The fall of Labour’s “Red Wall” in the 2019 general election seemed to many to be a realisation that Labour no longer had the ear of the working class. However, this was not the only surprising shift in British voting demographics.
YouGov found that between the 2017 and 2019 elections alone the average age at which you’re more likely to vote Tory than Labour dropped from 47 to 39. Far from being the holistically woke leftist generation, over two in ten people aged 18 to 24 voted Tory and only 56 per cent found themselves able to back Corbyn’s extreme agenda. The potential to see a new generation of fiscally-responsible voters is there, if only the Conservatives could capitalise upon it.
These younger voters are a significant pool that can be tapped into more now and will have huge weight in the electoral make-up of the future, and yet this government seems determined to alienate themselves from the votes which they will depend on. Voters will not forget the injustices which this government has forced upon them, compounded by scandal after scandal, from testing and tracing to the Matt Hancock saga.
Despite being the least likely to be severely affected by Covid-19 itself, young people have suffered enormously from the loss of their freedoms. Graduates will now enter a mess of an uncertain job market and sectors dominated by young people such as hospitality have been hit particularly hard.
The last year or so has been blighted with restrictions on who you can see in your own home and restrictions on bars, clubs, and restaurants do not just affect business owners and staff but the prospective customers as well, causing a rippling effect of negative consequences across the economy. Students have seen their schooling profoundly altered by government-mandated home learning and isolations, and have paid full tuition fees to sit in their rooms watching pre-recorded lectures on laptops without access to libraries and in-person support. Anyone who has experienced online lectures and seminars knows how hollow and stale they are in comparison to the real student experience.
A student who was sixteen in sixth-form college at the very start of the pandemic has seen nearly half of their Year Twelve been completed online. Teachers were (understandably) woefully underprepared and teaching and work checking was often subpar. Summer holidays were ruined by restrictions, and the following year was characterised by even more lockdowns and home learning.
The abysmal test and trace system for educational environments meant that they faced even more isolation. Half term holidays were futile, with nothing to do when hospitality was closed and sitting around indoors started to feel more like a punishment than a reprieve. Means of testing students and awarding grades were uncertain for months, and A-levels were cancelled.
When grading was decided upon, many students didn’t understand the new system and weren’t aware that they would be assessed on work, which left them unprepared to perform at their best in exams which would define their future. When grades came out, the country saw unpredecented grade inflation which will have negative consequences for this generation when they compete in the jobs market.
Now facing even more online learning as they start university, more restrictions on face masks and socialising within their universities, Covid passports, and a potential winter lockdown, it is easy to see why a whole generation and more will become resentful towards this government. For young people, it is all too easy to feel that this government and this party simply does not value their interests.
More worryingly this neglect of the youth is going far beyond lockdown policy. On Wednesday evening, the Health and Social Care Levy passed through the Commons – just seven Tory MPs voted against it. Not only does this levy primarily come to the benefit of the elderly, feeding into the NHS and social care schemes which the young do not generally use, it places a burden upon younger people who will mostly not see the benefit.
People who have reached the age for state pension do not pay national insurance. As per the New Statesman, with the new increase, a graduate on £27,295 will be paying a marginal tax rate of 42.25 per cent (including student loan repayments) while a retired landlord with an income of £49,000 will have a marginal tax rate of 20 per cent. Unsurprisingly, YouGov’s polling after this levy was passed showed support for the Tories at 9 per cent among eighteen to twenty-four-year-olds, down twelve points from the last election.
This is incredibly shortsighted from the Conservative party. The youth that they treat with such dismissal today will soon hold much sway over them at the polls, and the generations they have relied upon will eventually have no sway at all.
Official Conservative social media accounts present half-hearted attempts to appeal to young people: quirky graphics on green-friendly policies, glitzy statements on superficial positions such as the banning of plastic cups, the promotion of LGBT+ rights and other issues of the day.
Of course, these matters are important and require attention to a certain degree, but performative funky graphics are almost a slap in the face when considering the policies which a supposedly conservative government has enacted – lockdowns, tax hikes and a loss of national stability and pride in the wake of enormous political and social change. We need more than virtue signalling and social media campaigns when the future of the Union itself is at stake.
The Conservatives have a strong majority and are not in any electoral danger – at least, not yet. There is still time to enact much fairer policies, to alleviate the housing crisis, to acknowledge the financial harm done to young people over lockdown and to support them. This can be done by lowering taxes, stimulating innovation and allowing the productivity of the children of the Internet to thrive rather than suffocate. Without acknowledging this opportunity and indeed responsibility, the government is damaging their own viability and the successful future of our nation.