OATs: Can Stewart, Cleverly et al Solve the Tory’s Senior Problem?
With our next PM due to be elected by a franchise of around only 130,000 Tory party members – the average age of whom being 57 and four in ten over 65 – questions have been asked about the party’s future and how it can combat this prominent problem of age diversity.
There are fewer things more gut wrenching than your Dad dabbing or uttering words only used by people seeking fame on Instagram. However, looking ‘normal’ and ‘down with the kids’ – for want of a better term – is becoming increasingly important for the Conservative Party. Due to austerity and Brexit, one could argue that their reputation has been vying towards that of the ‘Nasty Party’, a nickname warned against by soon to be ex-PM Theresa May in 2002.
The Tories need to combat this association with suffering and division if they want to be in power for a significant amount of time and preserve their preferred reputation as a competent, sensible and safe pair of governing hands. Figures like Johnson, Raab and McVey’s pleas for a ‘No Deal’ exit from the EU could be judges as a clear diversion from this character, and are manifestations of the infiltration of Euroscepticism into the party’s psyche, as one nation conservatism seems to have been losing support and its grip on power in the midst of Brexit polarisation. Tribal allegiances of Remain or Leave have taken over from divisions, regarding economic management and class, which drove Cameron’s muted ‘don’t go on about Europe’ stance. This chauvinistic recklessness may appeal to some party members, including some youth who are fed up with the same old guard clogging up cabinet roles and looking for a more refreshing group of people at the top of the pyramid, but MPs – a majority of whom wary of the potential damaging consequences of No Deal – are more wary.
In an effort to appeal to this spectrum of Tory members and back benchers, Johnson has emphasised his history as a one nation Conservative, which has seemed to have gone some way as to calm the nerves of the Tory left. In addition, amidst the high profile court proceedings against him, the former London Mayor still remains the favourite to succeed May. He has stuck with the tried and tested ‘stay quiet and use spokesmen to relay your stances’ approach, whilst using his referendum campaign credence, unique signature personality, record of hostility towards the EU, and willingness to keep No Deal on the table to convince MPs and members that he is the right man to have his portrait nailed to the staircase of 10 Downing Street.
Whereas, Rory Stewart has used has made a plethora of social media and Television appearances, in which he preaches his ‘get on with it’ doctrine regarding Brexit, so the country can move on and focus on supposed economic opportunities. He believes that belief in Britain – often preached by ardent Brexiteers like Jacob Rees-Mogg – must be based on reality, and follows May’s departing advice of finding a compromise with the EU and hard line Brexiteers. In his view, a good post-Brexit deal and trading relationship with the EU would pave the way for a future that would be ‘ours’. This would include a focus on the exportation of electric cars. So far, he has spent the unofficial leadership campaign taking controversial selfies in Wigan and admitting to smoking opium in Iraq. This may have been an attempt to appear somewhat risqué and ‘cool’, which may play well with regards to the few younger party members, but will obviously put off more prim and proper voters who would disapprove of his past behaviour and unwillingness to embrace a No Deal.
The two men’s differing stances represent an emerging split within the party – a reoccurring theme – regarding ways of the old and new. Despite his rather inexperienced, haphazard modus operandi, Stewart is seeking to expand the party’s electoral targets. This may prove to be fatal in regard to his bid, since youngsters are in the minority of voters, but it will be crucial for the party to continue these ways in order to keep up with the rapidly expanding membership of the Labour Party and social media no-how of the Brexit Party. Moreover, with allegations of islamophobia rearing their ugly head again, it will be crucial to advance racial diversity of MPs in order to attract BME members. James Cleverly – who has called for a ‘complete refresh’ of the party – and Sajid Javid’s presence in the pool of potential May successors is good to see, but this needs to be emulated across the entire organisation. Again, this is something which other parties have been successful with, with the obvious exception of Labour’s chronic problem with antisemitism. The Tories may have in store a period of identity re-working, similar to that of 1997-2010 – but maybe not as extreme – in order to adapt to the increasingly Americanised, 21st century political showcasing of social media and party rallies which seems to be the future of the political ways of western democracies.