Sunday, 14 January 2018

The Problem with Tories and Social Media

After Chris Grayling's trouble-free reign as Tory party chair - a first for him - new boy Brandon Lewis graced the Sunday papers and Andrew Marr with his message of hope. Hope, that is, if you're a Tory activist. Since it was recently revealed that numbers were far worse than any Labour activist rooted for, the pressure is on our hotel-bothering chair to stymie the decline and start matching the overwhelming human resources the Tories' opponents can bring to bear.

The first yank of the turn around wheel involves sorting out the social media strategy, so reports the Sunday Telegraph. Here Lewis enthuses about a toolkit that will deliver unto the Conservative faithful the flashy graphics, sharp videos, and trend-friendly gifs that Labour's team have down pat. It's about pumping up the thinning grassroots with Tory achievements, like the EU card charges ban the Tories have tried appropriating for their own, and building a groundswell of excitement for groundbreaking digital initiatives, such as "The Moggcast". Yes, it truly has come to this.

I'm old enough to remember when the Tories received plaudits for their social media strategy. As recently as 2015, while Labour piddled about on Twitter and was daft enough to spend cash money promoting itself on it, the Tories purchased targeted advertising on Facebook aimed at key demographics in the key marginals. Married to then genius and now laughing stock Jim Messina and his number crunching, the Tories were able to post the right messages through enough of the right doors to help them get their unexpected and thoroughly undeserved majority. However, as with most things their victory held the seeds of a coming collapse. None of this was organic; it was all driven from the centre and was top down like the rest of the campaign - the media grid, the message discipline, the reviled Road Trip 2015. That summer saw Labour's 2017 efforts come together in embryo in Jeremy Corbyn's leadership campaign - a directed campaign by social media savvy activists close to the future leader married to a spontaneous up welling across digital networks that conferred messages, enthusiasm, and generated not a few memes themselves. They fed each other, prefiguring what happened last June.

The problem the Tories have got is the same feat is not possible because, well, there aren't any Tories. Okay, as a veteran of an outfit that thought once having 8,000 members was something to boast about I am perhaps being a touch disingenuous when it comes to the 70,000 the Tories can muster. But here, when you glance on the lesser spotted beast that is Tory Twitter you can see some of the problems. Over the course of this Sunday, four tweets on the party's main feed were about policy-related issues and politics ding-dongs, and nine prattled on about Labour "abuse". Bear in mind we're not yet a week from Toby Young's resignation for, well, being Toby Young. Just as Stalin's acolytes had the annoying habit of emulating his turgid prose, so the Tories, the party of free thinking individualism, is equally slavish in its borg-like fidelity to the direction of CCHQ. The tendency for their MPs to groupthink aloud is well known, but for the ordinary members? Here we have Support Amber, a self-described grassroots account that, guess what, goes heavy on the same messaging with a few cheap points about Iran and Venezuela thrown in. There is also Joe Rich, a North Staffs Tory activist whose feed routinely zeroes in on the same kind of personalist "exposes" - even to the extent of retweeting himself two or three times. These are not exceptional. They are typical.

Way, way back in a previous political life, I noted how the purview of left wing commentary is much wider than the right's, and what was true a decade ago still applies. There are monomaniacs across all political traditions, but among the ecosystem of the social media left you will find critique, debate, and policy alongside testimony of what it's like to be at the sharp end of Tory Britain, as well as wider engagement with trends in science and popular culture, for instance. In sum the online left are closer to the people and more in tune with them (and, crucially, the the rising generation of working class people) than odd balls obsessing over Jared O'Mara, or putative remarks by John McDonnell about the blessed Thatcher that millions of people would happily endorse. The preponderance of this on Tory Twitter speaks to the party's increasing social estrangement, and is symptomatic of its dependence on a declining electoral alliance.

What the Tories need are politics that intersect with and speak to millions of under 50s for whom they are an anathema, and their fixation on personalities signals nothing other than this gaping, yawning lack. With no sign of change, of a detour toward the lives and aspirations of voters aggrieved under the set up they've presided over, the hopes the Tories have in their trumpeted social media strategy are doomed to be forlorn.

1 comment:

Phil said...

As time on the Facebook noted ...

"Five Rules of Propaganda

1) The rule of orchestration: endlessly repeating the same messages in different variations and combinations.

2) The rule of simplification: reducing all data to a simple confrontation between ‘Good and Bad’, ‘Friend and Foe’.

3) The rule of disfiguration: discrediting the opposition by crude smears and parodies.

4) The rule of transfusion: manipulating the consensus values of the target audience for one’s own ends.

5) The rule of unanimity: presenting one’s viewpoint as if it were the unanimous opinion of all right-thinking people:

draining the doubting individual into agreement by the appeal of star-performers, by social pressure, and by ‘psychological contagion’."