The local elections in the city of York earlier this summer were catastrophic for local Conservatives, who went from running the city council in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats to having just two councillors.
But one man who took something from the chastening experience was 20-year-old Alfie Thomlinson, who stood as a Conservative in the safe Labour ward of Clifton and duly came fourth with 374 votes.
Perhaps surprisingly given the result and the 14-hour days spent canvassing, he described the experience as “great fun” and something that has now prompted him to help set up a group to give young Tories a voice in northern England.
“The best receptions I got were from places like Kingsway North, the council estate,” he tells The Yorkshire Post. “The people there became a familiar face when I was canvassing around there.
“I just started talking to them and they started to come around to the idea that if you work hard, pay your tax but have that little bit more income to climb that ladder to enjoy yourself, that’s what they saw.
“What I found when I’m going to more the affluent areas where you think they’re more Conservative, it’s actually the opposite. It was this idea of being champagne socialists, they like to put a theatrical performance on when you knocked on the door about why they’d never vote Conservative.”
Set to start as a student at the University of York later this year, Mr Thomlinson is also the chairman of Young Blue Northerners, a nascent organisation set up to help young Conservatives “have a voice both in national politics and the party itself”.
According to its website, “by highlighting our party’s achievements, we aim to show young people of the North that they may well already be an dormant Conservative, and they just don’t know it yet”.
The group is already making itself known, with leading Conservatives meeting Boris Johnson on his trip to Leeds last month and this week being introduced to Home Secretary Priti Patel.
And with a General Election in the offing, it may not be long before more senior Tories start heading out of London to park their tanks on Labour’s northern heartlands.
Mr Thomlinson’s efforts are in part motivated by the perception that Tory activists in the North are working hard to promote the party’s message but not getting the recognition for their efforts enjoyed by their southern counterparts.
“Young Conservatives in the South have more engagement with prominent Conservative politicians, figures, getting involved with a lot of the events, because they’re all based in London and the South.
“And then you’ve got hard-working activists in the North really pushing the Conservative agenda, every weekend going out, pushing leaflets through doors. A lot of people in the North just want a bit of appreciation for the work they do. They do get it. But I think it just needs to happen more.”
Another issue for young Conservatives, says Mr Thomlinson, is an over-reliance on social media. “We want young people off their Twitter keyboards and on the doorstep talking to people,” he says.
“That’s key because people nowadays can think they’re having a big impact on Twitter and they can be. But a lot of these people who tweet are very rarely on doorsteps talking to people. I think it’s important that young people are on the doorstep knocking on doors, speaking with local people and talking about the issues they face. The key voters aren’t on Twitter.”
He speaks to The Yorkshire Post from the office of Morley and Outwood MP Andrea Jenkyns, where he is on a work placement before starting university.
Originally from York, he describes his parents as “little entrepreneurs”, running guest houses and skip companies and with his father Lea’s plumbing work as the main source of income.
“He worked 18-hour days to give me the opportunities he never had, so I had the luxury of going to boarding school through not seeing my dad much and him working really hard to make sure I was able to have the opportunity he didn’t have.
“It’s cost this family a fortune but into the position I am today being the first member of the family to go to university, it’s been really, really moving for my father to actually see that and think his hard work at being a father producing for his family, has got his children to where he wasn’t when he was at the same age.
“We obviously tend to identify more as a lower middle class now, but we don’t forget where our roots came from and we only got to where we are today through sheer determination and hard work, and that aspiration to become better, as a family.”
During his time at the University of Lincoln, which he left in his first year “for a number of reasons”, Alfie Thomlinson set up a pro-Brexit Leave Means Leave society to engage young Brexiteers and “didn’t feel comfortable expressing those views”.
The group ended up receiving threats and abuse, he says, adding: “There was huge social outcasting of anyone who has a different view to the status quo.”
He believes the issue of Brexit could be the key to Tory success in any election, and that Labour in the North is “so out of touch” on the issue. Describing the leadership of Boris Johnson as “very promising so far”, he says the only way he can win in the North is by trying to break up the North-South divide.
He describes the Young Blue Northerners group as being made up of working class to lower-middle class members, many of whom were the first to go to university and “climb the social ladder”.
“It’s really just breaking those barriers in showing what true hard work and determination is and what it gets you, and that’s why people go down that route. That’s what I believe is the Conservative message, the ideology is, that you put the effort in, you get the rewards at the end.”