By John Jones
After a shambolic election campaign and the loss of her majority, last week’s Conservative Party conference presented a fantastic opportunity for Theresa May to re-assert herself as a composed and decisive leader. However, rarely in politics are things ever that simple. May’s speech on the final day of the conference was nothing short of calamitous, as she was interrupted by a P45-wielding prankster, and plagued by an incessant cough, whilst her backdrop began to fall apart. It would be unfair to suggest that this chaotic performance was proof that May is a bad leader, but it was certainly symbolic of the current lack of faith shown in her by her own party and the electorate. Much like the falling letters behind her, the only way is down for Theresa May.
Despite initially promising stability and progress upon her election, May has ultimately not delivered during her tenure. As was shown through her uninspired election campaign – in which she completely failed to engage with young, undecided voters -, Labour were able to gain a sizeable youth following, and leaving young Conservative voters, such as myself, frustrated, as no effort was made to change the party’s persona. The problem is not so much that young people do not support Conservative principles, as it is that they do not identify with the image of the current Conservative party. This is with good reason – the average age of the party is 57, and May is often viewed as an unfeeling headmistress character, whilst Corbyn is portrayed as a kind-hearted man of the people.
To attract “Britain’s dreamers”, therefore, the Tories must aim to make conservatism cool again. May has already proven incapable of doing this, but who else could drive the party in this new direction? Two names that often crop up are Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg, who have both, somewhat surprisingly, found cult followings amongst young people, due largely to their humorous or anachronistic quirks, respectfully. However, being a good source for memes is simply not enough, and Johnson’s poor international reputation, along with Rees-Mogg’s extreme right-wing views, are likely to prevent either from acquiring May’s position. Perhaps, therefore, we should look away from Westminster, and towards Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, who, as well as being a highly talented politician, is very much the antithesis of the stereotypical Conservative: female, gay, charismatic and socially liberal. As even the hardcore traditionalists of the party have acknowledged, these qualities could allow for an electoral reach far beyond the core Conservative vote. Although her pro-remain stance could further confuse already highly-confused Brexit negotiations, a move for Davidson from the devolved assembly into Westminster is encouraged by many, who are very much looking to the future.
Whilst it may not have been at the Tory conference, the writing is now certainly on the wall for Mrs May; she is not the future of the Conservatives. Who will ultimately replace her at the top is still anyone’s guess, but it’s clear that positive reshuffling needs to happen within the party. Whilst May has, herself, failed to attract the youth vote, she can still be responsible for making the appointments that will. She must be prepared to break tradition, or else the Conservative’s future looks bleak.