Conservative Home

« Peter Hitchens: Appeasement on the home front | Main | Donal Blaney: Hire at least as many to the right of you as to the left of you »

Nick Vaughan: Six Months On

Nick1 Nick Vaughan is the current National Chairman of Conservative Future, representing over 18,000 young activists. He is currently reading for a BA in Politics at the University of Essex, having previously been employed in the House of Commons and the European Parliament as a Parliamentary Researcher.

It is six months since I was elected the National Chairman of Conservative Future, the Conservative Party’s organisation for members under the age of thirty. So I wanted to update CF members, as well as the wider party, on how the time since has gone, and especially on my view of where CF can go from here. ConservativeHome is a perfect platform to do this, in its potential for reaching out to active Conservatives, to those who are more loosely involved in the party, and to what I hope to be an emerging conservative movement in Britain, including such organisations for right-of-centre young people as the Young Britons’ Foundation.

CF and its activities should not be a secret known only to those most involved – not least because so often it’s been the arrival of a few cars, or a busload, of CF members that has turned a small campaign by a few hard-working activists into a major opportunity for canvassing and leafleting multiple wards in sizeable portions of constituencies. As Conservative Future’s membership grows, I want this to happen more and more, directing the energy and readiness of young people towards the campaigns the party needs to fight. And I welcome feedback and ideas from all Conservative members on how this can best be achieved.

It is easy either to ignore completely the role of a political party’s youth organisation, or to blow its role out of all proportion. Naturally, the truth lies somewhere in between. The relative size of the Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem youth groups may not have much impact on election results, but the ability of a party to attract young people in the wider sense is at least reflected in the results of successive General Elections. From 1979 to 1992, the party regularly picked up in excess of 40% support amongst voters aged 20 to 34 – and went on to win. In the last three elections, this support fell to below 30%. The results of these elections were of course less happy.

And at the campaigning level, as party membership declines across the board, the importance of the political ground war actually increases, because as it becomes increasingly rare, traditional activism is more liable to provide a campaign’s tipping point. When they are young is an excellent time to recruit the members and activists of future campaigns. Freed of the pressures of full time work and children, young members can become involved more easily than most, and start tipping that balance in the party’s favour.

If this practical view of CF’s role seems prosaic or obvious, it is so in contrast to those cases where we may have gone wrong in the past. It is worth highlighting two mistakes CF is overcoming, greatly to its credit.

First, there has been some tendency towards in-fighting, natural to all political organisations. But Conservative Future has probably been more evenly divided than the overall party between those who want the party to follow faithfully in the footsteps of past leaders like Margaret Thatcher and those who see the modern world as it now exists as the guiding star around which policies should be built. 

These ongoing internal debates may not have been resolved to either side’s satisfaction, but they have died down much more of late, as Conservative Future has got down to the less idealistic but far more useful work of recruiting members and organising events. I believe the reason for this is plain political realism about CF’s position within the party: even if Conservative Future were somehow to fall entirely into the hands of one or other side (and of course nearly all members are to be found on the spectrum somewhere in between), it would do little to change the overall membership of the party, and do essentially nothing to the composition of the parliamentary party. The only real effect would be for the party to lose the talents of an awful lot of keen activists and young people who want to play a part in getting the next Conservative government elected.

Second, there was a tendency towards believing that the Conservative and Unionist Party of Great Britain and Northern Ireland could be presented convincingly as the wildest, coolest organisation young people could ever hope to join. The language of ‘chill-out zones’ and the like was probably a mistake. I sometimes shuddered imagining the sort of advertisements that would be run on this theme, if money and time were no object: “Let’s have Oliver Letwin in the foreground spouting gangster rap at 120 words per minute, and in the background we’ll have Nicholas Soames and John Redwood break-dancing... yes, perfect!” Such an approach is cringe-inducing, and it doesn’t work.

But nor does it need to. In my experience, the ambitious and motivated type of person who becomes involved in the Conservative Party at a young age is as prone as anyone else to enjoying good parties and good alcohol – so certainly neither can be eliminated from CF’s agenda. But these aren’t the only incentives they will respond to. I see political involvement as appealing more on the level of a Law degree than a nightclub. There’s nothing especially ‘cool’ about such a qualification, but plenty of young people do pursue degrees in Law because they see them as a worthy route to the sort of future they want for themselves.

Conservative Future should likewise be a mirror for the ambitions of young people who sense that their success and their future depends in part upon the sort of economic and political environment that is favourable to the hard-working and entrepreneurial. If young people believe that in Conservative Future they can both meet likeminded individuals and do their bit to advance the conservative cause of eliminating the barriers to getting ahead that Labour ministers and Brussels bureaucrats inevitably place, then we have the makings of a successful and growing Conservative youth organisation.

In the events and campaigns that have been organised, and the efforts its members have gone to, I am pleased to have seen Conservative Future move in this positive direction in the last six months, and I intend to help ensure this process continues, to the benefit of conservative-minded young people, and of the party as a whole.


You must be logged in using Intense Debate, Wordpress, Twitter or Facebook to comment.