AS A YOUNG Conservative William Hague (below)was typical of his kind in pudding-bowl hairdo and doubtful suit. The trappings of youth culture were not for the YCs, whose anti-fashion stance had deep, noble roots. Then last year, Hague went and wore a baseball cap to Notting Hill Carnival, a sartorial error that made John Prescott look cool and Nick Leeson look trustworthy.
We should have seen that hat as a harbinger of things to come; that the Tories would at some point reposition themselves as "hip". And we should have tried then to nip it in the bud. In an attempt to lose their stuffy image, the YCs, renamed Conservative Future, have now employed their acronym "cfuk" in a saucy take-off of French Connection's "fcuk" ads.
It remains true that this is the age of image politics. Re-brand and survive - since the Labour Party's volte-face, this is the political message of our times. Even the most dug-in Middle Englander would agree that the Conservative Party has to address its public perception with some urgency. On their way out are (or should be) the Brylcreem bounders, backwoods blimps and snake-oil salesman of the Thatcher and Major era, yet still we await the new Conservative identity.
Sadly, this piece of Zeitgeist-surfing is as unlikely to convert the cool novice as it is to convince the old guard. The party of solidity and dyed-in-the-wool tradition should forget about trying to be "hip" and "cool" - values that stem from association with the cultural avant- garde, the apolitical outsider. It ends up looking all too "Rick The Trendy Vicar" - "Hi kids! What's goin' down?"
The Labour Party had a head start with all its Red Wedges and Rock The Votes, as well as the fact that "hip" and "cool" stand in perennial opposition to the Establishment. Now Tony's cronies are the Establishment, but the Conservatives have a deeper problem in that they have always been stuck in the past. That is the point of them, one could say.
Still, it is interesting that the young blue 'uns are on the march again. The last great era of Conservative student agitation was in the early Eighties, when an alarming tendency of nasty nerds called the Federation of Conservative Students emerged from the woodwork, wearing badges bearing legends such as "Hang Nelson Mandela" and "Napalm the Sandanistas!" Unpleasant: but at least they caused consternation with the drab lefty consensus that prevailed on campuses at the time, and they were rightly not in thrall to appearing "cool". As someone observed in the US, "politics is showbiz for ugly people". It is not, nor ever has been, "cool" to be political. Nor should it be.
My personal recipe would lie in bringing out the fun, gin-swilling strand of eccentric Bohemianism that has long resided in the Tory Party. They could become the Party that gives better parties, set against the po-faced message-takers of New Labour. Meanwhile, the people who are trying to make the Tories trendy can cfuk off.
YOUNG CONSERVATIVES are not trying to win some style war. Conservative Future is about normal young people who just happen to be interested in politics, and our new cfuk logo is a mechanism to get more young people involved. The fact is, all parties have found themselves fighting a losing battle against political apathy within the young in modern-day Britain. I honestly think that this a bad thing. Young people do not think that politics affects them any more and this is damaging the very fabric of the democratic society that we live in. It is our democratic right to be involved in politics. Every young person should feel compelled to be involved, no matter where they are from, or what they believe.
Being hip is about attitude, not the way that you dress. There is nothing more unhip than apathy and nothing more hip than getting involved. Having said that, we are not a bunch of fogeys. I have been a member of the Conservative Party since I was 19. In that time I have seen the profile of the Party's youth movement change dramatically. As we fast became the Party of opposition, the old breed of Young Conservative began to dry up. Conservative Future was born, and its membership was - shock horror - normal. Don't get me wrong, there are still a few "Tory Boy's" in the movement, and we do not have a problem with that, but they are now in the minority.
The youth movement of the Conservative Party is not a public school boy's debating society - well not any more. Conservative Future is now run by normal young people who enjoy socialising as much as politics. It is about young people getting involved in something that has an effect on all of our lives. We are an inclusive body that will accept all those who believe in Conservative principles, no matter of which economic background, colour or creed. We are all equal and we are all equally annoyed by a Government that is obsessed with image and forgets about the policies.
It does annoy me when people talk of the use of the cfuk logo as being a desperate attempt to draw publicity to Conservative Future. This was not the reason that we decided to adopt the logo for fresher's fayres this year. We did it because we wanted to attract students to the Party by making them inquisitive enough to read a political leaflet. We recognised the fact that young people are not attracted to politics unless it is marketed in an appropriate manner. We are not out to offend anyone, just to make politics open to the young again.
Conservative Future has changed, and in doing so we have at last begun to be recognised as something other than Harry Enfield's Tory Boy. We are at last being recognised as normal young adults who just happen to enjoy politics. We are at last being recognised as the fair cross-section of society that we are. RIP, Tory Boy.
Gavin Megaw is national chairman of Conservative Future.Reuse content