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Britain’s young Right wants ‘zero seats’ for the Tories

Young attendees at Conservative Party Conference. Credit: Getty

May 29, 2024 - 10:45am

Numerous polls from the last two years bear out the idea that young people in Europe and North America are shifting to the political Right. At the same time, Britain has been presented as an outlier, one of the few countries in the West where young people are moving in the opposite direction.

Yet while it is true that members of the sub-30 age bracket have ditched the Tory Party in their droves, this is not proof that young people in Britain are disavowing the Right. As Mary Harrington writes this morning, it is the party they are abandoning, not the politics.

According to YouGov polling, just 7% of 18-24 year-olds intend to vote Conservative in July’s election, compared to 54% for Labour. Meanwhile, the Left-wing Greens and the centre-left Liberal Democrats are each favoured by 11% of the demographic. More intriguing, though, is the same percentage (11%) that plans to vote for Reform UK.

As the only significant rival Right-wing party, conventional wisdom suggests that a large chunk of former young Tories would migrate to Reform. But when I spoke to young British conservatives, it became clear that the Tory youth exodus is not undergoing a straightforward switch to Richard Tice’s party. Reform might position itself as the antidote to the cosy uniparty consensus developing in the UK, but plenty of young voters see things differently.

Michael*, a 24-year-old former Conservative Party activist who does not plan to vote in the upcoming election, told me that “Richard Tice’s talking points are delivered by a Boomer, for Boomers. It’s basically a miniature version of the Tories. All those concerns about digital currencies and woke environmental activists fall flat with us, because we’re not thinking about Greta Thunberg: we care about housing and jobs and what kind of country we’re going to live in thirty years from now.”

This growing dissident Right doesn’t read the Telegraph or the Mail: they subsist on influential online journals such as J’Accuse and Pimlico Journal which attack Conservative complacency from the Right and cheer on the looming annihilation of Sunak’s ministry, while cautioning that a Britain under Keir Starmer is hardly preferable.

Ben*, who is in his mid-20s and works in Westminster, suggested to me that young Right-wingers look elsewhere for political inspiration. “A lot of these people grew up watching [Peter] Hitchens videos of the mid-2010s,” he said. “They have adopted his view that the Tory Party must be destroyed.” This impulse is manifested in the new rallying cry of “Zero Seats”, in which the young British Right calls for the Conservatives to be wiped off the electoral map.

A common animating issue for these voters, accounts and publications is immigration. Young Right-wingers, as distinct from young Tories, are frequently less perturbed by policies such as a return to national service or tax breaks for pensioners than they are by the Government’s inability to get a grip on the number of people entering the UK. Net migration has risen precipitously under consecutive Conservative administrations, reaching a record high of 672,000 last year.

Immigration is not a standalone issue: it affects, in obvious ways, housing, higher education and hospital waiting times. That 20-somethings across the political spectrum place great importance on housing is well-documented, while universities’ grab for foreign students — and therefore higher fees — has inevitably come at the expense of UK-born undergraduates. There is a deeper, cultural strain to this sentiment, however. Ben told me that the young Right carries “scepticism about ‘integration’ while prominent people like Farage still argue that postwar Commonwealth immigration is fine and it’s about the scale”.

It is in this context that anti-immigration campaigners have become increasingly popular on social media. One is Steve Laws, an activist who has called for “remigration” of immigrants and frequently referred to them as “invaders”. Another is Jack Anderton, a softly-spoken 23-year-old who makes to-camera speeches about the impact of immigration on Britain. In one, he claims that Tory ministers are “finally facing the consequences of their own political decisions” on migrant influxes. After a pro-Palestine march was held on Remembrance Sunday, he stated that “Britain has millions of people here who hate our country. They might, on paper, be British citizens, but they are distinctly foreign.”

Will Lloyd wrote in these pages in 2022 that this embryonic new Right believes that “Britain has been abolished, and that the Conservative Party is not conservative at all.” Its proponents see no home nor future under Sunak’s party, nor in the Tice gerontocracy; besides apathy, their hopes lie in the unrealised start-up parties envisaged by the likes of Dominic Cummings and Matt Goodwin. “The British Right needs a reset,” Michael told me. “We don’t want Churchill and Thatcher cosplayers. We want politicians who actually want to change things.”

*Some names have been changed


is UnHerd’s Deputy Editor, Newsroom.

RobLownie

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Dumetrius
Dumetrius
25 days ago

Peter Hitchens is very good at low-key emphasising his key points in his interviews and exchanges. And his catch-cry that conservatism requires the end of the Conservative Party has the essential quality of being both pithy & bound up with a contrarian quirk that makes it a stand-out.

David Lindsay
David Lindsay
25 days ago

“After a pro-Palestine march was held on Remembrance Sunday”? No, it wasn’t. And when such a march was held, not on that day and nowhere near the Cenotaph, then it was “Tommy Robinson” and his mob that rioted at the Cenotaph, stabbing the Police. Having incited that, the Home Secretary had to resign. If these people think that it is un-British not to support Israel, then they are historically illiterate, and especially far removed from post-War Toryism.

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
25 days ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

Stabbing the police. Come on.

David Lindsay
David Lindsay
25 days ago
Reply to  Anna Bramwell

Ask the Police. And it was not a spur of the moment thing. They had gone with bladed articles for the purpose. If the pro-Palestinian lot had done that, then Britain would now be under martial law.

David Lindsay
David Lindsay
25 days ago
Reply to  Anna Bramwell

Ask the Police. They said that they had never experienced anything like it.

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
24 days ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

What the hell does “Ask the police” even mean? Why don’t you just put up – by quoting the police, with what you claim happened – or shut up?

David Lindsay
David Lindsay
24 days ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

All right, then. This was the news at the time.

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
24 days ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

Always worth backing up such claims. The actions of those described as “far right” are beyond the pale and should be called out.

Worth pointing out they were ‘offered’ the opportunity to show their offensive attitudes due to a perceived threat that Remembrance Day would be disrupted by pro-Hamas protests. They wouldn’t have been there otherwise, but useful to see both sides of the extremist elements.

Geoff W
Geoff W
22 days ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

And who was it that created the “perceived threat” from the pro-Hamas protestors?

R Wright
R Wright
24 days ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

You live in a fantasy universe. You are not a hero and this isn’t Cable Street.

Alan Osband
Alan Osband
4 days ago
Reply to  R Wright

Don’t say that . David is desperate to meet Corbyn’s mum

David L
David L
23 days ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

You are a liar

A D Kent
A D Kent
25 days ago

“Immigration is not a standalone issue…”. Too right, but as usual the thoughts of the peerless Peter Hitchens regarding the immediate ending of our Establishment’s routinely disastrous foreign interventions are overlooked for a cosier ‘nothing to do with us guv’ narrative.

I hope that if they’ve been following Hitchens they’ll be well aware on his work on the Syria chemical attack hoaxes – seems that most Unherd contributors don’t.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
25 days ago

“their hopes lie in the unrealised start-up parties envisaged by the likes of Dominic Cummings and Matt Goodwin.’ Not quite true. There is a party that reflects their hopes, and that is the Social Democratic Party. Young voters should check out their policies on immigration and housing for starters.

Santiago Excilio
Santiago Excilio
23 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

The SDP? it’s too big state interventionist

Damon Hager
Damon Hager
23 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

It’s socialist on the economy, and therefore wrong.

Tom Chittenden
Tom Chittenden
17 days ago
Reply to  Damon Hager

The Social Market Economy is far from socialist.

“Open, competitive, free markets are the best and most efficient system for providing general goods and services. At the same time, successful nations depend on a strong and capable state to provide fundamentals such as the rule of law, public order, energy supply, transportation, education, and to ensure that free markets function properly and do not descend into cartels or monopolies. The public and private sectors are complementary parts of our society and should not be regarded as opponents. This is the SDP’s distinct Social Market position.”

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
25 days ago

Just as we see Xi’s CCP pursue Fascist corporatism in the PRC, so it is perfectly feasible to identify Maoism in the young Right today. The same with Mrs Harrington today calling for complete ‘creative destruction’ of the Tories.
But this is clearly not what Ayn Rand would have wanted and such people have badly missed the point of US conservative-populism in opting for the Cultural Revolution equivalent to the left-leaning predilections of their ISIS-supporting generation (Generation Jihad, as much after the Dune novels as Hamas).
I think this is why Nigel (Farage) really should have joined the Conservative Party exclusively and done his upmost to be selected as a Tory candidate. Mr Sunak has done the political UK in its entirety a disservice while prventing here.

Michael Cazaly
Michael Cazaly
24 days ago
Reply to  Tyler Durden

Farage would NEVER have been selected as a Conservative candidate…
And he’s achieved much much more by not trying to do so…

j watson
j watson
24 days ago
Reply to  Michael Cazaly

If making us poorer and increasing non-Christendom immigration was what he was trying to achieve then I guess you could say he’s done well.

Phil Day
Phil Day
24 days ago
Reply to  j watson

Am l right in thinking you might be one of the poor souls who still can’t come to terms with the idea that not everyone believes the EU is the saviour of the world?

Oh bless.
There there.
Never mind.

j watson
j watson
24 days ago
Reply to  Phil Day

Not quite. Much wrong with EU, but possible to change and think we should have worked on that rather than strop off and look blinkin stupid later.

Martin Layfield
Martin Layfield
24 days ago
Reply to  Tyler Durden

Fail to see what Ayn Rand has to do with any of this to be honest

j watson
j watson
24 days ago

An interesting clash between the Tory gerontology and this younger dissident Right. That’ll be a circle worth watching them try to square. Get the popcorn.
Of course the numpties will coalesce on anti-immigrant until they run into how one solves things like social care. The ‘Red Braces Brigade’ ain’t wiping bums and having to pay for it are they.

Frederick Dixon
Frederick Dixon
24 days ago
Reply to  j watson

We could, given the will, square the circle. Of course we need some immigration (I emphasise some) but we don’t need it on a level which will reduce us to minorities in our own countries. The answer is TEMPORARY labour immigration for a term of months, or a year or two, not PERMANENT settlement. This is what they do in Switzerland, so why not here?

David McKee
David McKee
24 days ago

This is altogether more useful as a debating point than Mary Harrington’s vastly over-the-top piece.
These young people are behaving rationally. They are reacting to a political system that manifestly does not work for them. What’s more, the political system does not care that it is not working for them. The utter contempt is palpable.
Hitchens and Reform are no answer to the problems of the young, and they will come to realise that. They can be persuaded to come back to the Conservative fold. But first, they need to be listened to, and taken seriously.

R Wright
R Wright
24 days ago

If there is hope, it lies in the Master Brew right based out of Substack, YouTube and the site formerly known as Twitter. Others worth following include John Arcto and Neema Parvin.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
24 days ago

Those two specimens in the picture are the future of the right in Britain?!?!?
Good luck! I think you’re going to need it!

Martin M
Martin M
24 days ago

They look like they’ve stepped out of the 1980s.

Utter
Utter
23 days ago
Reply to  Martin M

Revenge of the nerds. Britain conservatism needs to free itself from the kind of oddbods who attend University classes in suit & tie and carrying a briefcase. It is not eccentric, nor showing a love of the past (looking at you Rees-Mogg); rather it indicates a maladjustment to the present.

Phil Day
Phil Day
24 days ago

I don’t see Reform as a potential government in waiting but l do believe it can have a disruptive influence on Tory chances at the next election and, assuming the Tory defeat is heavy enough, help to shape the inevitable conversation afterwards.
If the youngsters mentioned above are serious about wanting to be part of that conversation then they need to get off their high horse and help to bring it about – a lot of us boomers share their concerns. Alternatively, they can continue to sulk in the corner and whine about ‘boomers’ never listening.
Agree about Matt Goodwin but haven’t heard anything from Cummings recently – if he’s still keen to sink his teeth into our idealogically captured public services then l hope he’s part of it.

Aloysius
Aloysius
21 days ago
Reply to  Phil Day

As a “young person”, I completely agree that much of this kind of commentary (including pieces such as Mary Harrington’s) amounts to nothing more than whining. I find it rather odd that many keep calling themselves conservative while having such contempt for their elders. It’s as though they don’t notice that if only those their age voted we would have a far left government under which even the current astronomical immigration statistics would be dwarfed. It’s just easier to blame someone else than acknowledge the harsh reality.

Matthew Freedman
Matthew Freedman
24 days ago

The under 35s have been massively screwed over. But if they want change they should vote.

Jacob Mason
Jacob Mason
23 days ago

They are the first generation in centuries to be so heavily outnumbered by their (voting) elders.

In most of the developed world birthrates were still around 3 children per woman into the 60s or 70s and dropped below replacement in the 90s.

The under 35s have a much smaller political voice than their parents and grandparents.

This is part of the reason retirement and health benefits (disproportionately advantaging the elderly) are completely untouchable in the developed world.

Bernard Brothman
Bernard Brothman
21 days ago

As an American looking across the pond at the Conservative party I agree that “Britain has been abolished, and that the Conservative Party is not conservative at all.”
I hope the young people come together and create a new party that supports individual freedom, less government, less regulation, secure borders, lower taxes and makes the necessary difficult decisions regarding the NHS and how healthcare will be funded and managed in the UK. I wish the good lads and lassies the best of success in this endeavor.

James Kirk
James Kirk
21 days ago

The young must be seriously disappointed with boomers Hitchens and Peterson’s sniping from the MSM sidelines. They need a leader, an elected leader. Farage has bowed out of this one.
Matt Goodwin talks a good war but preaches to the converted on his substack, for which he expects paid subscribers. I subscribed and commented but he does not engage by replying so I unsubscribed. I tried to say he should descend to street level, where the voter lives, as well as cruise Westminster and the City. He recently celebrated his UK 30,000 followers at a posh West End party and said he’d try and form a Party at 100,000. Beer, Prosecco, curry and BBQ’d burgers are the fuel of the floating voter. i.e constituencies.
Farage knows it while Tice seems to haunts wine bars and golf clubs, where they are not.
Cummings sunk his boats at Barnard Castle. Politically he’s followed but courts the modern equivalent of an ice pick. Something the Trot, Starmer, seems to forget.
Meanwhile the Spectator, aloof, overlooks Hyde Park, close to MP’s watering holes, their company EVs charging in the underground garage, ready for the Cotswold weekend.
The Left and Right may have their activists in the young educated and vocal. The Rightward should start schmoozing the busy plumber, electrician, self employed. The Leftwaffe kidnapped the eco loons, the vegans and alphabet people. Do we have to wait for their disappointment? Poetry the LibDems could bring down Starmer.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
20 days ago

“…prominent people like Farage still argue that postwar Commonwealth immigration is fine and it’s about the scale”.

Fascinating viewpoint, if you speak to other young people from the left, as well as many middle aged on the centre left then they’ll tell you Farage is one step away from Hitler. He’s run some appalling campaigns and talks things up in unpalatable and unhelpful ways sometimes but the reality is that Farage pretty centre left on many things with a more rightish focus on immigration.

I’d say talk like:

“…They might, on paper, be British citizens, but they are distinctly foreign”

Could be the start of either some more interesting ideas on how we get integration to work better or a slightly sinister path to more extreme viewpoints. Either way it’s the result of years of useless caretaking government, and beyond labour’s five year term will be interesting