I THOUGHT I knew what a ‘Young Tory’ was. I went to university with a charabanc-load of them; bombastic, tweedy, Margaret Thatcher-worshipping and generally anything but cool. Think Jacob Rees-Mogg, but 30 years ago.
Then along came this election and politics changed overnight. One of the things which has surprised me most is the rise of the new ‘Young Tory’. And what has totally taken me aback is the fact that I know several, living here in the (still, just about) Labour stronghold of Barnsley East.
I’ll give you an example. Let’s call him Bradley. He’s 17 – not even old enough to vote – and he’s a friend of my son, Jack, who’s definitely not a New Young Tory (NYT).
Bradley left his academy secondary school having passed a clutch of the new tougher GCSEs introduced by Michael Gove – an original Young Tory if ever there was one – when he was Education Secretary, and is now an apprentice at an engineering firm in Sheffield.
He was the first of his friends to take out a Help to Buy ISA. His chief ambitions include owning his own home and driving a nice car. Although he’s as Yorkshire as can be, his ancestry includes Scottish and Italian. He’s also something of a snappy dresser.
He’s as far from the socially-awkward Young Tory stereotype as you can imagine; a cool, confident and very personable young lad starting out in the world. And he thinks Boris Johnson is the man (his words).
The fact that the previous Conservative government wouldn’t entertain lowering the voting age to 16, despite protestations from Labour and Lib Dems, has made not a jot of difference to people like Bradley. In general, he believes that rules are there for a reason.
You’d be surprised at how fear manifests itself in young voters. Any student of animal behaviour would tell you that in challenging situations, what’s needed to keep the pack safe is an alpha male. Whatever you think of Boris Johnson’s lack of scruples and questionable hairstyle, you can’t deny that he’s one of those. In comparison, at 70, Jeremy Corbyn looked like he should be put out to grass.
These things count, especially amongst young men. So much for Mr Corbyn’s blithe assumption that all under-25s could have been easily persuaded to follow the revolution. Like several of his fellow NYT friends who have joined the armed forces, Bradley is deeply patriotic and respectful of Her Majesty the Queen.
What Mr Corbyn also probably didn’t even bother to consider was that not every millennial is an over-entitled ‘snowflake’ too squeamish to contemplate sacrifice for Queen and country. He – and many other politicians – might be interested to know that, in an uncertain and unsettled world, simple acts of national respect give younger people focus and purpose, a sense of something bigger than themselves.
There is a clear difference between the ‘nationalistic’ ravings of the far right and national pride. However, I also see a strong indication that the past does not have to shape the future. Whilst many middle-aged voters in Northern post-industrial constituencies feel like they’re betraying their heritage if they vote anything but Labour, today’s young are unburdened by such ancestral guilt.
In Boris Johnson, Bradley sees a reassuring – yet colourful and ebullient character. Although the old Etonian is clearly ‘posh’, he obviously likes to enjoy himself – his various wives, girlfriends and offspring attest to that.
However, it goes much deeper than surface appeal. In the crucial 18 to 24-year-old age group, the Conservatives scored almost twice as many votes (28 per cent) from young men in comparison to young women (just 15 per cent), according to a YouGov poll this week.
This demographic is the only one to return such a marked differential between the sexes. This is what happens when all those working-class boys in less-than-privileged parts of the country educationalists worry about go to the polls. So much for the social reformers who might like to legalise cannabis and be more lenient towards criminals; what’s wanted above all is discipline.
Bradley’s conviction has led to some heated debates with his mate Jack, who maintains a slightly more romanticised view of the world. So much again, for the assumption that young people don’t care about politics.
During the course of their recent exchanges, I’ve learned more about prevailing political trends than from any staged and televised debate. I suggest that those in charge of the major political parties start listening too.