What drives young men to join the cult of youth politics?
‘It’s all about climbing the greasy pole’
You’ve heard how female politicos are branded careerist and humiliated in front of all their peers by Tories 10 years older than them. You’ve heard allegations of sexual harassment, of pimping young activists to MPs and of bullying to make passionate obsessive 20 somethings do more for their parties. You’ve heard how Elliott Johnson killed himself and the struggles he faced.
Youth wings of political parties have become cult-like circles of young men and women trying to make a name for themselves from a seriously early age. While you’re focused on the next night out, getting that coveted house for third year and cramming during all nighters in the library, they’re out campaigning to your elderly neighbours, attending conferences and having meetings with local MPs.
One Conservative Future member told me: “I was 15 when I joined – well I’ve always been a Tory. I’ve done some really interesting things, like the Nottingham Uni Conservative Association’s trip to Brussels. I did a fair bit of the campaigning. Elliott loved that.”
But what is it that spawned this obsession with politics? Were they unhappy with a coalition government, pissed off at fee rises, or did they want to back a rebel like Corbyn because he speaks for them?
A senior Conservative Future member said: “The people attracted to young politics are very full on, it becomes a very big deal. You couple this highly ambitious drive with people’s very intense personalities, and match that up against professionals who have to get certain things done.
“It attracts the characters who are obsessional individuals, people who want to climb the greasy pole and do more to please those above them. They’re outwardly confident and inwardly delicate.
“Life becomes about politics, nothing else.”
Ray Johnson, Elliott Johnson’s Dad told me: “It’s all about climbing the greasy pole.
“Certainly within politics there’s a wider culture of bullying across all parties.
“The kind of people that get attracted to politics can be nasty people who are prepared to do anything to get to the top as long as they reach the pinnacle of their careers.”
This is how much politics really means to the tribe who walk around campus in suits with their party card in their pocket.
And when you ask them why they concern themselves with issues – which on the face of it don’t seem to directly affect their lives – they’ll tell you how important these things are, why you’re wrong, why they’re right and why you should vote for this person and not another.
It seems the louder you shout and the more you are seen to do, the better – because you rely on impressing those above you.
Since Corbyn was voted in, I’ve witnessed dozens of borderline venomous arguments over who is the right person to lead the Labour party. The sense of belonging, almost obsessive at points, is more powerful than you first think.
A recent Spectator article perfectly described this club of driven students as “people who think that House of Cards is a guide for getting ahead in business and politics.”
In Conservative Future now the bullied have become the bullies. Young activists who had no involvement in his situation are “throwing themselves in front of the camera and in front of the press” for attention, according to a senior CF member.
There have been claims of two attempted suicides by high up young Tories because of the witch hunt. Even these have been doubted for their legitimacy.
Far from being a tragedy highlighting problems of the past that needed to be dealt with, Elliott’s death has, at all ends of the political spectrum, opened a Pandora’s box of opportunities for obsessive students to use for their own benefit.