Photo by Matt Jeacock

The trials of young conservatives

With friends like these, who needs enemies?

Artillery Row

Last summer, on a retreat for students interested in classical liberalism, a young conservative asked if she could film me and the rest of our friends for TikTok. In the video, we answered the question of “what are your political views?” Some simply just said “libertarian” or “conservative”, and some of us — as expected of young people — provided more edgy answers. The video blew up, receiving over two million views and a lot of hate. Some insulted our appearance, tried to dox us or even sent us death threats. 

The expected hate comments were easy to brush off in the moment; it is part and parcel of being a young conservative, after all. However, a friend of mine later contacted me to tell of how he had been bombarded with hate by his peers since he had returned to his university. Since he attended a northern, culturally left-wing university, he had lost many of his close friends due to the video and even received a warning from his workplace. He asked this young conservative to delete the video, and she put it on private.

Why would she put out a video which would inevitably subject her friends to abuse?

A few months ago, I was surprised to see a video in the same spirit come across my Twitter timeline — uploaded by the same young conservative. It seemed odd, considering how much hate the previous video had received. Once again, the video received over a million views. However, this time comments made by the young people seemed more radical than the previous video. One young man made an extremely niche Mussolini reference, and another claimed the Rothschilds ran the world. Once again, the comment section was full of angry accounts insulting and threatening the young people in the video. What was probably a drunken edgy joke on a night out might have led to them facing penalties at university.

To give the uploader the benefit of the doubt, the first time she might not have known what reaction the video would receive. However, the second time, why would she put out a video which would inevitably subject her friends to abuse and reinforce the stereotype that young conservatives are out of touch, posh weirdos? 

To understand what would motivate an individual to embarrass their friends online, it is important to understand the context behind what it means to be a modern day young conservative. 

Through being raised by the internet, Generation Z have found validation in building a community and values based on identity. However, this identity is often surface level. As Chris Winter wrote for The Critic, Zoomers formulating their identity around different cultures (e.g. emo or dark academia) are attracted to a vibe or aesthetic, unlike the previous generations who based their identity around their generational mood or direction. 

Young conservatives have especially fallen victim to this. Through the adoption of ToryCore, YCs huddle in private members’ clubs, smoking cigars, wearing suits, huddling around MPs, speaking like Boris Johnson and dressing like Margaret Thatcher. At least Young Labour have Momentum and Corbyn to be inspired by and rally behind. Yet as the Conservative Party has only a shell of an ideology, young conservatives have a shell of an identity.

The lack of substance around what it means to be a young conservative isn’t helped by our education system, which is full of blatant progressive messaging. During my last year of college, we were taught about Black Lives Matter and the gender pay gap as well as celebrating World Pronouns Day. 

Even if a young person has naturally conservative intuitions, it’s hard to find resources on the topic. Go into Waterstones and at most you’ll find Douglas Murray’s War on The West or Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics amongst the sea of left-wing books in the politics section. Most young right wingers seem to get their political intake from videos or articles discussing current events, leading to the discourse being reactive, short term and limited within whatever framework the “current thing” may be.

They are stomped down not just by the rabid leftists but by prominent Conservatives

The only thing conservative about the Tories is their “shut up and get out the way” attitude towards young people within their own party. When young conservatives step a toe out of line on social media (as young people generally do), they are stomped down not just by the rabid leftists but by prominent Conservative figures. The day before Conservative Party Conference 2022, a young conservative tweeted “Birmingham is a dump”, which led to a Twitter pile on. Andy Street, the Conservative Mayor of Birmingham, decided to add onto this by tweeting: “Off you pop then, and take anyone with the same views with you. Try and take some time to grow up and understand just why this city is so special whilst you’re gone.” Doesn’t Birmingham have bigger issues for Street to focus on rather than a young person voicing a negative opinion of the city? With friends like this, who needs enemies?

The emergence of Talk TV and GB News have created a market for young right-wing commentators. Young right-wing commentators aren’t a new thing. However, the previous wave of young conservative commentators was able to focus on Brexit in order to gain experience and media training. The commentators of today are meant to be jacks of all trades: Ukraine, the culture war, Meghan Markle, the NHS, climate change, strikes. Often they are not presented as student voices but as fully formed political commentators, giving them credentials on topics they might not have any understanding of. This just leads to surface level talking points, shock jock stunts or larping as politicians. The consequences of this aren’t good for either the young person or the movement. 

One notable case studies is that of Sophie Corcoran, who rose to fame through utilising the outrage of leftists online and the support of boomer right wingers who would come out to defend her. Whether that be posing with a cardboard cutout of Margaret Thatcher or crying on GB News because she had to wear a facemask at school, Corcoran has become one of the most infamous faces associated with young conservatism.

What has been the cost of this fame? On many occasions, Corcoran has posted on social media that her mental health has taken a toll from the hate she has received both online and in person at university. Since social media and news channels naturally incentivise performativity, as they want to get the most clicks, this provides outrage porn for Steve Bray’s tribe. They spend their day insulting, crudely photoshopping and spamming right wing political commentators. 

Providing young people with a voice is not a bad thing. As a young person with a deep passion for politics, I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities that these media platforms have offered me. Young conservatives have been ignored for too long, only used as mouthpieces for party politics talking points. It’s brilliant that young people can present their perspectives and raise concerns about topics that matter to them. 

However, through social media, the new right-wing media, and the general stigma around being a young conservative at school or university, this has meant that if young people want to be active in right wing politics, they must commit to it. Go big or go home. Since they are denied the ability to be a young person with an interest in politics, they put on a costume of either a careerist commentator or a professional provocateur. 

It’s important that young people who are interested in conservatism are supported and guided to make sensible and principled decisions. It’s not nice to see young people being bullied and abused online for simply putting forward their views. The Conservative establishment has just as much responsibility as the left for the silencing of right-wing voices and promotion of left wing values in our education system.

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