I haven’t left the Conservative Party, the Conservative Party has left me

Isabella Wallersteiner
'I had always been politically engaged. It was unfashionable to be a Conservative, but it's where I felt my ideology was' - Rii Schroer

There have been lots of moments over the past five years when I have considered cancelling my membership of the Conservative Party, but the grubby betting scandal was the final straw.

I thought Boris Johnson wasn’t up to the role of Prime Minister and it took me a long time to get in a good place after Partygate.

When Rishi Sunak came in I thought it was an opportunity for change. One of the reasons I supported him in 2022 was because I thought he would bring integrity and accountability to the party.

I naively believed him. This scandal shows that the party hasn’t actually changed under his leadership. If it had, he would have called out this behaviour much earlier and suspended the individuals involved.

It has become a huge media story, taking the spotlight away from hard-working candidates and some of the work the party has done to improve its culture. It is very demoralising. It feels like we have not learnt any lessons from the past four years.

I am politically homeless, which is a strange feeling, because I have always voted Tory and I have been a member for around a decade.

It is all I have ever known. I came into the party when it was Cameron leading it, and he was modern and progressive.

Though the party has changed a lot I still felt it was a political home for me, because none of the other main parties were offering a vision that aligned with my values.

I’m a small state, low tax conservative, but the Conservatives aren’t even offering that any more. Yesterday I just sat and thought ‘why am I still with them, they’re offering nothing to me.’

Susan Hall’s candidacy for London Mayor was a big turning point. She was totally the wrong candidate for the job. The party needed a pragmatic, forward-looking candidate capable of connecting with younger voters and inspiring a vision for the future. I couldn’t vote for her in the end.

The other key point is the offer for young people. The Conservatives have completely betrayed young people on the issue of housing. Removing mandatory housing targets in 2022 was another tipping point. That’s when I started to doubt Sunak’s leadership. He was bowing to Nimbyocracy once again. It was a continuation of what Boris Johnson had provided before.

Bella Wallersteiner
Bella Wallersteiner meeting Rishi Sunak at a Conservative event

To be fair to Liz Truss, although I didn’t support her I do think she would have delivered those supply-side reforms on housing and planning. Young people have higher taxes, we can’t afford our own homes and we can’t afford a family. What’s conservative about that?

I had always been politically engaged. It was unfashionable to be a Conservative, but it’s where I felt my ideology was. I have made a lot of great friends and a brilliant network being part of the party. I have worked for two Conservative MPs in Parliament.

That’s one of the saddest parts about leaving the party, and why I held off for so long, because I didn’t want to burn bridges or lose friends over it. It’s sad, having to make this decision, but I couldn’t answer the question why I would vote Conservative. I had an existential moment where I realised I couldn’t do this any more.

A lot of young people feel politically homeless. They are not engaged with what Labour is offering. They want to see lower taxes. The issue with the Conservatives is they have been issuing a lot of socially conservative rhetoric about stopping the boats and demonising immigrants but not setting out a positive vision. There’s a space in the spectrum for a more libertarian, fiscally conservative party, as we’ve seen in Canada.

I don’t think the party knows what it wants any more. I’m relaxed about immigration, I’m quite socially liberal. Maybe I’m not the kind of person they have any interest in, but at some point you have to engage with the under-50s, and a lot of them share my values. It is going to be a problem for them if they want to exist after this election. They are not thinking beyond this election, which is why they are going to lose.

I think the election will be a complete wipeout. There will be a civil war and a bloodbath. It will take many years for the party to rebuild. What I fear is the attraction of merging with Nigel Farage, but that would be the final death knell for the party.

I haven’t decided who I am going to vote for yet. It is a difficult one, though Labour are being much more radical on housing than the Conservatives.

I have had lots of messages from Young Conservatives in the past 24 hours, since I posted about quitting on X (formerly Twitter). They are frustrated, but many of them don’t want to put their head above the parapet. The party machine punishes you if you speak out, so you don’t do it if you have any interest in running for office. I am probably on some kind of blacklist.

Maybe I’ll be permanently ostracised. But I have always been driven by my principles and emotions. I could not pretend to support a party that was out of keeping with my values. This isn’t me leaving the Conservative party, it’s the Conservative party that has left me.

Isabella Wallersteiner is associate fellow at the think tank Bright Blue