I ATTENDED a South East Regional Young Conservative Conference last Saturday in Farnborough, Hampshire, so you didn’t have to . . .
From the outset, I’d like to make it clear that this article is not directed to any Young Conservatives individually nor towards those who did a terrific job in organising the conference. Many of the attendees I spoke to were admirable in their intentions to get involved, however naively, in party affairs. Yet for me to have thought that this YC conference indicated a restoration of conservativism among a new generation was a profound blunder.
One question I pondered throughout the day was who could stand for patriotic social conservative values with a rational approach to economics? Given that the party is meant to reflect a broad-church range of diverging opinions, one would have thought there would have been more discussion of what defines conservatism. Alas, not. It was clear from the majority of attendees that the party would not seek to revert to upholding patriotic socially minded provisions. Appealing to the young now involves an insistence on becoming ‘post Conservative’. This was confirmed numerous times by two supposed party giants who were in attendance. Sir Desmond Swayne MP, former Parliamentary Private Secretary to David Cameron, declared that the party had to build further upon the Cameron Strategy via an intensification of reverting to the centre ground. The chair of the Young Conservatives, Nigel Huddleston MP, demanded the party abandon all conservative principles that are in direct contention to social liberalism.
I found it equally disappointing to learn that any membership involvement in policy review is a complete illusion. Many attendees insisted that having participated at the conference they could springboard themselves into reshaping party policy. However anyone who has read the Party Constitution in depth – I had to ask multiple times for a copy and eventually paid £10 for the privilege of a printed one – knows just how little relevance the party member has in altering party policy development. I wasn’t surprised to find that under article VIII it is the Conservative Party Forum (CPF), not individual members, who have a greater say in determining policy proposals. And even the CPF does not have much of a voice, comprising as it does representatives selected by Area Management Executives and the National Executive Council, who in turn have the final say in overruling any policy recommendations that diverge from the national agenda. No wonder I found it frustrating when many attendees, guest speakers included, deliberately avoided the subject altogether, on many occasions through light-humoured distractions. Because of this insistence on preventing a rational discussion, for me it is questionable whether the party has any competence to respond effectively to the views of true socially minded conservatives in their millions.
I was also bemused by the YCs’ enthusiasm for the current leadership candidates. Finding myself to be one of only two dissidents who spoilt their conference leadership opinion ballot, I sought to understand from those who had not yet voted in the real poll whether there was any point in voting for either imbecile? It seems that we have no option but to choose ‘the evils of two lessers’. One of these supposed ‘lions of the Cabinet’ has negated our responsibilities to oppose the suppression of civil liberties in former British colonies. The other probably cannot locate Iran on a world map, let alone do anything helpful to resolve the Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe situation. I fear that we are heading towards becoming an international laughing stock with neither contender having the ability or the determination to grasp the genuine issues at stake in modern Britain.
I left the conference more sceptical than when I arrived. It’s always worth making an effort to spend a day with like-minded people of a similar age. Nevertheless, to have naively thought that the conference would include a rational discussion about restoring a lost form of conservatism was a tremendous mistake. This party grouping, which aims solely to recruit members and transform them into robotic party campaigners, has no appetite for appealing to any grounds of social conservatism any more, let alone press for much-needed structure reforms to give the average member a greater input over policy development. Instead, the agenda is desperately to change colours by whatever means to get down with the kids, even if that means becoming ‘post Conservative’.