Conservative Party Conference: The YCs are dead. Hooray for the new youth wing!

THAT MOST cringe-making of political animals, the Young Conservative, was finally put to sleep yesterday when William Hague unveiled his party's new youth movement. Hoping to erase from public memory countless images of black-tied Hooray Henrys engaged in food fights while singing "Hang Nelson Mandela", the Tory leader launched Conservative Future to a packed student audience.

The new group, which will also replace the party's student organisations, will offer political activity and sensible entertainment to members under 30. Mr Hague said a vibrant youth wing was vital to the election success of the party, and claimed more would join as the recession hit young people hardest. Young people could see through the Government's "Cool Britannia nonsense", and a recent poll proved 75 per cent of 15 to 24- year-olds supported his hardline stance on Europe.

During its heyday, the Young Conservatives (YCs) was called a "marriage bureau for Middle England", a collection of polite souls whose numbers peaked at 150,000 in the Fifties. But the YCs gradually fell into the hands of a clique with the social skills of a chimps' tea party and picturesof drunken debs at its pounds 500-a-head balls became a regular embarrassment. After last year's landslide election defeat, its membership was just 13,000.

The Federation of Conservative Students was no better, its far-right antics forcing even party chairman, Norman Tebbitt, to close it down in 1988. Its replacement also caused upset by burning copies of the Maastricht Treaty for the cameras.

The new face of young Tory politics was personified yesterday by Sally Gilbert, 20, a law student at Central Lancashire University. Dressed in combat trousers and a white crop-top, and nursing a leg broken while "clubbing" in Bournemouth on Monday, she said: "We are about having fun, first and foremost, though that doesn't mean ending face up in the gutter."