The kids are not all right: that’s the message coming loud and clear out of much of Conservative party conference. Philip Hammond’s big speech to the party faithful was the most explicit form of the Tories’ big argument: that it is a lack of attention to history that has young voters flocking to the Labour banner.
The New Statesman‘s George has already discussed many of the strategic problems with Philip Hammond’s big speech to the party faithful, and I’m not going to go over them here. There is however a big analytic failure at the heart of Hammond’s speech and indeed much of the Conservative response to Jeremy Corbyn’s success that is worth highlighting.
It’s this: the under-40s (or the under-30s or the 18 to 24s or whatever metric for “young voters” you wish to use) simply aren’t more inclined to be anti-capitalist than the over-40s. Quite the reverse, in fact. They are less supportive of Labour’s programme of renationalisations and of nationalisation generally, have a slightly less negative view of capitalism than the over-40s, and in general their policy asks – a bigger pay packet, a home of their own – are not exactly socialist in tooth and claw.
Forget the need to “educate people on how bad the 1970s were” – if support for nationalisation led inevitably to a Labour vote, then the opposition would be doing much, much better with older voters.
Inside Corbyn’s inner circle, they are well aware that the under-40s are not necessarily paid-up Corbynites but they believe that the failure of Britain’s economic model to deliver these things will allow them to take their voters on a long-term political journey.
The Conservatives lost their majority because they did very badly among three groups who are actually more sympathetic to capitalism as a concept than the voters they kept: affluent ethnic minorities, the socially liberal, and the young. What unites all three of these blocs is they are uneasy about culture wars and they tend to live in places where the housing crisis has become acute. Something else unites them too: the fruitlessness of trying to win them over by talking about the 1970s.