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Tory Former Minister Accuses Own Party Of "Fatalistic Attitude" To Younger Voters

Robert Jenrick resigned as immigration minister in December (Alamy)

4 min read

Conservative MP and former Home Office minister Robert Jenrick has accused his party of having a "fatalistic attitude" towards young people and suggested that they should attempt to follow the example of similar parties in Europe and North America where they have done better in courting younger voters.

Jenrick, who has held a number of ministerial positions over the last few years, including as housing secretary, health minister, and immigration minister, addressed a room of young Conservatives at a Westminster event hosted by the grassroots Next Gen Tories group.

The former minister has been subject to speculation over whether he might make a bid for the Tory leadership after the next general election. Having resigned as immigration minister in December in protest against the government's emergency Rwanda legislation, which he argued "does not go far enough", Jenrick has said the government needs to do more to prove it will do "whatever it takes" to stop small boat crossings. He has also been a long-time advocate for housing reform.

When he was elected in a by-election in 2014 aged 32, Jenrick was the second youngest Conservative MP after Chloe Smith. The MP told the event on Tuesday night that 10 years later, he wanted to make the case for the future of the party that it should prioritise inspiring younger voters.

YouGov polling in January showed that only 10 per cent of voters under the age of 50 intend to vote Conservative in the next general election, expected by the end of this year. This included just 4 per cent of those aged between 18 and 24 and 12 per cent of 25- to 49-year-olds.

"The polling is terrible amongst young people, but not just even young people, people under the age of 50... we have to change that," Jenrick said.

"There is a fatalistic attitude in our party today that you can't, or that it's always been the case, that Conservatives struggle to appeal to younger people. That isn't true.

"I've travelled in the course of the last year all over Europe, and recently back to the United States, and in most European countries there are parties of the centre right that are appealing to young people, inspiring young people to vote for them, to stand with them, to want to be candidates in Parliament and councillors."

He added that the Conservative Party of Canada in particular should be seen as a "shining example" of what the UK Conservative Party should aspire to be like.

"They are now winning amongst young people, because they say that 'we stand for giving you the opportunity to get on the housing ladder, to get on in life, to make something of yourself'."

Jenrick spoke in support of the Next Gen Tories group's three missions of supporting young people to own their own homes, making childcare cheaper and more accessible to enable young people to start families, and cutting taxes. 

Robert Jenrick speaking in a pub
Robert Jenrick addressed a room full of young Tories on Tuesday evening (PoliticsHome)

He said, however, that he would add a fourth mission to the list, stating that he wanted to see greater progress towards a "more united country".

"I believe that young people are also yearning for purpose, and for meaning, and for this to be a more united country," he said.

He added that the Tories should commit to “some serious planning reform” before the next general election, claiming that the rowbacks on major planning reforms when he was Housing Secretary between 2019 and 2021 were "one of the greatest missed opportunities of this Parliament".

"In the history books are written in years to come, it will be seen as a huge missed opportunity," he said.

"There are many things we can do to fix our broken housing market, but one is to consign leasehold to the history books. It is a historic feudal system which has no real place in our modern society.

"We also have to do something important on immigration, because I've increasingly come to see that the housing crisis is as much a crisis of housing supply and house building as it is about mass migration."

Despite Jenrick often courting controversy within the Conservative movement, many young Tories in the room – including those who identify with the centre-right – welcomed his comments, telling PoliticsHome they found his conflation of immigration with the housing crisis to be "uncontroversial".

Some attendees voiced their frustration that many of the recent rows paralysing Westminster – including comments made by former deputy Conservative chairman Lee Anderson – were distracting the government from focusing on tackling challenges that were directly affecting young people's lives.

James Cowling, managing director of Next Gen Tories, told PoliticsHome: "Jenrick wholeheartedly grasped the need for our party to do more for young people.

"His call to reject a fatalistic view of our chances with younger voters went down incredibly well. He wasn't shy to say we need to be bolder on key issues – especially housing – and was rewarded by the crowd, who desperately want to see change."

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