Nick Rogers: Millennial voters hold the key to restoring London Conservative wealth
The next Tories campaign for mayor must be consistently positive about the city and address the concerns of a key constituency
There is a rapidly growing problem that my party needs to address. Many conservatives take solace in the old ducky that “people get 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 that Millennials are making a sustained move away from conservatism – research that backs up my personal views, based on countless hours of door knocking and discussion with constituents in numerous London boroughs, as well as many conversations with friends from outside the political bubble.
The question for conservatives is: how do we stop this decline and actively attract the millennial breed of young career choosers that Burn-Murdoch focused his research on? The more I think about this issue, the more I am convinced that it presents the London Conservatives with a significant opportunity both to lead the rest of the party in solving this problem and to restore our fortunes in the capital.
London is a millennial city. The average Londoner is just over 35 years old. Being 35 in London in 2023 is tough. Millennials are increasingly struggling to climb the corporate ladder. They do not see a path to home ownership and thus to starting a family. They may have decent jobs, but they’re also often stuck in shared flats, with all the frustration and hassle that entails. Solving this problem goes well beyond giving up avocado toast and canceling your Netflix subscription. Millennials in London feel the system is working against them in a way that previous generations have not.
Many also see the social benefits of living in London dwindling. Since 2016, the number of late-night venues has fallen by 41 per cent and there seem to be increasingly restrictive licensing rules across London – after 11pm it’s impossible to buy a pie at Greggs in Leicester Square.
Few people speak up for these millennial Londoners, so it’s no wonder there are sirens calling for rent caps, which are by no means a silver bullet to the city’s housing woes, or ideas like ‘quiet surrender’ a concept , almost designed to harm careers and future prospects, loom large in the minds of many.
I believe the 2024 campaign to become Mayor of London provides the ideal platform for London Conservatives to really speak to and for London’s millennials and to address the ‘millennial condition’. We should do this through the type of campaign we run, the political positions we take, the general tone we adopt and of course the types of candidates we select.
The tone of the campaign will be crucial 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 themselves. They shouldn’t allow the incumbent to get away with making mistakes, but neither should criticism and negativity be at the forefront of their messages.
To win again in London, we need to win over millennial voters with a penetrating positive voice. People love this city and it’s bad politics to make people feel bad about something they love. We should always explain what we would do differently – and do better – and in doing so, inspire people to embrace a new conservative vision, not just for the future of the city but for the mayoral office itself.
Equally important will be the approach to the campaign. Mike Bloomberg’s victory in New York in 2001 was by no means predetermined. He narrowly won against all odds and as a Republican in a city where his party lost five to one to the Democrats.
The key to his success was spending time, effort, and money to really understand New York voters, identifying the issues that matter to different voter demographics, and spending time, effort, and money getting the right messages delivered to the right voters. There’s no point in coming up with interesting guidelines that would appeal to millennial voters if they get lost in the broad spectrum of the campaign.
This approach is crucial in a city as large as London, covering a significantly larger area than New York with a similarly sized population. The expansion of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone, for example, will have meaning in outskirts of London that it may not have in central London. And each borough will have its own issues – think Hammersmith Bridge – which a mayoral candidate could capture and use to demonstrate how a Conservative mayor would make significant, positive changes to the lives of people in their parts of the city.
Inextricably linked to the tone we use and our approach to the next election are the political positions we take. I won’t be writing the next candidate’s manifesto, but I hope, especially when I think of London’s millennials, that they have the courage to be bold and be a proud independent voice for London, ready to join the government to challenge needs in specific policy areas.
We need strong, meaningful housing policies, pragmatic and interesting environmental and green space policies, and a strong building safety message – many of the unfortunate Londoners trapped in unsaleable homes will be first-time millennial buyers just wanting to move with theirs life ahead. I will ensure that these policy areas – and others – are given strong consideration during the candidate selection process.
An appeal to millennial voters alone will not win London back for the Conservatives, but we definitely will not win without their support. We need to ensure that our 2024 campaign puts the causes of millennials first and that our candidate truly understands what it is like to be a millennial Londoner in the 21st century. If we can do that and expand our electoral coalition, we can and will win City Hall (pictured).
After all, the ridiculous idea that the Conservatives have some kind of built-in dislike for London is for the birds. Across the city, we’re 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 it can get even better. That’s why our next mayoral campaign is so important. We owe it to Londoners to get it right.
Nick Rogers is a Member of the London Assembly for the South West constituency, covering Hounslow, Richmond and Kingston. Follow Nick on Twitter.
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