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Young Conservatives Are "Disappointed" And "Underwhelmed" By The Leadership Race

Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak at a leadership debate, July 2022

4 min read

Young Conservatives have described themselves as “disappointed” and “underwhelmed” by the party’s leadership contest, as public infighting and a lack of enthusiasm for candidates Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak among some tarnishes the competition.

Foreign Secretary Truss and former Chancellor Sunak are competing to scoop up as many votes as possible among the tens of thousands of Conservative members that will determine the next prime minister and the country’s future, 

George Holt, Campaigns, Elections and Training lead at the Young Conservative Network, told PoliticsHome that he has been “a little disappointed” with the state of the contest so far. 

“I was hoping this would be a really good time for a genuine battle of ideas,” 22-year-old Holt said. 

“While partly it’s been that, it’s beginning to feel like more of a personality contest and I have been quite disappointed by some of the behaviour of our MPs on Twitter with a lot of the name calling and 'gotchas'. 

“People have to remember that when this is all over, we are still one party and we actually have to come together at some point, and all of that is making it a lot harder. 

“We’re essentially giving free ammunition to the Labour Party.”

He added: “Anything that damages the party as a whole always makes its way back down to the grassroots and can hurt our chances in local elections. 

“I do think both of them would be good Prime Ministers and I’m happy if either of them win, they were my top two choices from the beginning, but the main problem I had isn’t either of their policies, it’s how the debate has been carried out, it really could have been done better.”

Jasmin Cogin, is still undecided about her vote, but said she had been “underwhelmed” by both Sunak’s and Truss’ offerings so far. 

“I think ultimately I am looking at the long term picture. 

“The elected membership certainly don’t represent the paid membership, and the paid membership certainly do not reflect your general Tory voter. That’s how I’m looking at it. 

“Both candidates are far too associated – sort of tainted – with their association with Johnson and that current inner-circle. 

“In order for us to win new elections [...] I think it was really important for us to have a new face, for someone to have no association with the current Cabinet.” 

Cogin told PoliticsHome that she had found Kemi Badenoch “really interesting” but that it is not yet “her time” to take the top job. 

“I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing because I think that whoever does win this leadership election is going to get annihilated over the next couple of years.” 

There was similar warmth for Kemi Badenoch from 26-year-old Sam White, a member of Blue Beyond, a group for Conservatives under 30. 

While he is backing Liz Truss on the final ballot, he said he “would have loved to have been able to vote for” Badenoch in the last two. 

He felt that MPs were not focussed on the desires of their members in the earlier stages of the contest. 

“A lot of it did seem early on that it was based on what MPs wanted – they’re the ones that are voting, I get that – it seemed a lot about who they wanted, who they liked, who they worked with in the past," he explained. 

“And potentially not really what the members wanted or equally what the wider country would want or who they would vote for. 

“A big part of it was backing Kemi Badenoch, I would have loved to have been able to vote for her in the last two as a member and I genuinely think she would have done really well and possibly won it. She would have been fantastic, and we weren’t given that chance.” 

Conservative members have until the start of September to make their decision on who they would like to be the next Prime Minister, and the candidates will be vying for the undecided voters. The result will be announced on 5 September.

Holt is backing former Chancellor Rishi Sunak, and while he believes there is “still a healthy level of engagement going on with this leadership election”, there is “more apathy” than there was three years ago. 

“The reason that we have more apathy this time is because in 2019 we had Boris Johnson who was a candidate who brought in a lot of momentum, he had a lot of enthusiastic supporters, we don’t have a Boris Johnson type figure this time around.”

Cogin – who joined the party at 16 – questions to what extent young people are engaging with the party machine, but points to the “constant streams of discussions on group chats on social media” which suggest they are engaging with Conservative ideas.

Holt added: “It’s not hopeless, it’s ultimately in the hands of the candidates really. It’s up to them to come up with brilliant and exceptional ideas that are going to energise the membership.”

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