- A leading Conservative MP claims his party has become “the armed wing of UKIP” over its handling of Brexit.
- George Freeman, who was Theresa May’s policy advisor until 2017, said the Conservative party had “no vision” for how to win over younger and more diverse voters and risked surrendering power to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour.
- He criticised senior Tories for “trying to steal the crown” of May instead of delivering an orderly, inclusive Brexit.
- He was backed by former Cabinet minister, Justine Greening, who said the Conservative party would stop winning elections unless it reconnected with young people.
- The Conservative party is in Birmingham for day one of its annual conference.
BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND — The Conservative party resembles “the armed wing of UKIP” and has “no vision” for the country, according to Theresa May’s former policy chief.
George Freeman MP, who was May’s chief policy advisor up until November, told a Conservative party fringe event on Sunday that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour would soon be in government unless the Tories changed their ways.
Freeman told an audience of Conservative members that the Tory party looked like “lawyers” and “besuited bank managers of austerity with no vision” in a frank critique of the party he has represented as an MP since 2010.
He said the party’s handling of Brexit had made it look like the “armed wing of UKIP” and accused ministers of focusing on “trying to steal the crown” of the prime minister rather than delivering a successful, “one nation” Brexit.
Freeman added that his party was overpopulated with “middle-aged, white men” and said: “The Conservative party has become a culture-free zone. Being a culture free zone in a cultural era is very toxic.”
At one point during the fringe event, Freeman asked women in the room who were under the age of 47 to raise their hands, to which no more than 10 out of around 150 people held their hands in the air.
“That’s our problem,” the MP for Mid Norfolk said.
Freeman has been one of the most outspoken Conservative MPs on the subject of the party’s collapse in popularity among young and ethnic minority voters. Last month, he urged May to stand down as prime minister in March 2019 —when Brexit talks will come to an end — and hand over to a successor from the party’s next generation of MPs.
At last year’s Conservative conference, Freeman warned that the Tories risked “electoral wipeout” unless it reconnected with voters under 45. Labour performed much better among young people at last year’s election.
He repeated these warnings this year, and was supported by former Cabinet minister, Justine Greening, who was also a panelist at the fringe event titled “How can the Conservative Party win back the under-45s?”
“If this party doesn’t change we will not be winning elections anymore. It’s as simple as that,” the former education minister said. “This has been creeping up on us for a long time.”
Neil O’Brien MP, who was also on the panel, warned that the Conservative party would “go out of business” unless it reversed its trend of being increasingly unpopular with people who aren’t older and white.
O’Brien added that May’s 2017 election manifesto “didn’t communicate to young people that we [the Conservatives] are on their side… we didn’t have a strong policy offer for young people.”
He said that the lack of housing for young people had turned an entire generation away from the party. “Why would you ever be a capitalist if you’ve got no chance of ever getting any capital?” he told the conference.
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