Politics: Conservatives urged to win back lost youth or face extinction

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The Independent Online
The Tory leadership is so out of touch with young people that it thinks Jeffrey Archer and Andrew Lloyd-Webber speak for Britain's youth, according to four of the party's brightest brains. Fran Abrams looks at predictions that the Tories could disappear altogether if they do not modernise.

The Conservative Party is literally dying on its feet. On current trends, it will cease to exist before the next election, according to a new report published by the Centre for Policy Studies.

The party has been losing an average of 64,000 members a year since the war, say the authors of the optimistically-titled Blue Skies Ahead. They believe membership could now be as low as 200,000, down from 400,000 in 1994. Almost eight out of 10 members are over 45, and a quarter of them will die before the next election. Many more will become disillusioned and leave.

The report is written by Andrew Reid, a former chairman of Conservative Students, Andrew Honnor, 26, a former special adviser to Virginia Bottomley, James Bethell, 30, media director of the Ministry of Sound nightclub and Simon Brocklebank-Fowler, 36, who at 30 was the youngest ever finance chairman of Westminster City Council.

They say that with 3,000 members, the Young Conservatives are now more exclusive than Annabel's, the Berkeley Square nightclub frequented by Sloanes and glitterati. In 1949, there were 160,000 in the organisation, they say.

The Ministry of Sound, a somewhat trendier club in south London with 193,000 members, can almost boast as high a popularity rating as the entire Tory party.

If the party does not find a way to win back the "missing generation" of 18-45 year-olds, it cannot survive, they add.

"The majority of the Conservative Party's members are old and out of touch ... the party must recognise that Jeffrey Archer and Andrew Lloyd- Webber are not role models for today's youth."

John Major's vision of Britain as the country of warm beer and old maids bicycling to church also failed to hit the mark.

"If the chief executive of a public company presented this as its mission statement, s/he would suffer a Gerald Ratner-like nemesis. As John Major did," they say.

The market towns, big cities and centres of academic excellence all voted Labour at the general election. "The Conservative Parliamentary Party has all but ceased to exist in any region in the UK which produces things, money or ideas."

The profile of the average Tory is closer to that of someone living in Edwardian Britain than in the 1990s, they add. Seven out of 10 members are Anglicans in a country where only a fifth of babies are baptised in the established church, the average age is 64 and only 1 per cent is non- white.

The party must become a much more efficient machine if it wants to win them back, it says. Young people must once again associate the Tory party with glamour and frivolity.

"A generation ago the benefits to the young of membership of the Conservative Party were widely understood: a leg-up for the ambitions, a leg-over for the amorous," it concludes.