I’m more aware than most that politics and political allegiances are changing. If it weren’t for a huge shift in people’s voting habits I wouldn’t be here in Parliament, having won for the first time ever in the former Labour stronghold of Mansfield. One other clear shift in voting patterns in 2017 was a move away from voting Conservative amongst younger people, right up to their mid-40s in varying degrees.
It’s with that issue in mind that I’ve put together a group within Parliament of our youngest Conservative MPs, the 18 of us who are under 35, to try and readdress that balance. The basic principle is clearly that we’re failing to engage with younger people in a way that they can believe or connect with, and that comes down to a combination of both content and presentation. My Young MPs’ Forum met this week to lay out an agenda and some positive plans to work on these things, both to diversify our party’s approach to getting our message out there and to try and tackle a few key policy areas too.
With the Budget coming up fast we’ll look at some of those policy issues right now, particularly around Housing which is a genuine and growing issue in terms of supply, cost and security too. There can be no substitute for simply building an awful lot more houses much quicker than we are doing, and we need to grasp that issue fast. Personally I have a few policy suggestions in this area, but we’re collating those as a group to deliver a coherent message. Post-Budget we’ll look in more depth at some key policy priorities and seek to develop a rounded and well-researched vision of what we feel is the way forward. What’s key is that we work with Government and bring colleagues with us as we drive forward with this agenda. It’s not about them and us, and it’s not about getting rid of anybody, it’s about evolution and recognition of the challenges we face. That said, what is becoming increasingly clear is that there is no ‘silver bullet’ policy to solve our ‘young people problem’. It has to be a far more over-arching rethink about our policy agenda, and a systemic change in approach. We have to convince colleagues that this is the case.
I believe we are too defensive in our output. The Conservative Party has a vision for what the future should look like, and we’re trying to deliver that in the best way possible, despite economic challenges and uncertainty. We should be more outgoing in talking about that vision, and in connecting our policy agenda with people’s lives. It’s not enough to say we’ve put £2billion in to Social Care, unless people know that the £2billion has paid for new supported housing and services in their area that’s looking after their Gran and supporting their family with her dementia.
A figure is just a figure but it’s people’s values and experiences that shape their views, and people need to know our values if we’re going to convince them that we are genuine and committed to delivering a more positive future. We recognise the problems, but here is our vision, and here’s what we’ve done so far. Cabinet Ministers are saying this stuff, but it’s not always echoed by colleagues and it’s not always reaching the real world. We can’t simply believe that because something was printed in the Times and we spoke about it on Radio Four that everyone now knows about it, and sometimes we fall foul of that.
Part of the challenge in connecting that vision to younger voters in a way that is genuinely engaging is finding a voice that they can seriously engage with. It’s not rocket science to suggest that people are more likely to ‘get’ our approach if they can talk about it with someone that they share more in common with. Who better to put our policy of reducing taxes for the lowest earners across to a 30-year-old working Mum, to explain why we’re doing it and what impact it can have, than a 30-year-old working Mum with countless shared experiences. We have a diverse group of young MPs from all parts of the country and all walks of life that genuinely want to step up and play a part. It’s not a case of ‘out with the old’ in any way because senior colleagues lend a huge amount of experience and credibility to those arguments, and have the respect of countless people across a variety of demographics, but we do need to show our diversity and let some different voices reach out to the parts of the country where we’re not getting through. Young people are one example and as younger MPs we need to stick our heads above the parapet.
So the group is still in its early stages but I feel genuinely positive. We’re clear that we want to be inclusive of all colleagues and supportive of Government, to be helpful in putting forward ideas and offering a different perspective, and to try and persuade colleagues of the need to build this in to the core of what we’re doing. Tacking something on the side just won’t cut it. Things will take more shape and our policy priorities will emerge in time, but it’s heartening to hear from our party’s leadership that Government are taking strides to tackle some of the key issues.
What I think we recognise as a group is that we have to adapt and engage with different people in different ways, and we have to be authentic and ‘human’ rather than compounding the stereotype of political robots on repeat. That’s why people buy in to Corbyn, because he’s genuine and he believes in what he’s saying (though of course I think he’s off his rocker!). We believe in a vision too, and we shouldn’t be shy about it.
Ben Bradley is the Conservative MP for Mansfield