EXCL Senior Tory MPs to visit universities to show they won't be 'scared away' by hard-left activists
Senior MPs are visiting universities to show Tory-supporting students that they will not be "scared away" by hard-left protestors, party chairman Brandon Lewis has revealed.
He accused the Conservatives' opponents of using intimidatory tactics in an attempt to "put people off having their say on politics".
Mr Lewis pointed to abuse suffered by Jacob Rees-Mogg at the University of the West of England in Bristol last month, when a talk he was giving was disrupted by masked protestors.
The North East Somerset MP was even forced to break up a fight after violence erupted at the event.
In an interview with The House magazine, Mr Lewis said: "After what happened with that situation with Jacob Rees-Mogg a couple of weeks ago, we can’t shy away because some people want to put people off having their say on politics.
"We’re going to go out there and have a wider programme of interaction with young people and through universities as well. There will be a range of ministers, MPs, myself as chairman, engaging with Conservative-supporting groups in universities more, giving them the support and showing them that we’re not going to be scared away by some people thinking they can put people off. We’ve got to have that freedom of speech."
Some Tory grassroots activists have already taken it upon themselves to reach out to university students with informal events aimed at ending the assumption that young activism is the preserve of the left.
Essex councillor Stephen Canning is hosting a string of free events across the country that include drinks and sometimes karaoke and featuring big name Tory MPs such as Priti Patel and Ben Bradley.
Reignite - which has been dubbed the right wing Momentum - is another grassroots group working to attract younger voters to the fold with more dynamic socials than have traditionally been on offer.
Elsewhere in the interview, Great Yarmouth MP Mr Lewis, who took over as Tory chairman from Patrick McLoughlin last month, also claimed that the Conservatives were struggling to get their message out online because of left-wing abuse of their supporters.
And he accused Jeremy Corbyn of giving tacit approval to the intimidation by failing to directly criticise it.
"If you look at what happens on social media, if somebody on the right or the centre puts out a message, the attack from the hard left is sometimes unbelievably abusive and vitriolic," he said. "For some people, if they suddenly get attacked by a huge number of hard-left people they’ve never met, that can put them off.
"Having proper, robust debate is an integral part of our democracy. I’ve had straightforward debates with Diane Abbott and I’ve pointed out the fact she can’t add up. That’s a proper debate. Personal abuse and calling for physical abuse is completely unacceptable and we need to be able to differentiate between the two. What will happen otherwise is people from all political angles and views will start being put off from being involved."
Mr Lewis added: "Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t come out and condemn some of the things that have happened. We’ve still got the Shadow Chancellor endorsing physical abuse of a female Cabinet member and that’s unbelievable.
"If the leadership aren’t explicitly saying ‘this is unacceptable, we need to conduct ourselves in a proper way’, then it’s giving a very bad message to everyone else."