The election today represents a reversion to the mean for British politics. For the first time since 1992, the voters of the UK face a clear choice between Labour and Conservatives. For many this is unsettling. My generation grew up with the Centre Ground. A place where limited ideologies existed and variations between the parties were driven more by local issues and individual biases than existential differences in party governing ideologies. This is how the awfully phrased “millennials” think of politics. A choice between technocratic governments with different faces. Until today.
Today ideology is back, and as I have written before, this has been a shot in the arm for the health of UK democracy. The Brexit referendum marked the first nationwide turnout above 70% in 30 years and repeated polling suggests that the 18-24yr old turnout will be a record 60% or better. But with ideology and passion comes clear winners and clear losers. In part that is why this election is so much harder than those before. There is a trade-off and whoever wins the election will change the face of Britain.
I grew up hearing the phrase that “if you don’t vote for labour when you are young you have no heart and if you don’t vote conservative when you are older, you have no brain”. The polls seem to reflect this adage. Only 17% of 18-24yr olds are due to vote Conservative today, yet over 40% of 65+ voters will vote Conservative. So today I am in a minority in my nation and my generation. As I was for Brexit. So why be the contrarian? Why stand against your own generation and be different? Surely, they can’t all be wrong? And with all of these thoughts comes the question, why would anyone be a Conservative at all?
The charges against the Conservative party are steep. Consistent cuts to mental health, hospitals, schools and police for nearly 7 years, a Brexit campaign fought with no plan B and a leadership election straight after when leadership was most needed. A party that tacitly supports foxhunting, that supports nuclear weapons that could kill millions. A party that cuts taxes on businesses while reducing welfare to those most in need. A decade of lost wage growth and declining real incomes and a boom in food banks. Surely, my generation asks, it is time for something different.
Today stands Jeremy Corbyn as that “different”. An insider of parliament for 30yrs, yet an outsider in his party for most of them. An avowed pacifist, active human rights campaigner and strong defender of minorities. Especially immigrants and religious communities. A brand of politics where all are equal. A deal for the nation – a new social compact for the people. Sounds appealing doesn’t it?
It is difficult to be a Conservative because at its core, Conservatism is about faith. Not religious, though for some it may be. Rather, Conservatism is about faith in people. To be a Conservative means placing your faith that individuals excel when given the freedom to act and the opportunities to improve their own lives. Being a Conservative means holding a belief that it is not the State that can help an individual to find the drive, passion and bravery to excel in their lives. It is people themselves.
This election is about ideology and for many of my generation the wrong conclusions have been drawn. Conservatism is not about every man and woman for themselves, a free market gone wild. Rather, Conservatism is a belief that people know what matters to them more in their own lives than the state does and that people are better able to decide how to use scarce resources to improve their lives than the State.
In the UK today deep inequality and poverty exist. The question is how do we make them better. It is easy to talk about incomes and to compare ourselves to wages in Europe. This is deeply misleading. There is a reason why people from Europe have been desperate to come to the UK, USA and Germany. That reason is jobs. The UK Unemployment rate hovers around 5% and at around 11% for specifically the 18-24yr old range. In France those figures are around 11% and 20%. In Greece, they are nearer 25% and 40%. This is Conservatism in action. A belief that State intervention in job markets and in regulating businesses heavily, will more often tend to privilege a few rather than helping the many. This is the effect of Unionisation across Europe. Lower jobs and fewer opportunities for young people, to protect the few who have succeeded.
If you want to remove inequality and poverty you need to start with jobs. You also need to start by realising the nature of inequality. Today in the western world inequality is different to the 1980s and before. If you look at the houses of millionaires in London, the Home Counties and other leading cities across the UK and you’ll notice something quickly, many are no longer owned by Brits. The rich across the world are not defined by their nationalities. They move freely between nations depending on where they enjoy the highest quality of life for themselves, their families and their careers. London is a symptom of this, but no different to New York, San Francisco, Hong Kong or Geneva. The wealth that this group enjoys cannot be amended by new national taxes or by restrictions on investment. They simply move, as many did from France under President Hollande. No one from the France became richer since then and no-one in the UK will become richer after Labour’s tax raids either.
It is difficult to be a Conservative because people belief that Conservatives lack compassion. It seems brutal, shocking, barbaric and wrong to let people fail, communities fail and businesses fail, while allowing old beliefs and prejudices to exist. In the mindset of Labour and Socialism, this is why Conservatism is so deeply unpopular in public discourse. It is also why Conservatism and right-wing ideologies are so unpopular in the arts. Bands, dance troupes, painters, poets, writers, singers, all rely and draw from a deep community of people who broadly seek to expose the flaws in the world and to dream of better futures. Critiques of the past and a desire for a new idealist future is what drives concepts like Socialism, Futurism and Idealism. The present is awful, but the future can be better. Who doesn’t want a better future? Who is perfectly happy with the present? Often very few.
In the election today these ideas were barely discussed. The campaign focused on personal histories and efforts to show who would be better to handle Terrorism and Brexit. For many, myself included, our votes will have been cast without much enthusiasm. But our votes do matter and will have consequences. I voted Conservatives today because while Theresa May is our PM today, the Conservative party itself is over 100 years old. The belief that individuals can and should be trusted, supported and given the freedom to make a better life for themselves, rather than a patronising, paternalistic hand of the State determining the terms and conditions of our future, remains the core reason behind why I remain a proud Conservative.
Sometimes the right decisions are the most difficult ones. It is easy to be led by the heart and seduced by dreams of a better utopia. But life is about making tough choices and when it comes to determining who governs our nation in its period of deep transition, I put my faith in a party whose ideology is driven by trust in people. Being a Conservative isn’t easy, but it remains the right choice.