Many continue to debate the revelations of June’s election. But one insight which would be hard to argue against is that the election showed an electorate divided by age as much as anything else. Data from YouGov shows that those under 50 years old overwhelming voted Labour. This included 66% of 18 and 19 year-olds. Alternatively, most of those over 50 voted Conservative.
The reliance on the older vote for the Conservative party is historically evident, yet shows little hope for the future of the party.
In reality, this voter base is shrinking. Of course, there is the gruff fact that these kinds of voters are dying and will not outlive their younger counterparts. But the factors which sway older voters to the right may be starting to develop in an unfavourable way for the Conservative Party and its electability. Older voters tend to be homeowners with families to look after, and thus tend to be more financially sound. Traditional conservative policies which consist of low taxation and pension locks would perhaps be more to their benefit.
Contrastingly, the progressive ideas of left-wing parties tend to capture the imaginations of those younger people trying to buy their own homes, start their own families, and achieve their own financial stability.
Even so, this type of voter that the Conservative Party relies on is fading away. In 2003, 71% of Britons were homeowners but that fell to 63% in 2015/16. This, combined with other factors apparent during June’s general election, displays a rather bleak prospect for the Tories for the next one.
The main message projected by Labour during the election — ‘For the many, not the few’ — seemed to resonate more with those young voters who had felt dissatisfied with the policies proposed by a Conservative government. In addition, the string of terrorist attacks in the lead-up to polling day had shone an uncomfortable light on the cuts to police budgets and the wider austerity measures brought in by the Conservatives since 2010.
Underlining all of this, the attempt to frame the election as a character contest was, in the end, to the demise of the Conservatives. Theresa May came off as rigid and robotic instead of strong and stable, whilst Corbyn was seen as hip and more in touch with younger voters.
This sentiment was widely reflected in the kind of content shared on social media during the election campaign. As Robert Colvile summed up in his article, the Conservatives were seen as ‘a party of privileged scumbags who hate both the public services and the people who use them.’ Thus, if the Conservatives continue to rely on its disappearing traditional voter base, it will also be at risk of fading away.
However, there are a number of things which could be done to avoid this fate. First, the Conservatives could do more to encourage more housebuilding and continue to help young people to get on the housing ladder. Data from YouGov shows that 53% of homeowners voted Tory whereas 51% of renters voted Labour in the last election.
The consensus amongst many economists is that the under-supply of housing creates a market of fewer, more expensive, houses which young people struggle to attain. This lack of supply is further exacerbated by ‘land banking’, when house-builders sit on land with planning permission as prices rise. Thus, building more houses would not just be in the parties interest but also in the national interest.
Second, the party should do more to showcase its economic record. The Labour Party’s competence when it comes to the economy and spending is one of its main weaknesses, and was evident during the election campaign. Despite boasting a ‘fully costed’ manifesto, its promise to invest £300 million to put 10,000 more police on the streets contained gaping loopholes. It is thus imperative that the Conservatives continue to explain the importance of reducing the deficit (which has fallen by two-thirds) and committing to sound public finances to avoid placing the burden of excessive debts on future generations.
The party should also be careful with policies on university tuition fees. Here, the Tories should make a fair and realistic proposal and should refrain from abolishment or just merely reducing fees. Making it harder for institutions to raise fees in the first place by making them adhere to higher standards may be more ideal. The party could also do more to present degree-level apprenticeships as a viable alternative to university education.
Thirdly, the party should make better use of social media during election campaigns to get its more positive message across. The official Twitter and Facebook accounts for Corbyn made almost a thousand posts during the campaign and received around 3 million shares. In comparison, May’s accounts posted just 159 times and those were shared drastically less. It was little wonder that #VoteLabour trended on Twitter on polling day. Therefore, the Conservatives should rely less on traditional forms of media, such as newspapers, and embrace the online world more.
Before the snap election, the Labour Party seemed to be scrambling for survival. Now the momentum is with Corbyn and his party, particularly with the support of young voters. But if the Conservatives manage to make the necessary changes, then its fortunes could change for the better. Otherwise, it will only be a matter of time before it becomes lost in the wilderness.