, because their political beliefs are far less a result of considered opinion and persuasion than we might think. We are tempted to assume that the policies of the Left are logical implications of beliefs which young people have been convinced by. But this is not so. As a child needs to be persuaded by his or her teacher of some of the counter-intuitive physical laws of nature, so do they need to be persuaded of the laws of human tendencies.
Mr Corbyn boasted on the results night of the last general election in June 2017 of the success of his campaign which characterised the nation through the class lens – “for the many, not the few”. It’s an assumed disconnect which is rooted deeply in socialist ideology and has become somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
It has been suggested by others however, that the primary line of division in the country runs between the ‘metropolitan elites’ and the rural rabble. There is certainly a poignant observation that culture in urban regions is becoming more and more distinct from the broad consensus.
But I would suggest that it is clear as crystal that the biggest schism of all is between the young and the old. According to YouGov, Labour has recently performed 8 percentage points better than the Conservatives among the very poorest, 15 points better among the unemployed and 25 points better among those who voted to Remain in the European Union. But its lead among the Millennial electorate is a staggering 44 percentage points. That’s almost three times the size of Labour’s lead among the same generation back in 2015.
Millenials are not by nature inclined towards the Left
Conservatism is defined by the very principles which have made Britain the free, democratic and outward-looking nation that it is today, and if we fail to pass on that portion of our inheritance unmarred, there is only one ideology to replace it and one outcome which will ensue.
So why is that Conservatives not getting through at the moment? Well it’s worth starting with what’s not causing the problem.
It’s not because Millennials are incapable of appreciating the merits of what conservatism stands for.
Right across the board, Millennials understand the virtue of hard work and individual responsibility. They don’t consider themselves to be entitled to more big state programs or free handouts than their parents. And despite the prevailing impression, Millennials aren’t anti-capitalists. While some of them might think that they are, when the essence and the outcomes of capitalism are explained, few can deny the importance of its centrality in our economy.
The fact is, that Millennials are the generation of technological progress. It is recent graduates and those who have grown up with the iPhone, Facebook and smart devices, who are passionate about the merits of private enterprise, entrepreneurship and innovation. We are also receptive towards modern trends in patterns of education and appreciate that traditional one-size-fits-all education is both expensive and outdated.
The problem is also not that Millennials are too far removed from the responsibilities of life and the realities of a limited public purse. In fact in a number of ways, responsibility is handed down to young people in our society at a rate not seen for a long time.
Put simply, as a result of the frivolous borrowing and spending of the last Labour government in particular, young people, out of necessity rather than choice, are faced with worrying prospects about their futures which were never faced by their parents or grandparents.
Public and consumer borrowing was unsustainable. Pension promises were made irresponsibly. The rate of migration and the consequent rise in house prices and pressure on public services, was simply not sustainable. And it is the Millennial generation who will face the challenge of correcting for these mistakes and having their expectations realigned with what has now become necessary.
The question of addressing these issues from a public policy perspective is one question. It’s a question, primarily for our MPs who have the power to set an agenda for the future. But for a conservative solution in the long-term, we need to be given that power from the younger electorate.
So what needs to be done to win young people over in the ballot box? There are three things.
How Conservatives can claim the Millenial vote
First, conservatives need to genuinely appreciate and identify with the legitimate frustration faced by young people today. If there is a change in the levels of anxiety among one generation compared to another, there is bound to be a legitimate driving force behind it.
The biological make-up of the human species has not evolved to a new height of cynicism. There are genuine causes for concern among young people today and genuine explanations for their change in temperament. Simon Sinek, for example, writes and speaks very persuasively on this in a way that few people are replicating.
No matter the logic or evidence which our arguments are infused with, if we fail to identify and connect with the sentiments and emotions of this frustrated generation, our ideas and our warnings will fall on deaf ears.
Secondly, conservatives need to communicate clearly and persuasively what their principles are and why they work. We need to get to grips with the historical evolution of our constitution and the values which underpin it. We need to understand the beliefs which have lead to the prosperity we enjoy today: free markets, property rights, democracy, constitutional freedom, as well as the philosophy, faith and compassion which have motivated them.
It’s not that young people can’t resonate with conservative values and be persuaded of their merits. It’s simply that no-one is broadcasting them on the right wavelength.
This will require understanding the changes in the way we consume and process information, and the cultural assumptions which we are fed by the leftist media. The antidote to misinformation is truth. But truth is not always seen for what it is, if it does not also resonate with the heart.
It also means that conservatives need to put themselves in the shoes of their former selves. Young people haven’t been around for long enough to witness or appreciate the damage caused by socialism either at home or abroad. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be told about it. We need a history lesson from those who have already realised the better path and to be persuaded that the principles which have stood the test of time can be relied upon.
This also includes boldly and unapologetically undermining the ideological assumptions of the Left. When the core issues are addressed, it’s not hard to show from history, logic, economics, or morality that socialism is broken. It has never worked, it does not work today, and there is no hope of socialism ever delivering the kind of progress which its adherents hope for. It’s very essence is a denial of human nature.
Finally, Conservative governments need to be people who practice what they preach. Our policy agenda needs to be consistent with conservative principles, not in contradiction to them. An energy price-cap, for example, goes a long way to give legitimacy to the socialism of the Left and the protectionism of the far-right. It does nothing either for the good of the nation, or for the cause of the party.
This doesn’t mean we should neglect investment in public infrastructure, or even strategic borrowing to achieve such aims. It’s a radical and positive step that the Chancellor has recently committed £44 billion, alongside planning reforms, to boldly address the housing crisis. This fits squarely within a conservative vision of borrowing-to-invest rather than borrowing-to-maintain, as well as for a nation of property owners. We need those tried and tested principles to continually be clearly applied to policy-making for the future.
This gets at the heart of leadership: the ability to speak and act decisively in accordance with firm convictions, out of a profound sense of duty and compassion. And this leadership is not just to be the aim of the Prime Minister or our MPs. It’s a trait which every one of us must aspire to if those on the right-of-centre are to win over the unclaimed generation.
Conservatives need to get good at undermining socialism and at celebrating conservatism. Conservatives must to do so persuasively and must apply their convictions directly to ambitious and creative policies in the national interest.
And it can be done – we can lead the unled away from the failed agenda of the Left, and on the path of tried and tested wisdom. Let’s claim the unclaimed generation as conservatives.