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Artillery Row

Of course young conservatives are angry

What else could they be?

Will Lloyd of UnHerd, one of my favourite commentators, reports on his attendance at the “Reasoned Student Summit”. Reasoned, he says:

… is the YouTube soapbox of the Brexit campaigner and pundit Darren Grimes. Today, Grimes has managed to gather about a hundred young conservatives … to network, and to listen to Nigel Farage, Steve Baker and Daniel Hannan. 

I’m not a young conservative. At the age of about 25 I bid farewell to youth and at the age of 31 I have comfortably accepted my status as a “geriatric millennial”. There’s nothing sadder than a thirty-something who believes, against all evidence, that they are down wiv da kids.

Still, I felt a bit defensive as I read Mr Lloyd’s typically eloquent article. The piece has a Louis Therouxian anthropological air. It feels as if we are being invited to marvel at how wacky the people Lloyd encounters are. For example, he meets John, who believes:

… the Bank of England will track your movements, monitor your spending, and push electronic tentacles into every aspect of your life. John tells me that such currencies will be “China’s social credit system on steroids”.

Okay, it would be eccentric to believe the technologisation of life is reducible to some kind of premeditated design. (Students have some odd beliefs: news at twelve.) But it is being embraced and encouraged by financial and political elites, and financial systems are excluding people and organisations with unfashionable ideas. This is not like thinking that the Earth is flat.

What strikes Lloyd most about the conference attendees is their anger. He thinks young conservatives are marked by a “frank apocalypticism, stridency, and saturnine sense of embattlement.” They seethe with “blatant nihilism” and think even Tories like Steve Baker and Daniel Hannan are too moderate. Taking inspiration from their counterparts in the United States, Lloyd writes:

They believe that until the British Right comes out fighting, it will keep losing the culture. Hard-line positions on migration and identity must be found. Cultural enemies must be identified, then ridiculed. For them, politics is about figuring out who hates who, then sharpening those hatreds into flints.

I share Lloyd’s reservations about this approach. Politics is not just about duelling hatreds. It is about inspiration and reassurance. (Even Trump, who has never kept a belligerent thought to himself, stamped an uplifting message on his little red hats.) Moreover, as Jessica Gill, an organiser of the Reasoned Student Summit, wrote for The Critic in October, if you dive into the culture wars carelessly you can strike your head on the bottom of the pool and give yourself brain damage.

But while it is justifiable to be concerned about where the anger of young conservatives might take them, I think Lloyd fails to appreciate where the anger comes from. He alludes to all young people being angry, and I’m sure we’re in agreement about the roots of that. Young people, unlike previous generations, face declining standards of life. Homes are becoming unaffordable. Prices are rising. Wages are stagnating. Students spent some of the best years of their lives locked in their rooms because of a virus which posed little risk to most of them — and are stuck with enormous debts nonetheless.

Conservative young people face a party which consistently ignores their interests. Tax hikes often target younger generations. MPs side with ageing homeowners when it comes to blocking property development. Conservative voters tend to be older — as Lloyd says, a mere 19 percent of 18-24-year-olds voted Tory at the last election — so this makes some short-term sense. But if the Tories are betting on the idea that people become more right-wing as they mature they’re going to have their wallets emptied. To the extent that this was true it was because young people had kids and bought properties. Now, fewer young people have kids — and they can’t buy homes.

Perhaps I’m not inspiring sympathy for young conservatives. It’s their problem, I hear a left-wing reader say. What are they doing being Tory in the first place? Well, fundamentally they’re still right-wing. They believe in nations. They believe in British sovereignty. They believe in law and order. They believe in the importance of biological facts. Then they look at the Conservatives and see a party which promises to lower immigration but allows it to rise every year. They see a party which has been in power as the police have all but given up on catching many criminals while also energetically arresting people for tweets. Even when it comes to meat and potato issues of the Conservative Party, the government has been serving cold porridge.

Lloyd finds it curious that attendees at the Reasoned Student Summit gave Steve Baker MP a cool reception. After all, Baker is “a liberal hate figure — recently called a “cunt” by Channel 4’s Krishnan Guru Murthy.” Well, leftists also thought Priti Patel was the second coming of Enoch Powell despite non-EU immigration rising throughout her time as Home Secretary. If someone who never drinks calls a cocktail “strong” that doesn’t mean that it is. If someone who loves romcoms calls Star Wars “scary” that doesn’t make it a horror classic. Mr Baker has described himself as a left-wing free marketeer. Okay, that doesn’t make him Mr Corbyn’s best pal — but stances such as his support for “taking the knee”, with its association with hard left attitudes towards real and alleged inequalities, make for valid criticism and debate.

Daniel Hannan also received a chilly welcome, Lloyd informs us. “The libertarian boilerplate of his speech, a Trussian paean to enterprise culture and tax cuts, [was] shredded in the Q&A.” For example, a young man said, “If everything is more globalist, then everything will move to London, and my community in East Bradford will become even more of a dump.” Okay, this sentiment could have been articulated more eloquently. But it remains a very much legitimate reflection on the failure of the government’s “levelling up” agenda, which has done extremely little to elevate struggling provincial areas. 

Certainly, it would be a shame if young conservatives embraced crude anti-intellectualism, amoral cynicism or thuggish bigotry. But I do not believe, like Lloyd, that their anger is the result of Brexit having “unlocked them from their cage” — as if they are wild reactionary animals unleashed upon an unsuspecting civilisation. It is an understandable response to the political and economic circumstances they have found themselves in. 

Perhaps I’ve spoken for da yoof enough. God knows they should have a chance to speak for themselves. But as much as they should keep their hearts, and keep their heads, they have the right to anger. Friends, to paraphrase the left-wing journalist Alexander Cockburn — who would truly hate to be paraphrased in this context — keep it pure.

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