The winds of change move quickly in Westminster. The country is now Prime Minster-less, although it has certainly felt like that for a while. Theresa May has officially stepped-down as the leader of the Conservative Party, allowing the race for Tory leadership, and occupant of 10 Downing Street, to truly begin.
Although there is something profoundly undemocratic about 100,000 Conservative Party members determining who will become our next prime minister, this article will stray away from passing comment upon the internal processes of the Conservative Party. Instead, let’s focus our attention on three leadership hopefuls who have made the greatest impact on the race thus far.
The bookmakers’ favourite, Boris Johnson. The cul-de-sac roaming, Rory Stewart. And, Michael Gove, the field’s self-professed Class-A candidate, are emblematic of the already souring Tory leadership contest. So far, none of the candidates have offered us – as young voters – anything to pin our hopes to.
Boris Johnson’s approach to the contest thus far has been highly out of character. The decidedly flamboyant former-Mayor London has – perhaps sagaciously – held his cards close to his chest. Team Boris, it would appear, have already started to believe the hype surrounding their man. Johnson, unbelievably, came into the contest as the stand-out candidate, despite failing miserably as the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Forget Larry (the Downing Street cat), Johnson has survived more blemishes to his reputation than a cat has lives.
So far, none of the candidates have offered us – as young voters – anything to pin our hopes to
Johnson’s approach to the contest has been sensible. Stand on the side-lines, churn out the same Brexit soundbites, and wait for colleagues in the parliamentary Conservative Party to vote him into the final two of the leadership contest.
To a point, Rory Stewart’s contributions to the contest have been a breath of fresh air. An MP for Penrith and the Border since 2010, Stewart’s parliamentary rise has been a long-time coming. Previously a deputy-governor in Iraq, the Eton and Oxford alumni became a member of Theresa May’s cabinet on the 1st May, taking over as International Development Secretary from Penny Mordaunt.
Politicians are often accused of isolating themselves in the Westminster bubble and being entirely out-of-touch with the “normal” Brit on the street. Normally, these accusations are absolutely fair. I’m not sure if my home MP has been out in the constituency since his election, excluding the occasional choreographed photo-op. Stewart has risen above these complaints.
I have never seen another example of a politician in the midst of a leadership race simply taking to a random street corner and canvasing for votes. I was absolutely gobsmacked when Stewart appeared outside Barking underground station. A Tory leadership candidate? Strolling around the East End? Trying to reach out to voters? If nothing else, you absolutely have to commend Stewart’s approach. The age-old complaint from young voters has been that politicians make no effort to interact with us. Stewart’s campaign represents an effort to redress the balance.
Stewart’s attempt to pander to the demands of older voters is a slap in the face to anyone below the age of 25
But, it isn’t enough. The Conservatives have a serious demographic issue. Voters aren’t, typically, turning to the Tories until they reach their middle-ages. Stewart might be an eye-catching campaigner, but on policy he falls short.
Last week, the DFID Secretary mooted plans to introduce a mandatory ‘National Citizens Service’ for sixteen-year olds. Stewart is a communitarian at heart: restoring community spirit is, for Stewart, the way that we find a way through the Brexit impasse. If there is a problem in this country, Stewart contends that we should come together to find a solution. I don’t disagree with Stewart’s approach, but I hate where it has taken him.
In his homemade policy announcement video, the Penrith MP claimed that his ‘citizen service’ would offer young people “character” and “purpose”. The idea that one’s “purpose” is defined by an attachment to the nation is so evidently misguided. Stewart’s attempt to pander to the demands of older voters is a slap in the face to anyone below the age of 25. In reality, Stewarts ‘citizen service’ would force teenagers to partake in a fortnight’s worth of work which they should be paid for. Stewart might bring a modern verve to the contest, but his youth policies remain wildly out of touch.
And what about Michael Gove? Education Secretary under David Cameron, a leading Brexiteer, and – more recently – a Theresa May loyalist, the cabinet stalwart entered the race offering an alternative to, fellow Brexiteers, Johnson and Raab. Since then, Gove has absolutely lost control of the media coverage that surrounds his campaign.
The Conservatives have nothing to offer young voters, and are hellbent on retaining an antiquated drug policy that they have personally proven to be flawed
Gove’s prime ministerial aspirations have entered into a cocaine-fuelled tailspin, and it seems unlikely that the former-Education Secretary will be able to recover. Ahead of his appearance of the Marr Show, Gove admitted to taking cocaine twenty years ago, acknowledging that “it was a mistake”.
Gove’s admission topped-off a week where the runners and riders in the Tory leadership contest thought they ought to air their previous drug indiscretions to the public. Rory Stewart has taken opium. Esther McVey and Andrea Leadsom have used cannabis. It’s been a rare week of honesty from our MPs.
I don’t particularly take issue with Gove for taking drugs at a social gathering, while a journalist, two decades ago. It is his barefaced hypocrisy that infuriates me.Reflecting upon his past, Gove was open in suggesting that he doesn’t “believe that past mistakes disqualify you.” It’s baloney. “Past mistakes”, as Gove puts it, have disqualified thousands of Brits from making climbing the career ladder.
While Education Secretary, Gove advocated a policy that would prevent teachers with a drug record from staying in the profession. Meanwhile, Gove has admitted to taking a Class-A drug and believes that he is still eligible to become our next prime minister? Sensational hypocrisy.
The opening days of the Conservative leadership election have taught us a lot. The Conservatives have nothing to offer young voters, and are hellbent on retaining an antiquated drug policy that they have personally proven to be flawed. And we’ve only just gotten started…