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‘I’ll be voting for anyone but them’: why young Tories are jumping ship

After a slew of scandals and sleaze, young Conservative voters are turning their backs on the party

Last Thursday, relief abounded throughout the UK when Boris Johnson finally succumbed to pressure, swallowed his pride and stepped down as Prime Minister. Since then, the country has found itself in the unusual position of being almost, well, united, as Tories and Opposition party members alike have celebrated his resignation.

From racist and homophobic slurs, to breaking the law and leading the sloppiest, sleaziest government in living memory, the British public was spoiled for choice when it came to finding reasons to oust Boris. It’s hardly surprising, then, that young Tories have also lost faith in him.

Young Tories are already a minority group within Gen Z, which is an overwhelmingly progressive demographic – only 21 per cent of 18-24-year-olds voted for the Conservatives in 2019. But a solid majority of 63 per cent of 18-24-year-olds thought Johnson was doing a good job in the early days of lockdown in April 2020 – just after the PM recovered from a bout of Covid himself.

This respectable approval rate plummeted to 15 per cent at the end of June 2022, in tandem with Johnson’s spectacular fall from power. With a series of scandals under his belt – from Dominic Cummings’ ill-fated trip to Barnard Castle to Partygate – it’s hardly shocking that even Boris’s fiercest young supporters are turning their backs on him.

24-year-old Ensor has found himself increasingly vexed throughout Johnson’s time in government. After dalliances with UKIP and the Brexit Party in local elections, Ensor eventually voted Conservative in the 2019 general election.

“By the time Johnson got in I was very enthusiastic, joined the party and voted happily for them in the 2019 GE”, he said. But just a year later, Ensor’s confidence in the government began to dwindle. “I thought Boris’s handling of Covid from the off was pretty poor. A lot of people cut him slack for never having had to have dealt with anything like it, but I felt there were still some pretty commonsensical things he failed to do”. 

From the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, to failing to close down airports or adequately support university students throughout the pandemic, Ensor felt as though Johnson was encouraging “people to endanger themselves for the sake of the economy”. And for the most part, he thinks “Boris got the big calls wrong pretty much every time”.  Ensor’s anger only intensified after revelations about Partygate, which was the real tipping point for many Tories: “I was absolutely furious with Johnson and everyone who partook”.

While he’s not completely opposed to voting Tory again in the future, he made it clear he’d be hesitant to do so. “My absolute red line for voting Tory, barring an exceptional circumstance, is the leader cannot be anyone complicit with Partygate and covering Boris’ back,” he says. “If the likes of Sunak or Truss get in, you can bet my bottom dollar I’ll be voting for anyone but them. I also couldn’t bring myself to vote for anyone blatantly transphobic like some of the candidates are shaping up to be”.

Another recent ex-Tory member is 24-year-old author and activist, Aquayemi-Claude. To begin with, Aquayemi-Claude “supported the Conservatives because of Brexit”, but as of late, he’s been growing increasingly worried about “the gap between the rich and poor getting bigger”, as well as other wide-scale instances of discrimination and exclusion. The introduction of voter ID was a particularly huge blow to his support for the Conservatives because, as he puts it, it’s “discriminating on so many levels”.

As a result, Aquayemi-Claude has turned his back on the electoral system altogether, believing that we need an entirely new voting system to see real change. But in the meantime, he’s begun to support smaller parties, such as the True & Fair Party.

“If the likes of Sunak or Truss get in, you can bet my bottom dollar I’ll be voting for anyone but them. I also couldn’t bring myself to vote for anyone blatantly transphobic like some of the candidates are shaping up to be” – Ensor

19-year-old medical student James hasn’t been too chuffed with the party as of late either. Despite formerly considering himself a Tory, James ended up voting for the Green party in May’s local elections.  “The current Conservative government has really failed the people,” he tells Dazed. Among the current government’s oft-quoted failings, he also added that the “retraction of social policies” and “the treatment of healthcare workers” has quelled his previous support of the party. Now with the cost-of-living crisis, he’s seen first-hand how cuts to the welfare state have pushed people around him into poverty.

Although he doesn’t reckon he’ll be voting for Labour anytime soon, he is clear about what he does want from a government: real improvements to the welfare state and somebody who will deliver on the “promise for zero global emissions”.

Unsurprisingly, the climate is one of the major uniting forces among the younger generations – AKA, the ones who will be affected by it the most. So it’s hardly a shock that the Conservatives’ lack of climate action is driving away their younger voters. It appears that many young Tories are leaping from one end of the political spectrum to the other and voting Green instead – who could’ve seen that curveball coming? As Chris Curtis, the head of political polling at Opinium, tells Dazed: “The younger minority that [previously] supported the Conservatives, most of which will have also voted for Brexit, are the people who are most moving away from the Tories [at the moment].”

While the climate is a pressing concern amongst many young Tories, it seems that the biggest reason for this voter shift is the cost-of-living crisis. “A lot of young people are so economically insecure, that when they see a shock like this, it really hurts their personal finances. And then they start to realise that the Conservative party isn’t really for them,” Curtis explains.

So, unless the Tories develop some staggeringly impressive solutions to these concerns, alongside some Eternal Sunshine-style memory-erasing tech, they’re probably going to have a tough time winning back former young Tories in future elections.