There is a fast-growing issue my party must address. Many Conservatives draw comfort from the old canard that “people become more conservative as they get older”. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case. Recent research by Financial Times journalist John Burn-Murdoch shows that British Millennials are simply not following the pattern of previous generations.
Burn-Murdoch’s research shows Millennials making a sustained move away from conservatism – research which confirms my personal views based on countless hours of door-knocking and discussions with voters across numerous London boroughs, as well as many conversations with friends from outside the political bubble.
The issue for Conservatives is: how do we arrest this decline and actively win over the sort of Millennial, young professional voters that Burn-Murdoch focused on in his research? The more I ponder this problem, the more I am convinced that it presents London Conservatives with a significant opportunity to both lead the rest of the party in addressing this issue and restore our fortunes in the capital.
London is a Millennial city. The average Londoner is a little over 35 years old. Being 35 in London in 2023 is tough. Millennials increasingly despair of getting onto the housing ladder. They cannot see a pathway to home ownership and along with that a pathway to starting a family. They may be in decent jobs but they are often also stuck in flat shares with all the frustrations and annoyances that brings. Solving this problem goes way beyond giving up avocado toast and cancelling the Netflix subscription. Millennial Londoners feel the system is stacked against them in a way that was not the case for previous generations.
Many also see the social benefits of living in London diminishing. There has been a 41 per cent reduction in late night venues since 2016 and there seem to be increasingly restrictive licensing regulations across London – it is impossible to buy a pasty from Greggs in Leicester Square after 11pm.
Few people are standing up for these Millennial Londoners, so it’s no wonder that the siren voices who talk of rent control, which is by no means a silver bullet for the city’s housing problems, or ideas such “quiet quitting”, a concept almost designed to damage careers and future prospects, loom large in the minds of many.
I believe the 2024 campaign to be Mayor of London gives London Conservatives the ideal platform to truly speak to and for Millennial Londoners and address the “Millennial condition”. We should do this through the kind of campaign we run as well as the policy positions we take, the overall tone we strike and, of course, the kind of candidate we select.
The tone of the campaign will be vital, and that tone will be set by our candidate. I hope we choose someone who loves the city and wants it to be the best version of itself. They should not allow the incumbent to get away with mistakes, but criticism and negativity equally should not be at the forefront of their messaging.
To win again in London we need to win over Millennial voters, with a stridently positive voice. People love this city, and it is bad politics to make people feel bad about something they love. We should always be explaining what we would do differently – and better – and therefore getting people excited about a new Conservative vision, not just of the city’s future but of the office of Mayor itself.
The approach we take to the election campaign will be just as important. Mike Bloomberg’s victory in New York in 2001 was by no means pre-ordained. He won narrowly against the odds and as a Republican in a city where his party was outnumbered five-to-one by Democrats.
Key to his success was spending time, effort and money really understanding the New York electorate, identifying the issues of importance to different voter demographics and spending time, effort and money delivering the right messages to the right voters. There is no point developing interesting policies that would appeal to Millennial voters if they get lost in the broad sweep of the campaign.
This approach is critical in a city as large as London, which covers a significantly greater area than New York with a similar sized population. The expansion of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone, for example, will have a saliency in outer London that it may not have in central London. And each borough will have its own issues – think Hammersmith Bridge – that a mayoral candidate could grip and use to demonstrate how a Conservative Mayor would make material, positive differences to people’s lives in their parts of the city.
Inextricably linked to the tone we use and the approach we take to the next election are the policy positions we adopt. I won’t write the next candidate’s manifesto but, especially when considering Millennial Londoners, I hope they have the courage to be bold and to be a proudly independent voice for London, willing to challenge the government on specific policy areas when necessary.
We will need strong, meaningful policies on housebuilding, pragmatic and interesting policies on the environment and green space, and a strong message on building safety – many of the unfortunate Londoners trapped in unsellable flats will be Millennial first-time buyers who just want to move ahead with their lives. I will ensure these policy areas – and others – are given strong consideration during the candidate selection process.
An appeal to Millennial voters will not win back London for the Conservatives on its own, but we definitely won’t win without their support. We must ensure that our 2024 campaign puts Millennials’ concerns at the forefront and that our candidate really understands what it’s like be a Millennial Londoner in the 21st Century. If we can do that, and grow our electoral coalition, we can and will win City Hall (pictured).
Finally, the ridiculous idea that Conservatives have some sort of inbuilt antipathy to London is for the birds. Across the length and breadth of the city, we are working hard to make our corners of London better places to live for all Londoners. We love this city as much as anyone. We think it’s the best in the world and that it can get better. That is why our next mayoral campaign is so important. We owe it to Londoners to get it right.
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