For many Britons, the last twelve months or so have been a chance to reflect. A rare opportunity to take a step back and re-evaluate our lives; the company we keep; the ambitions we hold and our outlook on the world. To the surprise of my peers, I have done just that.
Your life will effectively revolve around constantly toeing the party line on social media in hopes some backbench MP will notice you
To give you a bit of background, I first got involved with the Conservative Party during the Brexit referendum campaign at 14 years old to work for my local MP, Ben Gummer, where I campaigned to remain within the European Union. This was followed by several spells working under ardent Brexiteer Tom Hunt, the current MP for Ipswich and the man whom I attribute my shift of opinion on the EU to after many Aspall-fuelled discussions on the ins and outs of the matter. Had you told me then that I would be writing an article some years later about distancing myself from party politics, you would find yourself being laughed at by a gilet-donning disciple of the Church of Boris.
But what they don’t tell you on the pamphlet is that being involved in youth politics can be incalculably tiresome. Within the bubble of it all, your life will effectively revolve around constantly toeing the party line on social media in hopes some backbench MP will notice you and being careful about what you say in group chats so you don’t lose your role as ‘Deputy Press Liaison’ for an obscure youth group because some sixth former from the home counties seeks to eliminate you as a threat to their future political career.
Outside the bubble isn’t particularly pleasant either if you do not stick to the political status quo. It goes without saying that most students lean left and that nowadays, attitudes towards those who don’t are, on the whole, incandescently hostile. I recall a war of words I shared with an upper-middle-class Trotskyist in a politics seminar which ended up with him allegedly reporting me to the faculty for being a “fascist-sympathiser” for citing Hayek of all people. It appears to me that, as a result of various reasons, a large percentage of my generation has a rather irritating tendency to brand anyone who doesn’t conform as a “racist” or “facsist”. Do not mistake me – I loved my time there before it was cut short due to the pandemic – but academic debate is a crucial component of why I came to university in the first place and in this world of social justice warriors who are willing to sacrifice their closest friends at the altar of political correctness, such activity is proving difficult.
It is deeply saddening to see the two major parties transform themselves into ruthless campaign machines at the expense of their principles
Whilst the tediousness of the incessant theatrics is a large reason behind why I have moved away from the party, it is also worth mentioning the ways in which the party has moved away from me. I gave my first vote to the Conservatives in 2019 primarily because of their pledges to implement business-friendly, free-market policies. Fast-forward one year later and the government has just announced the largest hike in corporation tax since the 70s. Another key appeal at the time was the degree to which Boris had publicly discussed the importance of civil liberties. I wonder what that version of himself would think of police officers fining people for sitting on benches in today’s Britain. And of course the general feeling that, if re-elected with a majority, the party would stand in the face of adversity to those who seek to cause destruction to our way of life, namely Extinction Rebellion. Yet now we read headlines about the Business Secretary urging the country to go Vegan as XR damage and desecrate our buildings and public monuments, seemingly with no meaningful consequence.
Building on this, the clear lack of strategy on China is stark and, at times, deeply worrying. On the one hand, you have the Prime Minister condemning China for banning British lawmakers, and approving sanctions against Chinese officials over Hong Kong and its treatment of the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang province. And on the other, he warns against starting a “new Cold War on China” and continues to push the line that he is “fervently Sinophile”. In fact, it was recently reported by the FT that the Treasury-backed plan for David Cameron to establish a UK-China investment fund is now as dead as a dodo. It seems to me that many in politics fail to understand just how significant a role China will play in our lives in the next century – and because they do not understand, they simply refuse to acknowledge the possibility of it. I strongly urge them to pay attention to Neil O’Brien and Tom Tugendhat who chair the China Research Group. They too will play an increasingly important role in our lives, I expect.
As a young person, it is deeply saddening to see the two major parties transform themselves into ruthless campaign machines at the expense of their principles. Honestly, at this stage, I cannot distinguish the two. Both are populist, Americanised, authoritarian entities reinforced by a system that tips the balance in their favour who will stop at nothing to eviscerate their opponent – and this has had a dire impact on public discussion. I would like to think at some point British politics could find itself returning to the days where spontaneous debate wasn’t avoided by so many in fear of social ostracism. Perhaps the election of someone less divisive like Rishi Sunak will usher in this new age of discourse. Though ultimately, if the polls continue to demonstrate strong leads under Boris, I expect the Chancellor will have a lot of waiting to do. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learnt about party politics in the last few years, it’s that the only thing that matters is optics.
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