Ed West

The Tories need houses, not memes, to win over the young

The Tories need houses, not memes, to win over the young
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Hieronymus Bosch: Visions and Nightmares

Nils Büttner, translated from the German by Anthony Matthews

Reaktion, pp. 208, £

The Tory party has a new youth wing called Activate to try to win over the kids with 'memes' - I believe they're called - similar to the way that Momentum has built a sort of cult around Jeremy Corbyn. This is in response to the dismal recent Conservative youth vote, which bodes ill for the party. As a party member rather optimistically put it, ‘we’ll only be fine when a Conservative politician can go to Glastonbury and not be booed’.

Welcome to Activate UK. #activateuk #meme #retweet #rt pic.twitter.com/PEqbyjjA4Q

— Activate UK (@Activate_uk_net) August 28, 2017

Yeah, I wouldn't be too hopeful on that one to be honest. Among the under-40s there is an almost visceral dislike of Tories and Toryism, which stems from a number of cultural trends, in no particular order: mass university education, the dominance of the Left in teaching, a sort of neo-Christian obsession with victimhood, progressivism as status symbol, cultural conformity among the young, and lots of Tories being genuinely repulsive and clueless.

Conservatives are never going to be cool or counter-cultural. The traits that correlate with attractiveness and high-status qualities like artistic ability are too strongly linked with political liberalism for that to be possible. Even the extreme Right has the attraction of the Heroic Narrative, while the centre-Right essentially stems from British liberalism, which in Helen Andrews' words is noted for its 'pragmatism, its impatience with abstraction, its celebration of bourgeois rather than romantic-heroic virtues' - not things that attract the young.

But there is one way that the Tories can reduce the appeal of the Left even in the short term: housing. As long as people have no hope of possessing a home, they are never going to go Tory - but if they do, they will consider voting for a party, however repulsive they find it, because once people can own their own home they are much more likely to start a family, become more active in the local community, favour stability over novelty and behave in all those dull, middle-aged ways that make people more conservative.

Building more houses is not easy, because very few people want more housing near them; this is what makes urgently-needed development so difficult an issue, especially as the Green Belt mostly encompasses heavily Tory-voting areas around London. But this problem is made considerably and needlessly worse by the developers themselves, as Polly Neate, the chief executive of Shelter, has pointed outThis is something the Create Streets group have been arguing for some time. NIMBYs get a hard time but can you blame them when so much of the proposed housing on their doorstep is so ugly or bland? So here's a proposal to save the Tory party: devolve all planning law to the regional level - allowing Greater London to build on its green belt, in return for which the Tory-voting shires can preserve theirs. This is actually a viable solution in a way that building on brownfield sites isn't, for as the Adam Smith Institute point out: 'Just 3.7 per cent of London's green belt—that fraction within 15 minutes walk of existing train stations—would be enough for 1m new homes at unambitious densities.' 

If we built more than that, or constructed Parisian-style densities of five, six or seven floors, we could drastically increase the number of homes. Development will not be popular in the outer boroughs, but research by Create Streets shows that local opposition sharply declines when residents are presented with traditional, vernacular architecture. My proposal is that we have a Tory mayoral candidate in 2020 promising to build and build up in the outer boroughs, so reducing housing costs in the city - and get Francis Terry to design it all. Trust me, if there's one thing young people really do love, it's traditional architectural forms - isn't that right, fellow kids?