Sam Barrett is a Conservative activist from Kent. He is due to begin studying Politics at Exeter University this coming September.
I never thought that I would find myself in the position of encouraging our Westminster politicians to take some leaves from Russell Brand’s book. Not his politics, but rather the way he manipulates social media to attract those important young voters who feel left behind by the rough and tumble of modern day politics.
Yes, his populist banker-bashing, establishment-degrading rhetoric is usually a good method in attracting the young, but I do not believe that is his main appeal. Indeed, it his barrage of information on social media that has indoctrinated the minds of our youth into believing that this rhetoric is a legitimate and stable foundation on which to build a society. That’s the clever part. Anyone can pick up on the disaffection felt by many of young people by eliciting views that would traditionally appeal to them. However, being able to put this message across effectively through media they are familiar with is what sets Brand apart.
Since his ‘rebirth’ as a political activist, Brand has accrued over 3 million Likes on Facebook and 9 million followers on Twitter which have rocketed since his acting and comedy days. By comparison, David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg do not command 1.5 million followers between them. Of course, the fact that Brand was already a popular figure has helped him in his quest to become a neo-Che Guevara but this does not explain the comparatively small followership enjoyed by the leaders of the three main parties.
It is the job of the mainstream parties, therefore, to take lessons from the way Brand manipulates social media if we are to combat his views. As a young person who regularly keeps abreast of the issues of today, it is beginning to really sicken me that Facebook and Twitter are dominated by people who have nothing to do but moan about the government, despite the facts.
From a Conservative perspective, a more active role on social media would help to inform the young of the work the party is doing for them, especially in education. I bet if you asked someone in full-time education about the Tory commitment to increase the quality of schools whilst promising to ring-fence spending for primary and secondary education until 2020, they would not have a clue what you were talking about. On the other hand, if you asked them a question on whether Russell Brand likes or dislikes bankers I wager they would be know the answer.
We must realise that many young people today obtain their political knowledge from social media and that it can be a powerful tool when trying to gain support from this sizeable chunk of the electorate.
According to research by YouGov for British Future, only 41 per cent of young people say they will definitely cast their ballot in May. This is in stark contrast with those older in society. 60 percent of the general population say they will definitely vote, rising to 75 per cent for those over-60.
Therefore if the young were as likely to vote as the rest of the population and 60 per cent turned up on polling day, those additional votes could well have a significant impact on what will likely be an extremely close election. They need to feel that politicians have made an effort to connect with them, and social media is a good way to go about it.
Spending millions on our own advertising campaign on Facebook is not sufficient as those who do not already like the Conservatives’ Facebook pages are unlikely to change their minds. However, assigning a small group of politicians to ‘social media duty’, writing statuses and asking people to share them or writing comments on other people’s pages (like Brand’s, for example) would be far more effective as a wider audience will see the comments. The same can be said for Twitter and although I am pleased to sometimes notice tweets from the Prime Minister, these tend to be general and without a hash tag, preventing more exposure by not allowing the comment to trend.
I am not suggesting that our existing work on social media is negligible, but there is no doubt that more could be done.
The general election is fast approaching and although it is unclear whether this sort of increased social media campaign would deliver tangible results in terms of votes over such a short period of time (or, indeed, over an indefinite period), it would contribute to the clarification of political arguments. In so doing, it would hopefully be a start in trying to solve the issue of political apathy and disaffection amongst the young. With the potential of the young vote and the ever-increasing promiscuity of our modern-day politics, this issue will only become more marked.
No more should popularity on sites such as Facebook and Twitter be confined to the realms of triviality. Let our politicians stamp their authority on social media and speak out for the Conservative Party against the radical left-wingers who at times seem to be the only passionate political voice on the internet.