Conservative students in the Independent, a miscellany

The thing about freedom of speech is that it is no fun, and says nothing about the real experiences of young Conservatives at university.

David Kernohan is an Associate Editor of Wonkhe

The Independent has a lovely piece from Jason Reed, the treasurer of the LSE Conservative Society. He argues, with no little rhetorical flair, that “the government is trapped within its own culture war discourse”. There’s some corking lines:

In addition to its sincere quest to drag thousands of non-existent 19-year-old paleoconservatives out from the shadows, in terms of electability and PR, the government has forgotten how to deal with a Labour leader who isn’t Jeremy Corbyn.

Conservative students have a rich history of taking to the pages of the Indie to vent at the current direction of the party. For instance, a late 90s national chair of Conservative Students (with a freshly minted lower second degree) once got two articles (on 8 and 10 October 1997, if you want to do the deep dive I did) to reflect on his experiences at party conference:

The representatives can still be neatly divided into two groups. The first are the blue rinse brigade who form the backbone of the party. The second are the young, aspiring prime ministers – all of them male – who strut about in their pinstripes and highly-polished shoes. The first group are dying out and the second are always going to be a small minority.

Elsewhere he ruminates about the unattractiveness of the Young Conservative conference ball:

This event, even though enjoyable is to an extent stuck in an era long past. Maybe this is even being recognised by the YCs themselves, with it becoming increasingly difficult to bring in young members. With an age base from 15 to 35, it is difficult to interest and entertain everybody.

The ball used to attract five or 600 people. By 1997 there was only “a handful of diehard hacks trying to network despite the fact that there was no-one to network with”. Just 120 men and 30 women – our reporter relates that by the end of the evening “organisers were waiving the £10 entrance fee for any passing females who they could entice into the hall”

He concluded:

It is clear we have a problem recruiting young people, but our main opposition is not Labour or the Liberal Democrats. It is nightclubs, pubs and cinemas. We need to offer a more vibrant alternative to draw people in. They may join now to have fun, but many will stay to take part in the building of the party later.

Nearly a quarter of a century later, are young Conservative students enthused by debate and denied this by a censorious left? Today, Jason Reed thinks not:

The government is desperate for Conservative students’ free speech to be under attack, so it can swoop in and save us.

It feels like debates are only a small part of enthusing students into political participation. Perhaps a more vibrant alternative will stop young people being ashamed to admit to Conservative leanings on campus.

It would be instructive to ask out late 90s chair about this. Let’s give 1997 Conservative Students chair Gavin Williamson (yes, of course it was him) the last word:

William Hague said yesterday that he wanted to see more young people in the Conservatives. I would ask him to make our party the best party to be at.

[Bonus narrative: the sordid tale of Gavin Williamson attempting to manipulate the market in royal china collectibles can be enjoyed on twitter]

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