The ‘Uber-Ban’ shows how the Conservatives can appeal to younger voters, say Tom Pridham and Tom Yeldon.

The reaction to TfL’s decision to revoke Uber’s operating license has cut across party lines and given further weight to the argument that the globalist-protectionist divide is gaining more importance than the more traditional left-right cleavage. Londoners were faced with the curious sight of Sadiq Khan, Nigel Farage, Piers Morgan, Paul Mason, and Katie Hopkins queuing up to support the ruling. The reaction also cut across the Leave-Remain divide with many prominent, globalist Brexit-supporters questioning the ban and the motivations behind it. However, the most interesting point, and the one with the potential for profound implications for the Labour and Conservative Parties, is the relationship between age and support for Uber.

As a snap poll shows young Londoners are most likely to support Uber, whilst older people outside London are most likely to oppose it. 60 per cent of Londoners believe Uber should be able to keep operating compared to 29 per cent who don’t. Nationally, over half (58 per cent) of young people (those aged 18-34) support Uber compared to 29 per cent opposed. As the General Election demonstrated clearly, these groups were the most likely to support Labour. Much of this support was due to Labour’s direct appeal to younger voters concerned about student debt combined with ambiguity on the issue of Brexit. However, the backlash against TfL’s decision demonstrates fractures in this support base and adds weight to the argument that younger voters are more individualist and suspicious of collectivism. Moreover, the youthful backlash is explicable for other reasons. Unlike the traditional practices of black cab drivers, Uber is unashamedly on the side of innovation, utilising the internet to deliver its services in a way that younger people appreciate and instinctively understand. The decision to ban these services demonstrates Labour’s opposition to a technology which most young people take for granted as part and parcel of their everyday lives.

This serves as an example of how the Conservative Party can appeal more effectively to younger voters. It is not just about intergenerational redistribution (though a measure of this would help) but appealing successfully to core values about the relationship between the individual and the state, and the desire for freedom of choice. Whilst Labour may have the more youthful image, the increasingly 1970s-inspired outlook on offer is at odds with the flexibility many younger people seek. To successfully capitalise on this, it is necessary for the Conservatives to put themselves firmly on the side of freedom, innovation, and consumer choice, making this a central theme of future campaigns. While criticism of Corbyn’s previous association with the IRA and  his apologist attitude toward authoritarian regimes are entirely valid, it must be shown how a Corbyn Government would restrict the freedom of everyone in this country, including those who currently offer him the most fervent support.

Sadiq Khan’s role in proceedings is worth pondering. Whilst for the moment the Mayor is hiding behind TfL ( an organisation which, incidentally, he chairs), his support for an outright ban suggests little accommodation in his approach. The next time he attacks the Government over the impact of its Brexit policy on the City, he will be reminded of his support for this decision, which will leave many who supported him last year with fewer choices and less money. His status as the champion of both London and Londoners is now in serious doubt. The victory of black cab drivers and the GMB – who poured money into Khan’s election campaign – is a classic example of vested interests triumphing over consumer interests. Many similar such battles lie ahead as the Labour Party increasingly takes on a parochial, union-driven mantra. If the Conservatives can consistently draw these battle lines and show themselves to be on the side of all consumers, then increased support among younger voters lies within reach.

Though many are worried that Uber will be permanently banished from London, it is likely that an accommodation will be found. The smart money is on weeks or months of negotiation resulting in Uber being granted an operating license in return for a guarantee to adhere to certain demands. The lesson for the Conservative Party, however, remains. The party must place itself unequivocally on the side of those who wish to maintain and enhance freedom of choice. It is through this approach that the Conservatives will be able to regain lost ground among younger voters.

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