Young Conservatives

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This article is about youth wing of the UK's Conservative Party. For the American political website, see Young Conservatives (website).

The Young Conservatives was the youth wing of the United Kingdom's Conservative Party until the organisation was replaced in 1998 by Conservative Future.


The Junior Imperial and Constitutional League was formed in 1906 with objectives to encourage practical political work and organisation among young people in Britain. Junior Associations were set up in each Parliamentary Division and throughout the British Empire, co-operating closely with Conservative and Unionist Associations with an ambition to create Imperial unity and to further the Conservative and Unionist cause.

In 1925 the Young Britons Organisation was formed as the juvenile branch of the National Union of Conservative and Unionist Associations. It closed down during the Second World War.

After the Conservative Party suffered a catastrophic defeat in the 1945 general election, the Young Britons Organisation was reformed to cater for both boys and girls aged 6–16, while the Young Conservatives was set up to cater for an older age group.

Rise and fall[edit]

Young Conservatives fancy dress dance, mid 1950s

The Young Conservatives attracted a large following and, by 1955, claimed a membership of 150,000. This made it the largest political youth movement in a liberal democracy[citation needed], though not all its members were strongly motivated by politics. A large part of its appeal lay in its social activities that brought young people together in a socially safe environment. Countless middle-class British couples met, and (according to Eric Pickles) babies conceived,[1] at the "YC's" dances, rambles, and charity events in the 1950s. However, the social dimension of the movement was to prove its ultimate downfall.[clarification needed] One large factor in the rapid decline in membership was the factionalism that gripped the movement in the early 1980s, first manifesting itself during Eric Pickle's chairmanship.

'... his year in office was not without its difficulties. The radical right was a growing force in young Tory politics. The S.D.P. had recently been founded and disillusioned liberals in both the Labour and Conservative parties were deserting to the new "centre" party. At the Young Conservative's national conference in Eastbourne in February 1981, Pickles presided over a growing split in the ranks, particularly between northern "liberals" and southern "right-wingers".


From that point onwards, a battle for leadership ensued between the moderates ('One Nation' Tories, termed 'Wets') and 'Drys' (Right-wingers from the Monday Club and Libertarians). The moderates attempted to play up the image problems the Young Monday Club and the Libertarians would present to the organisation. Publications such as the North West Area YC Rag Mag, the Sin, featured a page in 1985 attacking the Young Monday Club image. The 1989 Sin edition attempted to target the growing libertarian threat by featuring 'Loonie Libs.' [3]

The capture of the Young Conservatives by the 'Dries' in 1989 led to increasing image problems as the more right-wing stance became pilloried in the media. "The very term 'Young Conservative' has actually entered popular culture in a derogatory way being used by comedians to lampoon a certain type of person." [4] The BBC series A Bit of Fry and Laurie, featured a sketch entitled 'Young Conservative of the Year', the basis of which was an arrogant, right-wing and upper class Young Conservative competing in a mock contest on the reactionary and authoritarian content of his speech in a mock contest. Even more hard-hitting was Harry Enfield's BBC series, Harry Enfield and Chums, he in which he played a character called 'Tory Boy', an arrogant and reactionary right-wing Young Conservative.

Past National Chairmen of the Young Conservatives[edit]

The National Chairmen of the Young Conservatives were associated with the moderate (One Nation - Tory Reform Group) tradition of the Conservative Party until the 1989 election in which resulted in the defeat of the moderate incumbent. Until then leadership had been from the Conservative party 'left' with only a couple of exceptions. Notable exceptions to the 'One Nation' moderate leadership were David Atkinson MP who as a committed Christian campaigner and backer of corporal punishment and Sir Fergus Montgomery MP, a supporter of apartheid South Africa and another corporal punishment advocate. Otherwise the YC's produced a long line of Tory reformers until the moderate faction was finally defeated in the late 1980s.[5][6]

Past National Vice Chairman[edit]

A large number of Vice Chairman have gone on to other prominent positions in the Party and hold public office at local and national level. These include: Patrick McLoughlin MP, Robert Atkins MP, Kenneth Lane, Anthea McIntyre MEP and Robin Squire MP

Membership fell from a peak of 250,000 to just a few thousand, while the rival organisation Conservative Students claimed significantly more members. The end came in 1998 when Conservative leader William Hague announced the closure of Young Conservatives and the launch of a new organisation, Conservative Future.

In popular culture[edit]

"Young Conservatives" is the title of a 1982 song by The Kinks from the album State of Confusion, in which Ray Davies comments on the general swing to the right under Margaret Thatcher.