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FROM the outside, it’s easy to be pretty disturbed by the crew of slash-and-burn rightwingers that Boris Johnson has taken aboard on his Cabinet.
But it is worth trying to think about what is going on inside the Tory vessel? They are nervous too, because the Tories have decided to play a massive gamble.
By picking Johnson they are going for that old naval strategy of “shit or bust.”
It’s easy to be transfixed by the amount of shit they could dump us in. But we shouldn’t forget the equally high possibility of bust.
This is the how the gamble works. In their hearts, the Tories really want to follow the Raab-McVey-Patel plan. To use Brexit as a way of reviving a new wave of “Thatcherite” slashing of regulations and benefits and taxes.
But they know this slash-and-burn is desperately unpopular. Brexit itself is quite popular — Leave did win the referendum. But with two big provisos.
First, it is only popular when it is not seen as part of the slash-and-burn the Brexiteers want. Leave won the referendum on the basis of “£350 million a week for the NHS.”
But the Tory Brexiteers really want Brexit to put the NHS on the table in Trade deals. So they are very nervous about the popular appeal of an actual Brexit.
Second, they know any kind of Brexit is unpopular with younger voters — the very group the Tories fear losing.
The Tories are very conscious that losing the young, which actually means people below 39 years old, is a big danger.
It can lead to short-term election loss, and to a long-term decline.
This is why they are willing to gamble on Johnson. Tory MPs have stopped him being leader for years, because they think he is dangerous, unpredictable and untrustworthy.
But they finally backed him because they hope his unpredictable opportunism might just help them win an election.
That he might come up with unpredictable gestures and strategic spending to distract from their basic lack of appeal.
It is a gamble, because he might crash and burn before they can slash and burn. He could self-combust.
Underlying this is their very great fear that, if you exclude the over-40s, they are the Billy-no-mates party.
Clearing out my desk I found a booklet I picked up at the last Tory conference, called New Blue: Ideas for a New Generation.
It is published by the very right-wing Centre for Policy Studies (CPS). The paper is based on their own polling, and it shows they know how much trouble they are in.
Ben Bradley MP, then a “young rising star” admits in the introduction that “the 2017 election highlighted that clearly more needs to be done to engage with younger people.”
Bradley says: “The polling for this project … shows that the NHS remains the area about which young voters, like other voters, are most concerned. And those aged 18 to 24 say that delivering affordable housing is the single thing that would most improve their own lives.”
Faced with the fundamental question — the Tories are unable to help young people get housing — Bradley limply argues the solution lies in “breaking down the stereotypes and negativity that sometimes surround our party.”
Except rising rents and rising house prices are not a stereotype.
In a more detailed breakdown, CPS director Robert Colville writes: “On the face of it, the resulting polling … makes for alarming reading for those wearing blue rosettes.”
Colville says that for those aged 18 to 39 “the proportion who are certain to vote Tory is , frankly, tiny” — between 5 per cent and 9 per cent.
They just can’t find instinctively Tory beliefs among many younger people.
So just 14 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds agree that “governments do too much and interfere in people’s lives,” but 45 per cent think “governments do not do enough and should do more to improve people’s lives.”
As Colville says: “Young people are more feminist than their elders. Their prouder of Britain creating the NHS than defeating Hitler. And their political heroes are Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, not that discredited imperialist racist Winston Churchill” (I think he’s being ironic, but is sounds good to me).
He says: “The words young people most associate with capitalism are ‘greedy,’ ‘selfish,’ ‘corrupt,’ ‘divisive’ and ‘dangerous’.”
Offering further bad news, Colville admits: “The young want to nationalise everything in sight — but the same is true of every other age range, and by greater margins. It is even true, if you break down the segments, of Conservative voters.”
This is not an argument form some soft-right or wet Tory think tank. CPS was founded by Sir Keith Joseph with Margaret Thatcher. This is the Tories admitting to themselves they have a problem.
They try and solve it with some proposals from a group of younger Tory MPs — “a collection of ideas” from “a younger generation who are focused on the future.”
But their policies supposedly addressing the lack of appeal to the young are bland, technocratic, uninspiring stuff involving some tinkering with planning or employment law.
The lack of a solution — because the real solutions lie in public investment in housing, in regulation of work, in public spending, in things the Tories won’t touch — is why they are gambling on Johnson. It’s a move they know is risky, but they haven’t been able to come up with another plan.
We need to increase that risk: we need to press the point that there is an answer to the problems of housing, rents, wages, conditions, public services.
We need to be talking about making big shifts of money from the rich folk to the regular folk, of power from the corporations to the people, of resources from the centre to the regions.
We need to say that Labour will tax the rich to spend on the social fabric, and that is what “taking back control” really looks like.
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