Hannah Willcocks

Naked Politics Blogger 

June’s election saw young people turning out to vote in record numbers, with 60% 18-24 year olds having voted Labour in June, whilst 61% of over 64s voted Conservative.  This generational gap has now become a defining feature of British politics, with the gap between the older and younger generation wider than ever before.

The 2017 Youth Index paints a dire picture. 42% of young people now believe that traditional goals such as owning a house or getting a steady job are unrealistic, something older generations never had to confront in an era of post-war full employment.  The Prime Minister has been hasty to emphasise that unemployment has fallen, yet Britain remains one of the worst developed states for poverty- the numbers of zero hour contracts have never been higher and job insecurity is a very real prospect facing many young people.

Tuition fees have been brought back to the fore in the wake of young people overwhelmingly supporting Labour in June’s election.  Theresa

May’s drastically weakened government has been forced to rethink its attitude towards young people.  The Autumn Budget will soon be announced and the pressure is on Chancellor Philip Hammond to make a more palatable tuition fee policy- which has resulted in the proposal to reduce of fees to £7,500.  This marks a distinct change of tone of the government after seven years of austerity and hundreds of millions of pounds in cuts to youth services .  As young people have been disproportionately affected by the austerity measures imposed by the government, it is unsurprising that this was reflected in the general election.  The new stance on tuition fees is likely to be the start of a number of policies that aim to gain the youth vote.

The Conservatives inability to appeal to young people is manifested in Activate, created in response to the success of Labour’s Momentum.  Activate failed miserably and has been the subject of much ridicule across the political spectrum, but still limps on.  In comparison, Labour’s Momentum was extremely effective in the grassroots mobilisation of support for Corbyn.  Activate’s failure is symptomatic of the centre ground and right-wing politics’ limited appeal to young people in Britain.

The heart of the matter is that the Conservatives are not trusted to act in the interests of young people.  These issues go deeper than tuition fees, something that Corbyn understands very well.  A party’s stance on tuition fees is a defining aspect of approach to the interests of young people, but this is only a small part of what a party’s youth strategy should be. The truth is that young people have not been even close to being a priority for the present government.  Young people want a vision of hope, which Labour’s manifesto offered.  Unless the Conservatives can offer something that can inspire young voters, the Tory party will find itself evermore ideologically strained and will have to drastically alter its image. At the moment, if the tuition fees are marginally reduced it will still be nothing more than a shallow effort to placate young people.

It is only now that the Conservatives, in the wake of the dramatic shift in political common sense and disruption brought about by Corbyn and Momentum.  The Conservatives commitment to austerity and shortsighted attitude to issues that matter to young people have forced them into a corner where they cannot appeal to the youth vote.   It is clear that not listening to young people has cost them dearly and will continue to do so.  It may not have been much of a risk cutting youth services in the aftermath of 2008 financial crisis, but seeing as the Tories often talk in terms of investment and capable financial management, put in those terms they will see a return on the lack of investment in young people. That neglect will most likely bite them at the ballot for years to come.  The reduction of tuition fees will likely do little to reassure the majority of young people, who will see it as a shallow gesture.  Realistically, the period the Conservatives remain in government is one of damage control in the lead up to the next election.

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Last Update: April 22, 2018