Conservative politics must appeal to young voters to succeed
Many of the Labour Party’s current woes stem, as a number of commentators have noted, from a conflict of worldviews between the party’s woke urban bourgeois faction and a more culturally conservative working-class base. Perhaps less obvious, though, is that the Conservative Party suffers from an equally virulent internal conflict of interest.
But it’s not between the so-called ‘Red Wall’ voters and Tory faithful. The conflict is generational. Conservative voters skew older and more wealthy, and thus (at least in the short term) representing the priorities of older people and home-owners is in Tory electoral interests.
This is increasingly, painfully salient in Tory policy. This week, it was announced that interest rates on student loans are due to rise sharply. Under the changes higher earners could see the interest jump from 4.5% to 12%, meaning an extra £500 a month in charges for someone with the typical loan total of £50,000.
This assault on Tory youth prosperity is, sadly, nothing new. The ongoing crisis in housing affordability is now, visibly, exerting downward pressure on family formation: according to one 2020 study, 13% of couples under 45 have delayed children due to housing stress.
But given the choice between appeasing (frequently older, better-off, Tory-voting) NIMBYs and easing planning rules in the interests of the young, the Tories have proved unable to look beyond the electoral short term. A by-election defeat last year in the Tory heartlands, fought on planning reform, saw a U-turn on changes to planning rules. Cue NIMBY jubilation, no doubt further warmed (for homeowners) by the fact that since the 2020 study on childless Generation Rent, average house prices went up by 8.5% in 2020, and a further 9.6% in 2021.
The Tories continued to strip-mine the next generation’s flatlining wages on behalf of Conservative-voting boomers in December, with additional taxes to pay for social care — an ever-growing spending commitment that is, in practice, heavily skewed toward tending to the elderly. In case this wasn’t enough, it was followed up with a March pledge to reinstate the pensions triple lock.
This blithe indifference to the political interests of Britain’s young working adults stands in sharp contrast to France’s Marine le Pen, who is most popular among the young. It may or may not be a coincidence that she’s pledged to exempt young people from income tax up to the age of 30, calling this ‘a measure of support for youth’.
Her overt orientation of Right-wing policy toward the next generation is echoed by Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, who has already exempted those under 25 from income tax along with a package of measures aimed at supporting young Hungarians to form families and have more children.
Whatever else you think of Orbán or Le Pen, it’s clear both are thinking of a conservative politics that prioritises intergenerational solidarity. Here, though, since Theresa May’s ill-fated attempt to fund more of boomer social care with boomer housing wealth, our Conservative government has found itself in a political cul-de-sac of growing intergenerational injustice. The party seemingly has no idea how to extricate itself from this dead end, and little political will to try.
Given this apparent blue-rinse stranglehold on Tory party policy, it’s hard to see why anyone under the age of 30 would ever vote for them, no matter how incoherent or unaffordable the positions taken by Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. Unless something changes, pessimistic prophecies about ever more progressive youth rendering the Tories moribund will continue to be grimly self-fulfilling.