Are student Conservatives unfairly vilified for their beliefs?

Comment

In the wake of the General Election result, we ask whether student Conservatives are unfairly vilified for their beliefs.

YES David Barker, Somerville College

Are you a bad person for voting Conservative in this year’s election? Surely having done so you cannot be a feminist or an advocate of LGBTQ rights, support progressive taxation and social justice, be in favour of maintaining a free labour market and membership of the European Union, argue for an end to tax evasion and avoidance and agree that the banking sector should be more stringently regulated. However, in reality, most student conservative voters agree with all of these things. I personally don’t identify myself with the Tory stereotype that I feel is attributed to me and many other students who voted the same way this year. Left wing students seem to think that it is completely impossible to be socially liberal and progressive whilst being conservative at the same time. 

It would be ridiculous to suggest that Conservative party supporters are an oppressed and silenced demographic, as this is simply not true. However, the Conservative voter is stereotyped and identified as an evil bogeyman, personally responsible for the oppression of the working class and the tragic death of people due to austerity. It is true that a very small proportion of the party’s supporters do fulfil the Tory stereotype and want to bring back archaic practices of fox hunting, the death penalty and oppose gay marriage. But it is possible to be a Conservative party supporter without identifying with the dinosaurs on the right of the party that the press love to stick on the front page. The truth is, all political parties encompass large groups of people, all with different ideologies and different political philosophies. For the Conservative party this ranges from people on the left who would identify as liberal, such as myself, to the Eurosceptic right-wing Tories who dominate the headlines. The Labour party is exactly the same, with the minority Bennite wing on the far left continuing to believe in widespread nationalisation and the Blairites on the right who have adopted a Thatcherite view on the economy and social issues; The Green Party, the Liberal Democrats and even UKIP are the same. But do we make the same generalisations and condemnations of these parties? It’s reasonable to say that the majority of Labour supporters do not identify with a Democratic Socialist ideology, and that was certainly not the platform of the party in this year’s election. 

The student and mainstream media loves to portray the conservative voter as evil. When we have Conservative party supporters allegedly being assaulted by members of the OULC, it is undeniable that political vitriol has gone overboard. Claims are blown massively out of proportion and the character of many of the criticisms of the Conservative party lends itself to mindless propaganda rather than rational political debate. By voting Conservative I obviously do not believe that the whole of the NHS should be brought to its knees, and everyone should be liable for their medical bills in a privatised bourgeois utopia. 

Why are there violent protests against a legitimately elected government? If Conservative party voters did the same there would be a media storm. We have a Conservative majority voted for by 11.3 million people. Were all of these people morally bankrupt upper class ‘toffs’? No. These are normal people. 27% of DE class, or ‘working class’ voters, voted Tory compared with 41% that voted Labour and 32% of C2 class, or ‘skilled working class’ voters, voted Tory, compared with 32% for Labour. What does this say about the people that some label as out of touch and morally bankrupt? Were these voters brainwashed as some members of the left believe?  It would be incredibly patronising and hypocritical to suggest so.

NO – Luke Mintz, Corpus Christi College

It was the evening of May 7th and, like millions of voters across the country I watched my TV screen with despair as large swathes of Middle England turned a terrifying shade of blue. Cycling home in the early hours of the morning, I feared for the NHS, for the BBC, for Britain’s human rights culture, and most of all for our most vulnerable citizens, who look set to lose over £12 billion of welfare support during the next five years, much of which will presumably be transferred to the wealthy via tax cuts.

Predictably, much of Oxford’s student Right did not feel quite the same way. My Facebook became flooded with images of Oxford Tories swigging champagne and expressing their “delight” that “socialist Miliband” had been prevented from “unleashing his politics of envy” upon Great Britain. Quickly, however, much of this euphoria seemed to transform into a self-righteous anger, with Tories across Oxford complaining of their ‘marginalisation’ by the student Left.

Being Tory, they claimed, has become a vilified identity, with poor little student Conservatives afraid to express their political preference in public for fear of being called immoral. In one typically controversial post on the Facebook group Overheard at Oxford, some of these public school poshos even argued that Oxford Tories need their own safe space to protect them from the vitriol they appear to encounter on a daily basis. It won’t be long, I imagine, before the creation of JCR ‘Tory Reps’ comes back onto the student agenda (remarkably, this has been attempted in more than one college before). Similarly, a blog post by a UCL Philosophy professor, in which she urged students to ‘defriend’ Tories on Facebook, attracted much right-wing ire, with the statement held up as evidence of an “anti-right wing bias in academia”.

The thing about these seemingly ‘vilified’ Tories – most of whom, incidentally, voted to keep an archaic gown and mortar board compulsory for university examinations last week – is that they are not wholly wrong. It probably is difficult to be an out-and-proud Tory in Oxford, a setting in which political discourse is infused with a degree of emotion unique to a student environment. Defacing a war memorial in order to protest an election result is, admittedly, wrong, and the alleged incident of violence against OUCA members, reported by this newspaper last week, is reprehensible.

Where these right-wing delights go wrong is their complete misplacement of priorities. Let’s be clear about this: the true victims of this General Election are not the middle-class and generally privileged student Tories who may now feel uncomfortable discussing politics with their friends. The victims of this election are the thousands of our vulnerable fellow citizens who will now have their social security removed. The victims of this election are the public sector workers now fearing for the security of their job. The victims of this election are the millions of workers on unstable and exploitative zero-hour contracts, whose glimmer of hope in the form of an Ed Miliband government has now been extinguished. The victims of this election are all those whose job is dependent upon our membership of the European Union, who now risk plunging into unemployment in just under two years. The victims of this election are those who have in the past depended on the Human Rights Act, now set to be scrapped, for the basic level of respect afforded to their fellow citizens.  

Surely, this is all obvious, I hear my reasonably-minded readers thinking? Unfortunately not. Oxford’s Tory populace – and, I imagine, scores of right-wingers in other student communities – appear to be far more exercised by the (admittedly wrong) defacement of war memorial than by the thousands of families forced to rely on food banks for their basic survival.

It is of course regrettable that some of our fellow students feel vilified for their political beliefs, and, against Professor Roache’s advice, I would never personally ‘defriend’ a Facebook companion simply for marking their cross in the Conservative box. But there are far, far bigger issues as stake here, and the failure of some of our fellow students to see that is, to use a word popular with Oxford’s port-swigging Tories, shameful.

IMAGE: ITV, Spitting Image