Conservative Future no longer the best option for young right-wingers
The Conservative Party is in crisis as UKIP goes from strength to strength. Nowhere is this more evident than in the parties' respective youth wings
Times are changing. You may not have noticed it amongst all the talk of Cash for Cameron, pastygate and Francis Maude’s jerry can nightmare, but last week marked a significant shift in grassroots right-wing politics.
Fresh from being the only party other than George Galloway’s Respect to record a positive swing at the Bradford West by-election, UKIP surged to just one point behind the Liberal Democrats in the polls. This is not a one-off anomaly that can be brushed off as a bad week for the Tories. Nigel Farage and his band of conservative revolutionaries – the best kind of oxymoron – are here to stay.
First came the defections. In March, Roger Helmer, the controversial MEP, left the Conservative Party to join UKIP. He was followed, perhaps more significantly in the long term, by the 23-year-old former deputy chairman of the Tory youth wing, Alexandra Swann. And still they come. In the last two weeks, three Conservative councillors have defected to UKIP. There is real discontent in David Cameron’s party, and Farage and co. are taking full advantage.
The Prime Minister has only himself to blame. Guilty of succumbing to the constraints of Coalition, the leader of the Conservative Party has abandoned his conservative principles. His Chancellor’s economic policy has been a raft of half-hearted, sit-on-the-fence measures with a façade of austerity. George Osborne’s non-existent plan for growth has, unsurprisingly, delivered absolutely none at all.
On Europe, Cameron’s decision to impose a three-line whip on the Commons EU referendum vote only ever served to infuriate his backbenchers. The likes of Dan Hannan and David Davis have been shunned by a Tory leadership that is out of touch both with their grassroots and the electorate as a whole – while minimum unit pricing for alcohol and designs for email monitoring signify a firm rejection of the libertarian arm of the party.
Ideology aside, the Sunday Times donations sting last weekend saw the foul stench of corruption return once again. A staggering 72 percent say they believe the Conservatives do not understand what life is like for the average person. This is incredibly toxic, and will be equally difficult to turn around. If you believe in a small state, individual liberty and personal responsibility then the Tories are no longer the party for you. But it is more than that. Cameron has lost not only his principles; he has lost his integrity too.
Many of my conservative-minded friends feel completely disenfranchised; for them, UKIP is now the only party they feel they can vote for. Just take a quick look at the Tory and UKIP youth wings and you will see why.
Conservative Future, led by its divisive chairman Ben Howlett, is seen by many young people as a cabal of self-publicist name-droppers more interested in sharing photographs of themselves with cabinet ministers on Twitter than contributing to the political discourse. At the height of pastygate last week when the government looked at its most out of touch, Howlett enquired on Facebook: “if anyone has lost a pocket watch from the Chancellor’s event, please do let me know”. You could not make it up.
By contrast, UKIP’s group of 18-35 year-olds, Young Independence, is a far more vibrant and interesting crowd. Its chairman, Harry Aldridge, has carried out sterling work in providing a viable alternative for young right-wingers. This weekend’s Conservative Future conference seemed dull in comparison to the Liberty League Freedom Forum, a libertarian event held in Newcastle which involved many young UKIPers. Entertaining discussions on Ludwig von Mises aside – apparently they even had more free booze.
The Conservative Party is in crisis. David Cameron has lost the confidence of a key section of his support, and UKIP is going from strength to strength. Cases like that of Alexandra Swann will become increasingly commonplace: an impressive young Tory – just the sort of person the Conservatives so desperately need – defecting to UKIP in protest.
Newspaper opinion polls normally just show the main three parties. It won’t be long before a fourth is added to the list.
Alexander Wickham is a freelance journalist and blogger writing for The Independent, amongst others. He tweets at @Wickham_A
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