Conservatives could 'go out of business' unless party finds way to win younger voters, MPs warn

Tory support among young people is like a 'branch that has been rotting for years' which has finally snapped

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Monday 01 October 2018 12:02
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Conservative Party Conference: Five things to watch

The Tories could "go out of business" unless the party comes up with a convincing offer to woo young voters and ethnic minority voters, Conservative MPs have said.

Harborough MP Neil O'Brien said young voters had flocked to Labour in last year's election because Jeremy Corbyn promised them "the moon on a stick" and compared the Conservatives' record with young people to a "branch that has been rotting for years" which finally snapped.

George Freeman, Theresa May's former policy adviser, told the same panel that the Tory party looked like "besuited bank managers of austerity" and had come to resemble the "armed wing of Ukip" with its Brexit stance.

Their comments come as Tory party faithful gathered in Birmingham for the first day of what promises to be a fractious annual conference.

Mr O'Brien told a Resolution Foundation fringe event: "We’ve gone between 2015 to 2017 from neck-and-neck [with Labour] among 40-somethings to five points behind, from two points ahead among 30-somethings to 26 points behind and from four points behind 18 to 29-year-olds to 40 points behind them.

"That’s a huge change within a very short space of time. Obviously with such a quick change we can’t explain that just with structural long term changes, there’s obviously lots of short-term factors.

"Young people were obviously energised by a very, very left-wing message and loads of promises of the moon on a stick and free everything."

The Harborough MP said the party would "go out of business" if it did not expand beyond its older, white voters and lamented the lack of a "strong policy offer" for young people.

His concerns were echoed by Mr Freeman, a party moderniser who came up with the Big Tent Ideas festival, which was dubbed "Tory Glastonbury".

Mr Freeman said Conservative ranks were too full of "middle-aged white men" and lacked vision to speak to the younger generation.

He told activists: "The Conservatism has become a culture-free zone. We don't talk about the arts, we don't talk about the performing arts, we don't seem to be a party that champions that idea of culture in society.

Mr Freeman added: "For a young community, being a culture-free zone in age where cultural politics is very toxic, we begin to look like the besuited bank managers of austerity, who have no vision of the spirit and soul of what makes life worth living."

The former education secretary, Justine Greening, also warned that if the "party doesn't change, we will not be winning elections anymore".

As MP for Putney, the youngest constituency in the UK where the average voter is 37, Ms Greening said appealing to young voters had to be a priority - or the party would risk helping Labour get into government.

The Tory conference has already been dominated by Brexit divisions, and the party was also hit by an embarrassing security breach as the official conference app exposed personal details for senior MPs.

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