The Conservative Party is facing an existential crisis, with young people turning away from the Tories at an alarming pace. Polling at the end of last year by Deltapoll showed that young people are increasingly less likely to vote Conservative, with just 4 per cent of those aged 18-24 and 14 per cent of those 25-34 indicating they would vote blue. The party is almost totally reliant on older generations to remain a competitive force in British politics.
Needless to say, this is unsustainable. Only by venturing beyond its typical supporter base and engaging with young people on the issues they care about will halt this worrying trend. Caring for the environment by both addressing climate change and restoring nature is undoubtedly important in this. Laying out the case for conservative environmentalism and why ambitious, market-led policies are best placed to deliver long-term progress should be a crucial part of the Tories' strategy to avert this electoral timebomb.
The growing generational divide has already been highlighted by Next Gen Tories, a new pressure group pushing the party to confront this problem before it's too late. The group's main focuses are centred around the cost of living, housing and childcare. However, another key way for the government to appeal to younger voters is by highlighting their continued commitment to net zero and nature restoration.
For millions of young voters, environmental action remains a key priority. The YouGov tracker follows what people think are the country's most important issues. It has consistently shown that the environment remains a top-five issue for all adults but is particularly important to younger voters, hovering around the same level as housing.
With the Labour Party going into the next election promising a "fairer, greener future", there is a strong and urgent case to be put to young people that a Conservative government would be better placed to continue the significant progress made already in reducing the nation's carbon footprint and protecting our natural environment.
This should theoretically be made easier by the fact that when it comes to protecting the environment, the Conservatives have something to shout about. During the last 12 years of Conservative governments, the UK has made great progress in its environmental efforts. It was the first major economy to legislate for net zero. The proportion of electricity generated by renewables has increased from under 10 per cent in 2010 to over 40 per cent today, and territorial emissions have continued to fall. Even amidst the political turmoil of last year, important strides were made. VAT on insulation was scrapped and, in an Autumn Statement which stressed the need for fiscal restraint, an extra £6bn was found to support greater energy efficiency.
The government's future targets also show an impressive level of ambition. The Environment Act passed in 2021 is a substantive piece of legislation which, for the first time, set clear statutory targets for the recovery of the natural world. This includes a new Office for Environmental Protection, which will give reform a renewed impetus at the heart of Westminster. The UK has doubled down on decarbonisation, aiming to ensure 95 per cent of our electricity will be low carbon by 2030. This goes alongside ambitions like tripling the amount of civil nuclear energy available by 2050. Bold targets such as these will be crucial as the UK transitions towards renewables, consolidating its energy security which has shown to be ever more vital in light of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
The Conservatives should do more to highlight their strong track record on the environment and their bold ambitions for the future. These should be used to better articulate to young people why a conservative, market-led approach has been and will continue to be the best way of delivering a greener future. Countless young people care deeply about the environment. They also want to move beyond the many reductive forms of eco-hysteria and towards thought-out, sustainable solutions which will deliver in the long term.
Young people have waited long enough to see evidence from Conservative politicians that their priorities matter too. Issues like affordable housing and childcare will remain of vital importance and undoubtedly need to be addressed, but placing the case for continued conservative environmentalism firmly alongside these is a smart place to start. More than that, it is an electoral imperative.
Views expressed in this blog are those of the author, not necessarily those of the Conservative Environment Network. If you are a CEN supporter, councillor, or parliamentarian and would like to write for the CEN blog, please email your idea to email@example.com.