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Young Tories Held a Protest Against Their Own Party's Slide to the Right

We spoke to young Conservative activists concerned at the direction the Tories are headed.

by James O'Malley
05 September 2019, 12:13pm

Young Conservatives protesting outside Tory HQ on Wednesday. Photos: Chris Bethell

These are unprecedented times in Westminster: Parliamentary rules are being stretched like never before, the Brexit countdown clock is ticking perilously close to no deal – and now: even Tories are taking to the streets.

Last night, Conservative Party Campaign Headquarters – better known as CCHQ in Westminster parlance – saw an outbreak of blue-on-blue hostility as a group of Young Conservatives assembled to protest the removal of the whip from 21 Conservative MPs. This move effectively booted the MPs from the party, with victims including veteran europhile Ken Clarke; Phillip Hammond, a man who was literally Chancellor of the Exchequer six weeks ago; and even Winston Churchill’s grandson, Nicholas Soames.

The protest itself was a relatively modest affair: at 6:12PM, three minutes before the designated start time, a group of 14 men arrived with banners and, after a few minutes of choreographing, managed to form themselves into a line to start a slightly lacklustre chant for the assembled hacks, before awkwardly laughing.

It was actually strangely adorable to see a group of Tories try to rabble-rouse, something that is basically anathema to them – who could forget the cringeworthy chants of "What do we want? Leadsom for leader! When do we want it? Now!" during the 2016 Tory leadership campaign?

I mean, look:

How have things got so bad that even Tories have started printing placards and trying to work out how many syllables fit into a chant? We asked some of the assembled young Tories for their thoughts.

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Ed Shackle, 24, Political Campaigner

VICE: Why are you here today?
Ed: We are absolutely furious at where the Conservative Party's ended up. Dominic Cummings has a vice-like grip on the party, and we've had moderate conservatives, including Churchill's grandson, being kicked out of the party. The father of the house, Ken Clark, one of the most respected people in politics, has been kicked out of our party over the pursuit of a no deal Brexit, which nobody voted for.

Dominic Cummings wants people like these moderate conservatives who represent all the young people here today to leave the party, but he hasn't even got the party membership! Why should they leave the party when someone who doesn't have membership is calling the shots? It's absolutely absurd. That man is not a conservative.

How long have you been a Conservative?
I've been a Conservative since 2015. I believe in Cameron's vision of where he was taking the party. That's why I supported the party, but now, unfortunately, I can't vote for a party that supports no deal.

Who’s your favourite Tory?
If you'd asked me that yesterday I'd have said Antoinette Sandbach – I think she’s fantastic. Unfortunately, she's no longer a Tory, so I don't really have a favourite Tory at the moment.

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Charley Jarrett, 32, Lobbyist for an Education Charity

What made you want to protest?
Charley: I'm here because, yesterday, 21 Conservative MPs had the Conservative whip removed from them, and it looks as though they're not going to be allowed to stand as Conservatives at the next election. Unfortunately, that's left me in a position where I find it really difficult to see any candidates I'd want to knock on doors for. It's made me really angry.

Are you tempted to follow them out of the party?
It's certainly made my position more difficult than it has been at any point over a very difficult three years. First, you know, Ruth Davidson stood down in Scotland, and I thought she was a great beacon of centre-right sensibleness. And then that was followed by Justine Greening, resigning in the morning, live on BBC Radio Four. And then in the evening, Margot James was one of the latest people to have the whip removed from her. She’s so sensible, I'm surprised she survived on the payroll for that long. And so these fantastic centre-right lesbian icons have all gone, and it's a real struggle.

So you're pretty pessimistic?
The Conservative Party leadership claims that it's a broad church, but you need to not just say that you’re a broad church – you actually need to put it into practice.

Who’s your favourite Tory?
That would be Ruth Davidson. But if someone as senior as Ruth Davidson feels like she no longer has any influence in the party to try and steer it back to the sensible centre ground, what hope is there for humble activists like me?

Is this your first protest?
It's not my first protest – I've turned up to a few of the People's Vote protests and things like that, because Brexit made everyone do things they don't normally do, whether that's on the Leave side or the Remain side, and I’m no exception, I suppose.

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Manny Janssens, 21, Student at King’s College London

Why are you here today?
Manny: Just making sure that it remains a broad church and that democracy is stood up for. And making sure that the 22 people who rebelled yesterday on the Conservative side know they're appreciated.

Were you Leave or Remain in the referendum?
Remain, remain... remain squared!

Do you think the party can ever change back?
I think it would be really beneficial if we had proportional representation, actually. I'm one of the few people who believe that – but that way, a centre-right, sensible, moderate party could join up with the likes of Hillary Benn and Jo Swinson, Norman Lamb, Dominic Grieve. All of these people share more in common than they realise.

Did you join the party back when it was more moderate?
Yeah, sadly when I was 13 – a real William Hague guy. I was really young, and I was quite a Thatcherite, and then the referendum came about and I just thought, 'This is nonsense.'

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Ivan Botoucharov, 32, Chair of the Conservative Group for Europe

What’s it like inside the Conservative Group for Europe? Is it depressing?
Ivan: It's optimistic! We've been going for 50 years, and we have every intention of keeping up our projects and our agenda. We have a lot of supporters – about 70 supporters in Parliament in the lower and upper chambers. And we've had a lot of activities over 50 years, [since] before the UK joined the EU. So we're definitely here to stay. And we have a very strong support.

Unfortunately, [the Conservative Party is] increasingly losing-losing-losing the centre, moderate, liberal members and gaining a lot of members who are former UKIP members. They're quite proud about that. They're quite proud about the campaign they had to get more former UKIP members into the Conservative Party and move it further to the right. And unfortunately, so far it [has been] successful.

What do you think the Conservatives have done well while in government?
I believe our government has done a lot on green policies. It's leading the world, really. Theresa May, despite some of her weaknesses. did a lot in this respect. And I believe that that's a key issue – especially for young people – and a way to also gain the centre ground and the liberal ground as well.

Who’s your favourite Tory?
My favourite Tory is Ken Clarke, of course, the president of the Conservative Group for Europe and the father of the house.

@Psythor