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Turning Point UK is not what Conservative students need

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Turning Point UK is a new Conservative organisation aiming to challenge the ostensible progressive monopoly on the young. Big deal you might say, there are loads of those. But this one comes with a difference.

Turning Point UK is an import of the highly successful American sister organisation Turning Point USA, a student-run initiative that attempts to promote ‘free markets, limited government and personal responsibility’. Turning Point is the real deal - between July 2016 and June 2017 the group brought in $8.2 million, and they claim to have a presence on 1,300 campuses across the United States. Its British counterpart launched in December and already claims to have chapters established at King College London, UCL, the LSE and Oxford.

Nonetheless, at present Turning Point UK exists as little more than a social media campaign, its Facebook and Twitter accounts essentially functioning as glorified meme pages forwarding their perspective. That is understandable - the power of social media should not be underestimated and after all, they’re only just getting started. There is a problem, however, with the contents of Turning Point’s commentary. Critically, it’s simplistic, hyper-partisan, and unlikely to resonate with anybody who doesn’t already agree with their values. One might argue that this is simply par for the course when it comes to politics on social media. An examination of their American sister organisation reveals, however, that it’s probably more a symptom of the Turning Point brand than it is the typographical limitations of internet meme culture.

Turning Point USA (TPUSA) has always favoured an aggressive hyper-partisan approach. Founder Charlie Kirk made a name for himself touring college campuses in the United States, aggressively debating progressive students. Their YouTube channel sports obscene sensationalised titles like ‘Alexandria Ocasio Cortez Wants to KILL American Jobs’ and ‘The Left HATES Black Conservative Leaders’. It’s a tribal approach that trades outwards appeal for inward conformity. Critically, it’s symptomatic of a complacent, self-congratulatory organisation that is more interested in patting itself on the back than appealing to those with whom they disagree. That’s not an approach any movement seeking adherents needs, yet alone one as stagnant and villainised as conservatism at British Universities.

Image Credit: Public Domain Images // Pixabay

Such an attitude may just be excusable in the United States. After all, the values espoused by TPUSA are firmly in alignment with the mainstream conservatism one sees across the Atlantic. To that degree, TPUSA doesn’t need to be particularly cogent as they can just get away with acting as cheerleaders for the Republican Party.

Unfortunately, this is not a luxury that can be afforded to the British sister organisation and therein lies the real problem with Turning Point UK. It’s attempting to transplant a version of conservatism for which there is no appetite in Britain, and likely never will be. TPUSA forwards Conservativism, with a large ‘C’. It’s built heavily on the ideas of figures such as Friedrich Hayek and John Stuart Mill and forwards the doctrines of ‘classical liberalism’ and restricted government. If young people are turning their noses up at even the current government’s wishy-washy, dilute brand of ‘conservatism’, then they certainly won't be taking to this vision.

The ideas of TPUSA are alien to even the British Conservative party, yet alone regular students. Worse still, most young people have shown an overwhelming preference for an entirely contrary set of principles, backing policies like rent control and a £10 an hour minimum wage. To be importing ‘small government’ talking points and appeals to individual liberty may be slightly premature if not also a bit foolish. The last time Britain dabbled in anything close to Turning Point’s brand of ‘small government’ Conservatism was, of course, the premiership of a certain Margaret Thatcher - the most hated Prime Minister in recent memory. So, if the goal is to wean young people off the Labour party, they are starting in completely the wrong place. In its means, in its tone, in its ideology, the Turning Point organisation is simply a mismatch for this country.

It’s a shame, because 'conservative' is a dirty word at British universities. But the answer is not to import the harsh, strident and aggressive style of Charlie Kirk’s Turning Point USA to Britain. If conservatism is to ever flourish amongst students, upper or lowercase ‘C’, it’s adherents need to be more inquisitive and less combative. Ask more honest questions and focus less on ‘winning’ the debate or ‘beating’ their opponents. Right now they’re the villains and Turning Point plays directly into the hyper-partisan toxicity that will ensure it remains that way. Great if all you want to do is communicate your own self-assurance, not so good if you’re seeking allies. Turning Point is not what conservative students need.


Lead Image Credit: Public Domain Images // Pixabay




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