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Why young conservatives are the new radicals

23 May 2019

5:33 PM

23 May 2019

5:33 PM

Natural death might be non-partisan, but that hasn’t stopped it being politicised by liberals and socialists alike. One writer recently calculated that, assuming birth and death rates in Britain stay steady, Remainers will be the majority in 2022. Now, sitting around watching the clock and waiting for the right kind of pensioners to pop off the electoral register isn’t the most audacious of politics. But the newfound popularity of millennial socialism means ‘young people’ are as synonymous with nationalisation and redistributionism as ‘the miners’ were in the 1970s. So hold on to your iPads and Starbucks’ cups because we are on a one-way journey to a liberal future, and there is nothing you or anyone else can do or say about it.

There is just one problem. Young people are actually quite conservative. And not just because they are having less sex or consuming less alcohol or because they have a preference for hard work over hard drugs, but because they don’t like immigrants or gender equality nearly as much as liberals like to think they do. In America, The Pew Research Center found that only 25 per cent of millennials in the United States could be described as ‘consistently liberal’ compared to 43 per cent who were conservative. In fact, American millennials are far more conservative than people their age during the Reagan administration.

Political scientists Roger Eatwell and Matthew Goodwin’s research into populism directly contradicts the common belief that young people are all turning into socialists. Their data makes it clear that young people’s discontentment with the progressive status quo is a worldwide phenomenon. Italians under 50 are more likely to see immigration as a key issue than any other age group, while Germany’s Alternative for Germany party appeals most strongly to those aged between 25 and 50. In neighbouring Austria, half of men aged between 18 to 29 voted for the right-wing Freedom Party and in Sweden, the national populist Sweden Democrats were the second most popular party among 18 to 34-year-olds last year.

In Greece and Hungary groups like Golden Dawn and Jobbik gain most of their support from young men. While in France between 1988 and 2017, the number of 18 to 26-year-old women supporting the Le Pen family rose from 9 to 32 per cent. In fact, most of Marine Le Pen’s support in the French presidential election came from young voters. In Britain 41 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds felt that immigration was ‘too high’, supporting Nigel Farage’s recent insistence that young people are turning to Brexit because of ‘constant bias, prejudice and brainwashing’ in British universities. More alarmingly, one in six white 18-year-olds in America said that it would be better if their daily lives did not involve close contact with other races.

Even if the UK Conservative Party still struggles to create a right-wing youth movement, young people are taking matters into their own hands. One example is Turning Point, an anti-abortion and pro-Trump movement that began in the USA, and now has chapters at UCL, LSE, Oxford and even the left-wing University of the Arts London. The group’s stated aim is to ‘combat liberalism on college and university campuses’ and holds conferences for young, conservative women and ‘iCapitalism’ events. They also keep a ‘professor watchlist’ of academics they accuse of discriminating against conservative students. Similar groups can be found across Europe including YEAH (the Young European Alliance for Hope) and Generation Identity, whose 23-year-old former UK branch leader Tom Dupré was sacked from Standard Chartered bank after the media revealed he was a member.

It is hard to avoid comparisons with the left-wing countercultural groups that exploded on university campuses in the 1960s and 1970s, and helped push the civil rights and women’s liberation agendas. They had their cultural leaders and symbols: Martin Luther King, Paul Goodman, Angela Davis, Pete Seeger and the infamous peace sign. Conservatives now have internet-driven identity politics and so-called ‘intellectual dark web’ figures and symbols: Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro, Dave Rubin and Pepe the Frog. Their constant controversy and rising popularity has moulded a new breed of counterculture that is tech-savvy but also somewhat menacing. John Milton Yinger, who coined the term ‘counterculture’ in the 1960s, wrote that they exist whenever ‘norms can be understood only by reference to the relationships of the group to a surrounding dominant culture.’

Progressive groups continue to operate on campuses of course, and the popularity of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) and Bernie Sanders should be noted. But although they are the heirs of the 1960s countercultures, they are now the dominant culture – their power to denunciate and denigrate campus conservatives is one example of this. The counterculture has become the culture, and the radical space is no longer occupied by long-haired anarchists, but by a coalition of young working-class voters and economic undergraduates who have summer internships on Wall Street.

It might be easy to think that millennial socialism will save us, that conservatives are all old, angry white men but this is a lazy assumption that does not acknowledge the underlying anger many young people feel. Progressives might have the Green New Deal, the Sunrise Movement, Momentum and AOC, but they are losing young people to radical conservatives when it comes to policy. If progressive politics allows itself to be transformed by the so-called culture wars without paying full attention to real inequalities, then perhaps it is conservatives who should be watching the clock.

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