Since the election in June, youth engagement and activism has been a hot topic on all sides of the political spectrum, so here’s my two cents on the issue. Just to be clear, I’m talking about encouraging young conservatives to get involved with the Conservative party and campaign for them during election time, not about persuading young people to vote Conservative. That’s a whole different issue that I cannot claim to know the answers to.
What young conservatives need, is to feel like they belong. We need to put a strong social programme at the top of our agenda, creating opportunities for young conservatives to meet their peers, and to make friends. We need to host social events across the country, so that all sorts of young conservatives – from the elected councillors, to eager campaigners, to (most importantly) ’shy tories’ – can know that they are not alone in their views. Only with this strong sense of community can we build a dynamic campaigning base, both online, and on the ground.
Let me explain. When I was a fresher at the University of Warwick back in 2014, I knew I was a conservative, and had voted for them in the one election I had an opportunity to. But beyond that, I was a political virgin – I didn’t know CCHQ existed, I had no idea what canvassing was, and a career in politics was about as likely as me becoming an olympic athlete. However, at the society fair, the Warwick Conservatives caught my eye, and I signed up.
Unfortunately for me, the only events on the freshers week programme were campaign days, and I certainly wasn’t turning up to those. I barely knew what my own views were, let alone being able to talk to other people about them. But four weeks in, they hosted a bar crawl, which if you know anything about me, is my kind of thing. I went, I met a whole load of conservatives just like me, and I loved it.
Fast forward to March, and the Exec committee elections were coming up. After a bit of encouragement from other members, I nominated myself for the social secretary role, and I got elected. It was an important time, the 2015 election was coming up (oh the memories), and I knew the importance of the society getting people out canvassing. But to me, the best way to do that was to hold social events first: at this point our active membership was low, and it needed to change before polling day came upon us.
So I hosted casual drinks, an election prediction sweepstake, a TV debate bingo (“long term economic plan”) and a takeaway curry (Tory Tandoori, I’ll give you that one for free). The membership went up, and all were keen to get campaigning, despite not having ever done it. The important thing was, people (including me) had met other people with their views, and had had a good time, and saw no reason why campaigning couldn’t be the same.
Conservative activists campaign ahead of the 2015 General Election
Election Day 2015 saw 30 students up at 4am for the dawn raid (and when do students get up that early?). We had an amazing day campaigning in the constituency, and an even better time watching the exit poll in the SU atrium surrounded by lefties. We even had a blue flag: 10pm was like a scene out of Les Mis. We were proud to be there, and proud conservatives, and that was because we enjoyed spending time together and supporting our party and dear leader (Cameron, I miss you). And this has continued to be the case for the last two years I’ve been involved in the society, through local elections, the Brexit referendum, and the most recent 2017 escapades.
This is just my personal experience. But I do believe that young conservatives work best when they have fun: campaigning shouldn’t be a chore, but should absolutely, definitely involve going to the pub. Through these experiences, I have gone from a lost and confused conservative, to one now helping the party with youth engagement, and to one considering standing as a councillor, and maybe even more. We need to remember that very few conservatives are campaign ready – whether that’s on the doorstep, or online – and we need to take the time and effort to bringing them into the party and getting them campaigning in as friendly way as possible. Knowing there are others next to you who support the same people and ideas you do is such a confidence booster, and helps produce the incredible campaigning machine we know we can be.
As conservatives, we don’t believe in socialism, but please, let us believe in socials.