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As anyone who has ever spent any time in university Conservative societies will tell you, it is sometimes tempting to believe that the only young people who vote Conservative are affected Churchill wannabes, with pocket watches, pipes, and perhaps a pince-nez.

Such a claim would be unfair – or at least it would have been in any election so far. But among young voters the Conservatives now face record low support. This is one of the reasons why in 2024, the Conservatives are facing bitter defeat. But it could mean that in 2029, the party could face wipeout.

A recent poll carried out at Whitestone Insight of 13,534 British adults revealed things look extremely dim for the Conservatives among younger voters. Of the 18-24s we surveyed, only 8% said they planned to vote for the Conservatives. Among 25–34-year-olds, it was a dismal 6%. 

To put this in context, in 2019, 19% of 18-24s who voted in that election voted for the Conservatives. And this was with Jeremy Corbyn, star of Glastonbury, offering free university tuition to all students. Even then the Conservatives clung on to almost one in five 18–24-year-olds. 

2019 itself represented a then record low showing for the Conservatives among this age group. From the heady heights of 35% support in the 1992 election, the Conservatives have never been a favourite of the young, but they have always secured a somewhat solid proportion of young people to put a cross in the box for their local Tory candidate. 

Even in 1997, at the crest of the New Labour wave, the Conservatives still managed to convince 27% of 18–24-year-olds, who voted in that election, to vote for them.

The question of how the Conservatives have got themselves into such a state among the young is evident from the policies they have prioritised over successive parliaments.

Firstly, Brexit was never going to be a vote winner among the young, and successive Governments’ chronic and well-documented inability to build any houses has left record numbers of young people with crippling rents, or still at home with their parents. Similarly, placing wealthy pensioners’ needs over and above the needs of students has not helped either — especially their seemingly undying attachment to the triple-lock.

For a while, the Conservative Party could largely ignore younger voters and live in blissful denial that doing so would ever come to bite them back. 

Now, the Conservatives’ very survival might be at risk  — not in 2024, but in 2029. This will be when their current voter base has, to put it crudely, died, and these younger voters, who currently do not intend to vote Conservative, will most likely still not be on the housing ladder, not have seen an above inflation pay rise, will be struggling to pay the bills, and possibly even be about to be conscripted into a war they do not want to fight in. 

To add to future Tory trouble, there is a good chance that Labour, whether it has a majority or relies on SNP or Liberal Democrat MPs, will extend voting rights to 16-year-olds. Conservatives will find that the mountain to climb in 2029 will only become steeper. 

Labour could go one step further and allow EU nationals living in the UK to vote in general elections as well. Conservatives in that situation could face oblivion. 

More than that, it would be difficult for any party of the right to gain traction in that scenario. It would face a triple-pronged challenge: reduced support from current 18-35-year-olds, extra votes for 16- and 17-year-olds, and EU nationals voting in domestic elections. 

The years between the 2024 and 2029 elections must be the time in which conservatives of all stripes finally take this generational threat extremely seriously. Obviously, there are many unknowns in the five years of exile which almost certainly lie ahead. Labour might undo themselves and there is every possibility that for 18–35-year-olds Keir Starmer loses his appeal, for some reason we cannot yet see.

But that does not mean the Conservatives can be complacent – they must be the opposite. A thorough analysis of what has been so effective at turning off young voters over the last 14 years would be a good place to start. In the end, it comes down to the fundamentals: competency and the economy.  

On both of these measures, the Conservatives have failed to deliver for young people. As a party, five years in opposition must be used wisely — avoiding lurching to the left or to the right, instead considering how best to champion conservatism for a new generation. If the party fails to get it right, there may be no coming back.


Lachlan Rurlander undertook work experience with Bright Blue in 2020, and tweets @rurlander.

Views expressed in this article are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Bright Blue.

[Image: Pixel-Shot]