Review: Young, Bright and on the Right

Reading over the notes I made during Young, Bright and on the Right last night on BBC2, three points stand out, because I wrote them in capitals. One is MY GOD THEY LOOK YOUNG, the second is WHY IS HE STILL TALKING ABOUT CHEESE?, and the third is WHY ARE STUDENT JOURNALISTS ALWAYS BETTER-LOOKING THAN STUDENT POLITICIANS? The first two comprise a reasonable summary. YBAOTR was a show about two very, very young people spending a lot of time talking about things of a similar level of importance to cheese. As for the third point, ’twas ever thus.

If you didn’t watch YBAOTR – and I’d recommend you iPlayer it – it featured two members of student Conservative Associations. A ginger one, who looked a bit like Eric Morecambe (except ginger, obviously) and went to Oxford, and a blond one who went to Cambridge. Twitter was divided on who the blond one looked like, between the people who thought he might be Boris Johnson’s love-child, those who thought Draco Malfoy might really walk among us, and people who know who Mike Joslin is.

The blond one’s parents were clearly a little bemused by him – even his dad, who had such an inexplicable moustache he has no right to be bemused by anyone – while the ginger one’s mother, sister and grandfather were all so visibly, burstingly proud that their offspring had made it to Oxford that you couldn’t help but warm to them.

In many ways this show wasn’t about young Tories so much as it was about all of student politics, which are “vicious precisely because the stakes are so small”, in the words of the Kissinger quote Gemma Tumelty tweeted last night. (And let’s face it, if anyone should know it’s Gemma.) In parts, this was a sombrely-narrated documentary about the intrigue and conspiracies of a student political society. I know both Labour and Tory members for whom that would once have been the ultimate dream. When you’re nineteen, nothing that will ever happen to you in your life seems more important than whatever is happening right now.

You certainly wouldn’t know what else was happening in the world of politics from watching this show. Although it was repeatedly stated that the two of them had right-wing views, little of these were in evidence. The ginger one proudly trotted out the line that Conservatism is all about people like him, able to achieve anything despite their background – which is why you should vote Conservative if you want to improve the life chances of precisely one person from each Northern town – and the blond one didn’t much like tax or the EU. Otherwise, they were concerned solely with improving their own standing in their respective Conservative Associations: the ginger one through subterfuge and plotting things over afternoon tea, and the blond one by buying cheese. This was the most depressing part, and I don’t know whether it’s a symptom of Conservatism or just careerism. At that age you should be living life with the sound turned up – getting angry, feeling passionate, taking an interest! But these kids, it seems, really did go into politics to change the minutes of the last meeting.

The response on Twitter has been interesting. Tories were at pains to point out that these two aren’t representative of all young Conservatives, which is good or bad news depending on which other young Conservatives you’re looking at. Unhappy with how things were going for him in the Oxford University Conservative Association, the ginger one ‘exposed’ the rest of them as port-swilling racists. In Cambridge, however, when a few CUCA members tentatively suggested that it might be a tad more welcoming to hold events that weren’t in white tie, they had to stand back to avoid the windmilling arms of the blond one as he insisted on the right of societies like CUCA to exclude all the other people like him.

Both Torylets have obviously spent a short lifetime struggling to fit in. The ginger one didn’t speak until the age of five and had such severe dyslexia when he was younger that he initially found it difficult to participate at school; the blond one’s problems relating to people are evidenced by his mother’s gentle prodding, obviously not for the first time, to “make eye contact!” You can’t help wondering whether their decisions to identify with the Conservative Party at a young age, and not only to go to posh universities but to deliberately seek out the poshest fellow students to show up their own lack of poshness, are an attempt to explain away the differences between themselves and those around them. When people are always going to think you’re a bit odd – because you are, in fact a bit odd – it must be comforting to tell yourself that people just think you’re a bit odd, because you’re working-class, or a Tory.

I couldn’t help feel sorry for the blond one when it became clear that he’d been picked on a bit at school, and that – touchingly – he thought this wouldn’t have happened if he’d been able to go to public school instead.

The ginger one, on the other hand, started blubbing about how difficult it is to be an OUCA member as the son of a single parent – at the exact same moment he got into trouble with the then OUCA president for some earlier bad behaviour. And then he went to the paper and created a minor scandal that hit the national news. It’s possible that he’s a political genius. I shall be keeping a watchful eye out for him in a future shadow cabinet. One wonders if he’ll have picked up any actual views by then.

This post originally appeared on LabourList on Friday.

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