Cheltenham Literature Festival 2018 | The Conservatives: Beyond Brexit

If you’ve still not caught my accounts of the other Chelt Lit Fest events I’ve attended, fear not! You’re one click away from seeing all I had to say:

Kieran Larwood, author of The Legend of Podkin One-Ear and The Peculiars.

Mitch Johnson, discussing footballs and sweatshops in his debut novel, Kick!

I’m no Tory, but that’s not to say that I’ll never become one. Far too many people identify with one party for their entire life. They refuse to rethink their beliefs, let alone reconsider their political allegiances. That’s a misinformed way of life.

I’m no Tory, but I enjoy having my ideals challenged. At University, I often found that doing this to others elicited feelings of discomfort, rather than spurring them on to support their values or challenge mine. That’s just wrong.

I’m no Tory, but I believe ardently that they shouldn’t be silenced. To do so is abhorrently stupid, especially considering that the party oversees the fate of the entire country. The conservatives sit in Parliament and decide our future; how can anyone think it wiser to shut out an MP’s views, rather than attend a talk starring the opposition, to hear them out? For that reason, I was incredibly excited to sit in on Cheltenham MP Alex Chalk and The Times columnist Daniel Finkelstein debate the future of the Conservative party beyond Brexit. Their talk proved to be a breath of fresh air.

Daniel made great contributions, but Chalk’s comments were more memorable. Photo credit: here.

For too long, all we’ve heard from news outlets is the dreaded B-word: Brexit. Brexit this, Brexit that; it’s everywhere we turn. First there’s chatter of a No Deal, then Theresa May’s Chequers Plan is crushed by the European Union. What’s next? Even my girlfriend, who’s far less interested in politics than I am, has grown frustrated with the constant reminders that Britain will be leaving the EU next March. Case in point: as I write, the chimes of the ITV News at 6pm sounds on the TV in the living room, broadcasting a new story on Brexit. Brexit is boring. While the panellists did touch on this taboo topic, the talk promised to move beyond Article 50, to a time after Britain has given up its status as one of the 28-member states of the EU.

Alex Chalk’s picture of his party provided the most memorable remarks. Predictably, it was a positive future. As a Conservative MP, envisaging a dystopic future for his party would have been political suicide. With that said, he was, refreshingly, not afraid to criticise. He criticised the methods that his party have used to interact with younger generations and advocated for alternatives, using education as an example. Chalk appears to share my views on education: that it is of fundamental importance and must be supported accordingly. I have taken education into my own hands on Our Velvet Revolution, a blog that I use exclusively for educating the masses on historical, social and political issues. Chalk has taken education into his own hands, too – not on a WordPress website, but through his school visits, which he recalled during the panel.

On visiting the likes of Balcarras and Pate’s Grammar School, hoping to educate students on the Conservative’s policies, Chalk couldn’t help but notice his audience’s disinterest. This reaction was particularly potent when discussing austerity. You probably reacted in the same way as the students when reading this passage; austerity is a dirty, dirty word. Austerity is associated with the pain, misery and downtrodden feelings of the underprivileged. At this, Chalk adopted a new approach. He brought austerity directly into the context of the students’ lives:

“If we don’t make these savings now, it’s going to impact on your future, on your welfare state, on your NHS.”

That was a complete paraphrase of his far more elegantly-phrased words, but they had the same effect. An image of austerity that marked sadness suddenly now sparked hope. That is not to say that I agree with the concept, but phrasing austerity within that context is far more productive. This is how the Conservatives remain relevant: Chalk commented wisely that there was little need for Theresa May to dance to ABBA’s Dancing Queen in her recent, misfired attempt to seem down-to-earth and relatable. I get the sense that, by means of emulating Jeremy Corbyn, May wants her own name chanted by youths in clubs and at festivals. But she’s making the mistake of trying to win over the next generation of voters by projecting a persona she envisions as cool, rather than talking to us about politics from a position that we find engaging. Viewed in this way, her makeshift audition for Mamma Mia 3 is an insult to a generation presumed to be uninterested in politics.

Out of the number of topics the panel discussed, clearly, Chalk’s point that the Tories so desperately need to invent a new approach towards youngsters clearly resonated with me the most. As I mentioned in this post’s opening passage, voters tend to stick with one party for their entire life. Chalk furthered this point, comparing our political allegiance as an 18-year-old to our choice of Football team as an 8-year-old. If Manchester United won the FA Cup when you were 8, chances are pretty likely that you’re still a Man. U. fan. Football fans and voters rarely change their minds. If the Tories fail to win over recently-enfranchised voters, they will be risking their future.

However, if the Tories appeal to my generation by drastically altering their public image, they will at the same time risk their valued constituencies of loyal, older voters. Should parties pay more attention to the present or towards future-proofing? That, I think, is a conversation left for another day – and a conversation that is far more suited to Our Velvet Revolution.

Overall, the panel was an absolute pleasure to attend. I left feeling far more in-tune with the current state of political affairs, and it was interesting hearing a politician’s words, devoid of the media’s spin. I urge you to seek out similar events in your local area, regardless of personal politics.

You might just learn something.

Before I forget: it’s fair to say that Alex Chalk is in the wrong line of work. Not because he’s a poor public speaker or doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Rather, because he was forced to impersonate an MP whose name escapes me, and I can’t help but wish that he would get out of politics and get into the production of a new series of Spitting Image.

Come on, Alex: the people have spoken.

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