Tory Conference: All blue rinse and pinstripes

From the Floor
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The Independent Online
This is my third year at conference and nothing has changed. The representatives can still be neatly divided into two groups.

The first are the blue rinse brigade who form the backbone of the party. The second are the young, aspiring prime ministers - all of them male - who strut about in their pinstripes and highly-polished shoes. The first group are dying out and the second are always going to be a small minority.

It is my dream that the Conservative activist of tomorrow will not turn up here with his collection of five suits plus dinner jacket. What is wrong with the T-shirts and jeans he wears every day at university?

William Hague said yesterday that he wanted to see more young people in the Conservatives. I would ask him to make our party the best party to be at.

We need to get away from the desperate networking which takes place here every year. Everyone under 30 is clamouring to be the next candidate for Kensington and Chelsea - which is hardly inspiring to a young person arriving at conference for the first time. We need to see people talking excitedly about ideas and the reform of both party and country, not about how to advance their own careers.

The problem is that the Tory party is not putting its resources into young people. Until three years ago the chairman of Conservative Students was a paid sabbatical post with money to spend on recruiting young members.

Now the only person at Central Office who can deal with students' concerns does evening shifts in a bar for the privilege of working unpaid for the party during the day.

In his Green Paper yesterday Mr Hague suggested merging the party's three youth organisations - Conservative Students, Young Conservatives and Conservative Graduates - into one group called Conservative Future. We all accept the need to reform, but fiddling with the structures does not bring in new members. Investment does.

Gavin Williamson is chairman of Conservative Students.