Poppy Coburn is a journalist.
A recent Substack by the writer John Oxley put forward an interesting proposition. The Conservative Party, once the natural home of women, has increasingly lost any ability to attract the fairer sex.
The problem is particularly exacerbated when taking age into account: only 20 per cent of women under the age of 35 voted Conservative at the last general election. In essence, affluent millennial women – dubbed ‘Taylor Swift Tories’ – are turning away from the natural party of governance in droves.
Why is this? Oxley offers several possible reasons, not least the failure of leadership on issues like crime, childcare and housing, not to mention the problem of public perception.
It appears the party itself agrees with this last point, with CCHQ increasingly operating like a giant PR firm, placing enormous importance on ‘comms’.
The double-edged sword to this strategy is that, at least in some quarters, Toryism is now a byword for ‘toxic’. Icky pronouncements about illegal immigrants and swings against the ‘tofu-eating wokerati’ by Suella Braverman rankle a group that has not only “come to terms” with, but wholeheartedly embraced, diversity and inclusion as a moral and political priority.
Frankly, rich millennial women aren’t the people the Conservatives should be crafting policy around, at least unless they’re willing to mandate compulsory therapy sessions being blared across the television sets of the nation.
I’m being flippant, of course. Ignoring young women as a voting block entirely would be a costly mistake for any party, particularly one increasingly uncertain if it has any electoral future after the eventual passing of its voter base.
But the idea that the Conservative Party must somehow liberalise its policy agenda more is utterly, totally farcical. Let’s take a look at Tory policies introduced or maintained over the past twelve years of government.
In 2011, following on from years of secondary legislation codified by Tony Blair’s New Labour regime, the Conservatives redefined ‘charitable purposes’ in the Charities Act to include the advancement of human rights, conflict resolution or reconciliation, or the promotion of religious or racial harmony or equality and diversity.
The 2010 Equality Act – another New Labour project – essentially mandates that diversity and inclusion HR bureaucrats be installed across the public sector. Immigration has soared to unprecedented highs despite repeated promises to reduce it to the tens of thousands. Theresa May introduced the expensive timewasting exercise that is Gender Pay Gap reporting.
And let’s not forget dear old Boris Johnson, who made Net Zero his government’s flagship policy – inspired, no doubt, under the influence of his own ‘Taylor Swift Tory’, Carrie.
This is all the worse because many of the problems facing Britain could be solved with a group of highly motivated, intelligent Conservative ministers, were they unafraid of sidestepping procedure and infused with a modicum of political creativity.
Afraid of upsetting your pensioner voter base by pushing through desperately-needed planning reform? Well, why not liberalise house-building restrictions only in Labour strongholds like London? The Conservative party are lost there, anyway – and the bold policy reform might endear them to otherwise hostile young, single and precarious voters.
And why not shore-up Red Wall support by using legislative workarounds to maintain our borders? You don’t even have to leave the ECHR. Repealing the Modern Slavery Act (introduced in 2015 under May, naturally) and setting the maximum amount of compensation claimable for detention in processing centres to £1 daily would save the Home Office a great deal of hassle.
Little tweaks should have been the first thing any Conservative that’s serious about reform should have pushed through. That none of these changes were even attempted, even with the enormous majority gifted to Johnson in 2019, is shocking, and may point to a more fundamental truth: that the Conservative Party is far more wedded to the Blairite project than it would like to admit.
I have little stake in whether or not the Conservatives continue to pursue this strategy. What is more concerning is the trend towards both policy wonks and journalists writing up the Party’s media briefings as if they described reality.
Each journalist who gleefully names the Home Secretary ‘Cruella Braverman’ plays a part in Blue-washing a decidedly Red government, allowing the Conservatives to maintain a precarious coalition of voters far to the right of them on almost every issue of substance.
If the Party really does want to get those Taylor-Swift-mad ladies to vote for them, a spell of transparency about their true intentions wouldn’t do them any harm. But good luck winning an election with them.