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Why are so many young Brits left-wing?

Britain’s youth buck the trend relative to other western nations, in that they are far less likely to hold conservative political views. Research by the Financial Times found that support for conservative parties amongst 20 – 35 years olds, hovers around the 10% mark. It is a pretty bleak indictment of how the last 14 years of Conservative-led governments have turned young people off Conservatism. But why is Britain different in this regard? And after all, aren’t all young people just a bunch of lefties who grow out of it eventually?

Well, left-wing tendencies are found in us when we’re younger, as the state plays a much larger role in our lives – given that most of us attended state funded schools, are provided with free healthcare by the NHS and some of us eventually take out student loans to cover our time at university. This tends to change when we go into full-time employment. Paying for all of these services through taxation, and the added burden of bills, makes us more financially conscious throughout adulthood. Ultimately, personal responsibilities will provoke conservative thoughts and tendencies in many of us (so the old Churchillian saying goes).

So why is the UK different? Many of these other western nations are welfare states as well, with, at first glance, hardly much of a difference between us. And yet, their young people are far more likely to still hold and espouse conservative views.

The simple answer is this – our social contract is broken. The state is not keeping up with its end of the bargain when it comes to providing efficient public services. We are waiting longer to see a GP. We are seeing our schools and universities crumble in the face of financial peril. We can’t get on to the housing ladder anymore. Even our basic, everyday food items are becoming unaffordable for many of us in this ‘cost-of-living crisis’. And to magnify our woes even further, household disposable income is set to actually fall by 0.9% between 2019 and the end of 2024. This is the first time in modern history that a parliamentary term will have seen a “fall in living standards”.

Take housing for example. In the same FT article, the author, John Burn-Murdoch, illustrates that the scale of home ownership amongst 25 – 34 years olds has dropped by a whopping 22% since the 1990s. Comparatively, France and Germany have only seen a drop within the single digits. Admittedly, this crisis has taken place over successive Labour and Conservative governments, who have failed miserably to control prices by addressing the growing demand for housing. But the last 14 years of Conservative rule has done nothing to help. A policy bonanza, aimed at trying to artificially reduce house prices, included the ‘Help to Buy’ scheme and the removal of stamp duty on homes under 500k.

The final nail in the coffin came with Liz Truss’s disastrous mini budget – almost causing financial meltdown – to send interest rates soaring. Mortgage rates skyrocketed as a result, placing a higher burden on both homeowners and renters alike.  

And it's inevitably why policies that have been proposed by Rishi Sunak for younger voters, such as ‘National Service’, are received so poorly. Despite the fact that it is present in other western welfare states, like Austria and Norway, their social contracts are not broken. They have high quality public services, higher living standards and lower tuition fees; their conservative political parties haven’t sold these services for a bit of profit. Rather, across their political spectrums, a commitment to high quality services has been consistently retained, leading to higher trust in their politics.

It’s no wonder the Tories have become such a turn off for younger Brits

A decade and a half of trying to appeal to pensioners, whilst simultaneously giving two fingers to younger voters, is coming home to roost. Around 70% of 18-24-year-old voters are planning on voting for left-leaning parties. The Conservatives on the other hand, are set to win only 8% of the 18–24-year-old demographic, a 19-point drop from the 1997 election, where the Tories were flushed out of power by Tony Blair’s landslide. 

However, all may not be lost between the Tories and ‘the kids’. Labour’s plan to lower the voting age, so that 16 and 17 years old will be eligible to vote in future elections, could work to favour the Tories. It will inevitably open up politics to even younger voters, who will grow as an important group that could swing future elections. If the Tories are to get their act together, regrouping and targeting young people through policies to entice them to vote blue, has the potential to revive conservatism for Britain’s youth to a similar level, which other western nations are currently polling at.

But knowing that come the end of this election, a dogmatic civil war for the ideological soul of the Tory party will prevail, I highly doubt that the penny will drop for them anytime soon.

Image: Grace Rockya

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