Jessica, 17, calls on members to fight harder for youth vote

Jessica Lever won rapturous applause yesterday when she became the youngest woman to address a Tory conference.

The 17-year-old A-level student urged the party, whose average member is aged over 60, to fight harder to attract the youth vote. Urging Tory candidates to meet pupils, she said: "I'm tired of the Labour MP coming into my school, promoting her party's shambolic policies. Come and talk to us and help us help you win the next general election."

She reminded the conference that young adults were more interested in voting for Big Brother contestants than for their leaders. She said: "I want politics to matter to my friends, but it's up to the politicians to make it matter. The Conservatives have fantastic policies for young people and things would get better for us if there were a Conservative government."

Jessica, from Elstree, Hertfordshire, who hopes to read politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford University, denounced the Government for squandering extra money for education on bureaucrats rather than on students and teachers. "A Conservative government would give the power to the teachers to spend that money how they want to spend it," she said.

Her confident address brought back memories of a 16-year-old William Hague electrifying the 1977 Tory conference in Blackpool with a barn-storming speech.

Jessica, the great-niece of the American monetarist economist Milton Friedman, said later: "I was very nervous but I don't think it showed. I really enjoyed it. I think it went really well and I hope to do it again. I liked the way the audience responded. I just hope that young people responded the same way."

Ms Lever was introduced to Michael Howard by Jonathan Shalit, a family friend who is the former manager of the Welsh singer Charlotte Church. He said yesterday: "The exciting thing about the way she speaks is the way she connects with young people. I think that's what politics lacks."

Jessica will be back at school today, where she is due to give a presentation on the law and order policies of the shadow Home Secretary, David Davis.

Her mother, Katrina Sedley, said she was "very proud" of her daughter. "She did brilliantly. She's done public speaking before, but this was huge." She said that the exposure would not affect her daughter. "She's a normal teenager," she insisted.

Jessica said her interest in politics began after studying her great-uncle's 1962 book, Capitalism and Freedom, when she was 14. She said: "It was about laissez-faire, freedom of choice, freedom from the nanny state, things I really believe in."

The Tories are trying to boost their support among students, who have traditionally leant towards Labour or the Liberal Democrats, by policies such as scrapping tuition fees. Tory membership among students has risen sharply over the past year.

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