Will Mapplebeck explains why the changing face of Britain should frighten the Conservatives.
Let’s be frank, the Conservative Party has enough to worry about at the moment. A super-slim majority, a party full of jumpy MPs who think the vicar’s daughter is toast, an uneasy and expensive alliance with the DUP and a bland legislative programme designed around Brexit and nothing else.
Plus, at time of writing, a number of higher profile cabinet members are starting to hint heavily about a rise in public sector pay, something that will focus more attention on the PM’s famous ‘magic money tree’ confrontation with an angry and underpaid nurse.
But I’m going to throw one more worry into the mix; voter demographics.
I met a Conservative activist the other day who confessed one of the party’s biggest fears, that by the 2030s/40s there simply won’t be enough Tories to win majorities anymore. By this he meant that too many young people are abandoning the Conservative cause and that they risk becoming a toxic brand to anyone under 30.
And at the same time, too many of their older voters are dying off and aren’t being replaced with a fresh crop of blue-rinsed ladies and blazered golf club secretaries.
As Michael Heseltine notes: “One thing which is just worth having in mind, and you can’t do anything about it, two per cent of the older part of the electorate die every year – they are 70 per cent Conservative. Another two per cent come in at the young end of the electorate – they are about 70 per cent Labour… there isn’t much time.”
This movement towards a more progressive country could be partly driven by social changes that go against the Right. The death of the property-owning democracy, the rise in graduates – people with degrees tend to have more progressive views – increasing urbanisation and the growing sexual and racial diversity of British society mean the Conservative cause could be in trouble.
And to make things worse, Corbyn has found a way to get young people to actually vote – offer them loads of free stuff. a prime factor behind some of election night’s surprise results.
Nationally, pollsters estimate the Conservatives were 30 per cent behind Labour among 18-35 year olds, a massive gap.
The Conservatives aren’t blind to this problem, it’s why David Cameron embarked on a widespread party modernisation programme and why George Osborne has talked of the need for a modern, metropolitan Conservatism. Top Tory Damian Green also ‘gets’ it, talking of the need for a rethink on issues like tuition fees.
It seems the so-called natural party of government needs to do some serious thinking over the years ahead.