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Basic marketing practice generally means identifying a segment of people with common characteristics and then trying to attract them.  These common characteristics could be attitudes, interests or behaviours.  Sometimes they are geographic or gender-related, both often pre-suppose other common traits.

Politicians in the UK seem to believe “millennials” are a single segment of 17 million people, or a quarter of the population.

What they have in common is that they were born between 1980 and 2000.  Some, in their late thirties will be anticipating their children leaving home and the onset of middle age.  Others, will be fretting over A-levels.

There may be a perception that millennials are all sensitive, do-gooding, tech-savvy social sharers who want to change the world, but the evidence does not support that.  Actual data, from a study of 15,000 millennials in more than 20 countries, shows that millennials have as broad a range of attitudes as other generations.  

In other words, interpreting the issue at the heart of British politics as being about age is to misinterpret it.  Dangerously so.

To see Corbyn’s success as solely winning over young people is to misunderstand it.  What he did was win over the frustrated, the disenfranchised and those who see little to be hopeful about, or perhaps regret not yet owning a home.  There are a lot of people in those groups, and a great number of them also happen to be young.

The correct diagnosis is important because it points more closely to the cure.

The good news for conservatives is that a diagnosis of disenfranchisement and hopelessness should play more closely to their traditional strengths.  To the things they can do something about.

Young Tories are not a good look

As we have seen with the recent Activate group, who were caught talking about gassing chavs and shooting peasants, Tory attempts to appeal to the young don’t play well.  

It projects them down a path of mobilising their existing youth wing.  Bow-tie wearing young fogies who are unable to appeal to anyone that doesn’t habitually wear red trousers, and even then only small numbers of them.

Instead of setting off on more of those ill-fated escapades, the conservatives should instead stick to their knitting.  They should get beyond trying to “appeal to the young”.  They should appeal to everyone.

Making the case for markets

That leaves them having to focus on the disenfranchised and those without hope, and devising policy approaches to address these very real issues.  Then they should go all out to explain why those policies will make a difference.  How they will help.

This should be the natural territory for conservatives who believe that free markets and free trade, put very simply, create jobs and wealth.

But this has not been working.  Partly this is because nobody has been making the case for business.  Instead it has been too easy to let how some businesses and some business people behave become the focus of the debate and a metaphor for all business.  To tar all with the same small brush is simply inaccurate.<

Partly it is because the arguments that need to be made don’t go with the Corbyn-lite policy initiatives that have been coming through.  Policies which were… designed to appeal to the young.

The better nettle to grasp, as many have recently started to argue is to make the case for free markets and strong business.  This is the argument which reaches and affects everyone, regardless of age and circumstances.

As Margaret Thatcher said, the good Samaritan had to have the money to make a difference, otherwise his best intentions were just wishful thinking.

To do that, the Conservatives need to set themselves two challenges.

Develop market-driven policies

One, is to develop policies that will genuinely address the sense of grievance in the country.  This does not mean cede the “big business is bad” or “broken market” arguments we’ve heard recently from May and Gove.

It means developing policies which support the market.

Instead of wasting another £2 billion of our money to build five thousand homes a year, the policy should free up land to build on.  It should be made available to  smaller developers who will use it. Those businesses will thrive.  They will create jobs, which will enrich the local communities into which new homeowners are settling.

As it is, five thousand homes built by government won’t scratch the surface.  London First estimates that London alone needs 50 thousand homes to tread water.

Policies should be developed to reduce the tax and admin burden on dreamers who want to start businesses, and create jobs.  The climate for big businesses on whom our pensions all depend should also be improved (while punishing law breaking within them).

All the recent rhetoric from politicians about the importance of markets counts for nothing if it is followed by Corbyn-lite policy initiatives.

Winning the argument that with free markets and free trade all ships rise with the tide means having free-market policies.  Policies which put money back in the pockets of people and small businesses.  Policies which allow growth. Which build the economy and create employment.

Back to the good Samaritan, policies which enable society to look after others.

Then it must win the arguments

As many have said recently, the time has come to make the case for business.

Of course, politicians can make the intellectual arguments on the Sunday politics shows, but that is largely within Westminster village.

While that may bolster the troops, it does not get past the fact that rolling back the Corbyn tide is not about preaching to the converted.  It is about reaching and engaging young and old. It is about changing their actual experience of politics, and the impact it has on their daily lives, and politicians, and how they behave.

The experience of seeing business work well and thrive, is what will mobilise people, and mobilising them is what is needed.

Olivia Utley has written about the challenges in building Conservative party membership.  In short, natural conservatives are probably not natural joiners.

Nevertheless, as she argues, the way communications are going is that people will listen to their friends within their networks, more than traditional “authorities”.  So politics must be friendlier and make it easy for people in those networks to share.

As Dr Monica Poletti has shown, Conservative Party members are outnumbered and outgunned on all levels.  There are less of them.  They are less engaged.  They are less active, compared with Corbyn’s army.

And that, is likely to be one key to the problem of “shy Tories”.  With half a million paid-up followers there’s safety in numbers for Corybnistas to say the most extraordinary things.  Voices praising business and conservatism do not have that comfort, so they will be less viral.

Aiming to expand membership will force the right action

Instead of aimlessly seeking to “appeal to young people”, the Tories immediate objective should be to double the Conservative Party membership.  Setting that as a target will force it to do the right things.

It will be forced to reach beyond the satisfied and inward-looking political class that dominates it. It will have to develop a compelling retail offer.

It will need to reach the low-hanging fruit, those who will influence others and work out how to influence them.  It will need to reach out to the young, yes, but also the old and the disenfranchised, and those that may never own their homes.

It will need to do this by changing the experience, not hollow talk.

To do so, it will need to arm members and others with the winning arguments.  To do that, it will need to articulate those arguments itself.  It will have to win intellectual battles with practical arguments.

That will mean thinking, developing new ideas to go beyond fear, and re-articulating what is known already, that free markets create wealth for all.

Most of all, it will have to listen to how it sounds.

Guy Corbet works in communications. The views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue.