UK Politics

Theresa May: What young Tories think about party's future

Members of the Conservative Association at the University of Reading play pool
Image caption There is big pool of would-be leaders but who do young Tories like the look of?

The Conservative membership is traditionally regarded as being dominated by older people but for new, younger members, this will be their first chance to choose the party's leader.

Winning round younger voters hasn't always been easy for the Tories.

At Reading University, the party has the support of the student Conservative Association. Theresa May is their patron and many have campaigned alongside her.

At the students' union, Harry Hickling-Baker says the party will struggle to find anyone better to do the job given the Brexit stalemate in Parliament.

"It's a shame. For months people have been focusing on who the leader is rather than the big issue at hand," he says.

"Unless we start getting behind the next leader, we are just going to face the same issues."

'Fresh face'

The growing list of contenders for the leadership will be whittled down to two before the final duo go head-to-head to try to win over members like these.

Views on Mrs May's successor are divided among the students, although they largely agree that her successor should be a Brexiteer.

"I think it has to be someone who believes in the cause and is able to deliver," Harry Stewart, the association's outgoing president says.

He says a "fresh approach" is needed and hopes the party does not pick a "continuity" candidate who is currently in the cabinet.

Image caption Harry Hickling-Baker says the party needs to listen more to young people

He likes "pragmatic" Dominic Raab, whom he believes "can win over both sides of the debate".

"We need someone a bit different," he says. "He is a fresh face that people can get behind."

Bradley Goodwin is also impressed by Mr Raab's intellect and grasp of policy that he says "other Brexiteers don't have".

"He has been making demands of the EU that even Theresa May has not been making," he adds.

For others, Boris Johnson is the man.

"He is someone who is charismatic and actually believes in Brexit," says William Hudson, the association's vice president. "Boris Johnson is the person who can win elections and take the fight to Corbyn."

'About survival'

The common theme among these young Tories is they want a leader who can stand up for - and articulate - Conservative values when it comes to the next general election.

While there is optimism about the future, they have no doubt as to the scale of the challenge the party is facing if it is to remain relevant for future generations.

"It is about survival now, the situation really has become that difficult," says Bradley Goodwin.

"We need someone with a vision that is as compelling as Jeremy Corbyn's seems to be."

Image copyright Graham Eva
Image caption Young Tories want the next leader to do more to challenge Jeremy Corbyn's ideology

Most believe the party needs to change if it's going to win support beyond traditional Tory voters and to listen to younger voters - on Brexit and other issues.

"Young people need to know that the leader is taking on their views because, as we know, the majority of young people voted to remain," says Harry Hickling-Baker, who names Penny Mordaunt and Jeremy Hunt as possible leaders.

"People in the Conservative Party need to be more open to what young people think or they are not going to support them."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption May goes in June - but who should come next?

William Hudson says the Labour leader has a "cult following" among the young and the next Tory leader needs to be able to challenge his ideology and show there is a "different way".

"We need someone that can promote the Conservative cause, promote free markets, free enterprise and individual liberty."

There is a widespread recognition that overcoming the Europe question won't be easy for any future leader.

But Harry Stewart longs for the day that the country has left the EU and can start thinking about the other big issues.

"We have to look to the future and what values we hold and how we uphold them," he says.

"We should return to the roots. We should stand for opportunity and making sure everyone has a real chance in life."

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