The VICE UK Census

The VICE UK Census: Young Tories

Britain's invisible subculture.

by Angus Harrison; photos by Chris Bethell
05 October 2017, 10:44am

Who are they? Young Tories
What are they? The Young Tory is keeping the Conservative party up at night – largely because there are so few of them. At the 2017 general election Theresa May only won 22 percent of the 20-24-year-old vote, compared to Jeremy Corbyn's 62 percent. The old and dying got the message, but the rest of the country – the ones who'll be voting for the next 60 years – turned their backs on the party in droves. Since then, the Tories have scrambled for an answer, with policy shifts like a cap on tuition fees, and the emergence of a Momentum-style youth wing, Activate.

Of course, not all of the young Tories have disappeared. We should know: we found some. Across the past year we've spoken with Tory voters and party members aged under 30 from all over the UK about their political stories and experiences. Why they vote the way they do, and how it feels to be so out of step with their generation. Their responses point to much of the problem: neglected by their party's policies and shunned by their peers, the Young Tory is adrift.

Sam, 26 (Photographed)

I worked for an MP as a researcher, and for the last year I've been working for a centre-right think-tank, specialising in environment policy. I was already into politics at school, and my family are all Conservatives. I'm socially liberal in terms of my views on feminism, LGBT rights, immigration, but I'm economically conservative. The debate around tuition fees was a defining political issue for me. I thought it was unfair to ask people to pay more tax in order to fund an education I knew would give me a privilege.

I work in politics, so standard small talk turns political very quickly, which can lead to antagonistic first footings with people. It can lead to debates where it would be nice not to be acrimonious at the start. I think the average young person is instinctively left leaning. I don't know if those people think about politics that much; if they do, they are broadly suspicious of Conservatives. It can be difficult with strongly left people. Because I've always been outspokenly liberal I've never had people think I'm racist or sexist – but definitely heartless. That said, part of me also thrives on being a contrarian.

The election result showed that, as a centre-right person, things I'd taken for granted as won arguments about the privatisation of industry and the market economy need to be remade again. That will be a real setback to the progress we made since Margaret Thatcher's liberalisation of the economy in the 1980s. I am quite concerned about the prospects for Conservatism. I think it's something we need to work on a lot over the next few years.

I do think there's a real risk of Jeremy Corbyn winning the next election. Look at the polls, look at the demographics. I'm also not sure the government are moving to address some of the issues raised by the election. I don't think there's enough ambition on housing, or tackling climate change. I think a lot of people at the last election were disillusioned, and I've got friends who let their memberships lapse. For me personally, I understand it's a broad coalition, and I'm not going to always get my way. Provided there are always people like me in the party I'm happy to stay and put forward the version of Conservatism I prefer.

Charlie, 22

I don't think I come across as a "Tory" at all, and I wouldn't want to be because I like to change my mind. I like to think I come across as pretty central, but right-leaning, perhaps. It's easy to stereotype anyone – you're either a bleeding liberal or a cold-hearted toff. I think one of the big problems in politics at the moment, actually, is a lack of middle ground, and people are feeling really stuck. I definitely don't feel totally represented by the Conservative party. I do think there's a misconception that in order to be Conservative you have to be loaded and not care about people worse off than you.

Jake, 24

At about 14, Cameron and Osborne inspired me to join the Tories with their vision for Britain. I am a card holding member for my local association. I would like to be more active, but I live in an ultra-safe seat, so there's not much to do other than the odd bit of leafleting, AGMs and dinners. I would like to run for Councillor in the future, but I'm not quite ready to be abused all the time yet. The biggest misconceptions people have about Tories are that we are uncaring, self-serving with no interest in the public sector. We don't all support hunting, nor all like Coldplay.

Kirsty, 21

Whilst most of my friends are very supportive and understanding of my views, others who don't know me or who haven't spoken to me tend to assume I'm very right-wing. It's frustrating, as, just like the left, there are many variations in views, and just because I support the party, I tend to be against some of the more controversial policies that people have used to call us the "Nasty Party" in the past.

I always feel very patriotic and am proud of our history and multiculturalism. For such a small island, to consistently punch above our weight in the world and remain successful with an uncertain international picture, I love being both British and Welsh. Right now, my biggest genuine fear is Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister. High taxes, high spending and a socialist manifesto run by a man who idolises Venezuela, of all places, is not an economy that I think could thrive, survive or offer me any kind of prosperous future.

Michael, 21

The county that I live in, in the South East of England, is quite Conservative, and I also went to primary school with the son of a leading Conservative politician, so hanging around their house when I was younger was a large reason why I support the party. I'm not the biggest fan of Theresa May as a Prime Minister. I think she's quite lacklustre and she doesn't have any unique policies of her own. I'm also not a big fan of continuing to raise tuition fees year on year. Fundamentally it makes it impossible to pay it off, and it seems illogical to continue to raise it when the government will just continually lose money. I think the country is currently quite divided, but I don't think it's a Conservative problem.

Lydia, 20

Living in Liverpool, we obviously lived in one of the strongest Labour areas in the country, and given that I was born in 1997, I grew up under a Labour government until I was 13. I first became really conscious of my parents' opposition to Labour in around 2008, during the whole controversy over [Gordon] Brown and the pensions. I did, at the age of about 11, write Brown an angry letter in one of my notebooks, basically listing every policy of his I didn't like, but I don't think I ever sent it. I also remember the Labour MP Angela Eagle handing out balloons outside our school one day, and because the balloons were red and white, and there was an Liverpool FC match that night, kids were taking them, thinking they were LFC balloons. Thing was, the school was used as a polling station, so there wasn't supposed to be any campaigning within a certain distance of it, and my mum and her got into an argument.

The current government is the Tory-DUP confidence-and-supply, so I think it's definitely weaker than what we had before, but I would still have voted for this government over Jeremy Corbyn any day of the week. I preferred Cameron's style of government and his general politics over Theresa May's, though I did vote for her and, despite some of her recent mistakes, I think she's got a lot of good qualities as a leader. I'm worried about the possibility of a Corbyn government. My parents and I have even talked about what we'd do in the event of one, and how we'd react to protect ourselves from his extreme measures. Labour's always left our family and my dad's business worse off in the past, especially when he was struggling to get it started. He was one of many served the famous redundancy notices by Liverpool City Council in the 1980s under Derek Hatton, so he knows what economic chaos Labour can bring.

Ryan, 22

I'm currently living with my parents. My work office is only half an hour away up the M1, and with the prices what they are I decided to wait a while longer and build up some savings before moving out for good. I've voted in every election since I turned 18 and generally keep tabs on the inner-workings of the main UK political parties throughout the year. I was – and still am – pro-EU, and voted to Remain during the referendum last year. From my perspective, a lot of Leave voters did so based on misinformation and deceitfulness from certain politicians. I'm also not a great fan of Theresa May – from her Brexit stance to the fact she wasn't elected to the position.

Becca, 20

I am very politically active. I am a member of the Conservative Party, I am on the committee of the Reading University Conservative Association and I take part in canvassing whenever possible. I think that other young people think I am a deluded, naive young girl who doesn't care about anyone else. In fact, that is something that has been said to me before! There is a growing working class presence in Conservative associations at universities; the same is true for women and girls in the party. At my university, half of our committee is made up of girls.

I have been accused of "self harming at the ballot box" because of my background. I have had friends block me on social media because of election results. At conference in 2015 I was subject to a lot of vocal abuse, which is absolutely unfair. The horrific things I have had said to me are very troubling, and on several occasions I have considered distancing myself from politics, which is heartbreaking as it is something I'm very passionate about.

Laurence, 25

I was judged massively at uni; it was awful. I had people who would comment regularly and slander me and were quite nasty to me about it, but I had to stand my ground because I had my own view and that was it, really. Thankfully, after university I got to know people who were sort of on my wavelength, so that was nice, but at the same time it was really hard.

I obviously voted Brexit. The reason why I voted the way I did was because I don't feel as if they [the EU] were truly representative of the whole country. I did feel as if the immigration did need to be controlled in some way, because I do feel as if it's out of control. I think there should be rules on migrants from these EU countries as to whether they have genuine skills or not, because we haven't had that so far. We've had Polish people come here, and they join the police and all sorts. If you had an English person join the police in Poland, it just wouldn't happen. It kind of makes you think, 'Why are we taking them all in?' I think that's just sense; I don't really see how that's me being prejudiced in any way. Obviously I am very careful about who I tell that to, because we live in a society where we're not really allowed to say anything.

Beth, 20

I got into politics initially because I would watch Mock the Week with my parents and got frustrated when I didn't understand all the jokes. It properly got started with the Tories when I was watching the 2010 general election run-up and results. I have been a member of the Conservatives for two years and am Vice President of my university's Conservative Association for the academic year 17/18. I live on a council estate in an ex-council house and worked to achieve gold grades at the average state school that I went to. My family's income is modest and my mum is a full time student, my dad didn't go to uni. I don't judge others for their political views; because people judge me for mine, I am careful to not do the same to other people. I was raised to respect everyone's views, but also that healthy debate is to be encouraged.

Additional reporting by Marianne Eloise.

@a_n_g_u_s / @CBethell_photo / @marianne_eloise

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