The news that 83 per cent of Conservative voters are over 45, compared to 53 per cent of Labour voters, is depressing. That was a finding of a poll carried out by Hanbury Strategy for Onward, a right-of-centre think tank that’s just produced a report called ‘Generation Why?’. More alarmingly, Hanbury discovered that the ‘tipping point age’ — the median age at which a person is more likely to vote Conservative than Labour — is 51. That’s up from 47 at the 2017 general election and 34 just beforehand. ‘Yikes!’ as Lynton Crosby might say.
No doubt the Tories’ close identification with Brexit and its stumbling attempts to get over the finish line have contributed to this dire state of affairs, but its cack-handed attempts to appear politically correct can’t have helped. I’m thinking of the proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act, the government’s insistence that companies disclose their ‘gender pay gap’, and Theresa May’s ‘race disparity audit’. Trying to get ‘down with the kids’, like a vicar swinging his hips at the church disco, is a guaranteed way of turning yourself into a laughing stock in front of the younger generation. According to Hanbury, just 4 per cent of voters under the age of 24 are intending to vote Conservative.
For some MPs who fancy their chances in the forthcoming leadership election, the answer is to become even more woke. No, seriously. Penny Mordaunt, the front-running woke candidate — incredibly, there’s more than one — welcomed Onward’s report and said it showed how important it was for the Conservatives to try to appeal to ‘young women’ and other ‘marginalised’ groups. Newsflash Penny: it’s young men that are becoming increasingly ‘marginalised’, not young women. In 2017, 30,000 more women were admitted to university in Britain than men. The lowest--achieving demographic in our schools are white boys, many of them marooned in the north-east or coastal areas like the Isle of Wight. (Between 2015 and 2017, 700 people applied to Oxford from the north-east, compared to 9,200 in London.) I don’t suppose Penny thinks the Conservatives should do much to win them over. Creating an advisory panel on LGBT health issues, which Mordaunt has just done in her capacity as Minister for Women and Equalities, probably isn’t going to cut it.
One of the reasons embracing the diversity and inclusion agenda won’t bring this lost generation into the Conservative column is because the only young people likely to notice these woke gestures are either at university or recent graduates. And we know from polling carried out after the last election that they voted Labour in overwhelming numbers. Among graduates of all ages, Labour had a lead of 15 per cent in 2017, and among 18- to 34-year-olds it is now 45 per cent. That hasn’t always been the case — as recently as 1979, having a degree or A levels made you 17 per cent more likely to vote Tory. You can speculate about why this sea change has taken place, but I daresay it’s connected to the fact that, among university staff, left-of-centre voters now outnumber right-of-centre voters by a ratio of 7:1, up from about 2:1 in 1976. Whatever the reason, supporting the Tories means being part of a tiny, hated minority in British universities, second only in the demonological hierarchy to Brexit voters.
No, it is among less educated young people that the low-hanging fruit is to be found. One of the more optimistic findings in the Hanbury-Onward poll is that marginally more young people who have completed an apprenticeship would consider voting Conservative than Labour. Why? Again, we can only guess, but I suspect it’s because they haven’t been press-ganged into joining the Social Justice cult by Marxist university lecturers and, as a result, are still members of the reality-based community. Less optimistically, the Hanbury-Onward poll found that 18- to 24-year-olds rank Labour ahead of the Tories in every policy area, but those issues on which Labour enjoys the smallest leads include taxation, crime and immigration. When they’re asked about their values, as opposed to which party’s positions they prefer, they turn out to be quite right-of-centre.
In this light, the Conservatives’ best hope of appealing to young people is not Penny Mordaunt or any other woke candidate, but Liz Truss, the only unapologetic Thatcherite in the horse race. She understands the genuinely ‘marginalised’ people of this country — her constituency is in Norfolk — and seems to truly believe in the UK’s potential. But my foot’s already halfway out of the door. Come 23 May, I’ll be voting for the Brexit party.