Chris Wilford was the Conservative candidate in the void 2014 Tower Hamlets Mayoral Election. He stood as the Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Poplar and Limehouse in the 2015 General Election.
Corbyn was meant to be the weak, ineffectual leader whose core would not turn out for him and whose only hope of clinging to power was a coalition of chaos.
Instead, against the odds Labour made gains in all regions and nations of Britain with over 40 per cent of the vote; delivering the biggest increase in the Labour vote share since 1945.
I have written before for this site on the dangers of complacency and how Corbyn could win. Whilst he did not secure victory he is reinvigorated, Labour is mobilising behind him, and he is confident and ready for the challenges of the coming months. So how did Corbyn do it in the Snapchat election that has rewritten the political rulebook?
At the start of early 2017, the Labour leader adopted a populist media strategy to boost his poll ratings. The announcement of a maximum income policy marked this aggressive relaunch strategy as being well underway.
Whilst much derided by ‘experts’ and commentators in the press, appearances on the likes of Good Morning Britain – complemented by innovative social media techniques – began to cut through to the wider public. Labour strategists realised if they were to get their policy programme out there they needed to get around the media frame that these policies had all been tried before; and failed.
The leaking of the Labour manifesto, be it a mess up, the result of infighting, or all part of the plan, gave unprecedented coverage to Labour’s policy programme as the media gleefully focused on the idea of infighting. People did not so much care about Labour infighting (old news) but what they heard of polices, such as the railways coming gradually back under public ownership, they liked.
With Brexit neutralised (as James Cleverly has pointed out) with a commitment to a jobs first Brexit and exit from the single market, and against the backdrop of seven years of austerity, the relentless focus on a positive message of ‘for the many not the few’ cut through. The Conservative social care and pension announcements created confusion and fear in the over-65s, drawing attention away from Labour’s £58 billion blackhole – after all as I heard again and again on the doorstep, they had put a table in their manifesto, hadn’t they?
The attack of the meme: #grime4corbyn
Viral memes attacking the Conservatives and more positively encouraging people to vote proliferated across social media platforms. The Conservatives were focused on the core over-65 demographic, who are registering on Facebook at the highest rates. Meanwhile, Labour had floods of activists spreading their message for free across Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat. The Conservatives Instagram account appeared on 8 May.
With many feeling hurt and bruised by the Brexit referendum, young people tuned in, turned on and got registered with more than 714,000 young people registered to vote after the snap election was called.
At the London School of Economics I studied under the excellent Dr Margaret Scammell, who has charted the marketing of politics and the importance of political brand in a world where the public’s attention is limited. We are well and truly in the era of ‘rock star politics’ and to connect in the digital age the message needs to cut through, fit with lifestyles, touch on passions when the stakes are high, and sometimes be a little bit fun.
Corbyn has been elevated to the status of a folk hero amongst parts of the population, with the latest example being Jeremy Corbyn chanted to the tune of Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes. Faced with this noise some thought we had heard it all before, but this last-minute surge in registration told in university towns such as Canterbury.
The ground game
In my 2016 piece, I set out that the biggest asset Corbyn had was shaping up to be troops on the ground. The Conservatives are reliant on the targeted deployment of activists and candidates, but with so many target seats we were sometimes thin on the ground.
Meanwhile thousands of members have joined Labour under Corbyn, helping him triumph in the 2016 leadership contest and taking it back to figures last seen under Blair in its 1997 heyday. There were reports of a thousand Labour activists in one London marginal on polling day and with their back against the wall the movement fought back, with moderates including Peter Mandelson and David Miliband setting differences with Corbyn aside to help the likes of Wes Streeting in Ilford North increase their majority.
I wrote before that even if just a proportion of these new members became active it could well change the fundamentals of the ground war. Labour issued videos explaining how to get campaigning, and with the Labour messaging cutting through as the ‘dementia tax’ maelstrom built, success beckoned.
All the above, even with a pensions and social care backlash, would have been for nought without the young. I was born in 1986 and have never lived under an old Labour government. I have never witnessed the implementation of these politics at first hand, or experienced a three-day week or shopping by candlelight. I vaguely remember voices being dubbed in relation to Northern Ireland on BBC News as a small child but I am more familiar with the Jihadist threat than the IRA.
Whilst fox hunting and school lunches seemed very real to young people, many were unfamiliar with some core Conservative campaign messages. Indeed, the top Google searches in relation to the respective leaders make enlightening reading.
It is worth repeating that competition amongst young people is fiercer than ever, leaving them hard-edged, frustrated and very, very angry. The offer of easy solutions to constant battles in the jobs market and expensive housing, delivered in a positive way by a perceived authentic voice, galvanised them.
Labour’s dedicated Shadow Minister for Young People and Voter Registration, as well as social media techniques, got this group registered and turned out. The tangible anger over pensions changes and social care amongst over-65s upset the electoral dynamics, with the result that the polls narrowed.
It is an achievement that the Conservatives secured 42.4 per cent of the vote – the highest share for the Conservative Party since 1983 – and emerged as the largest party. What has happened in Scotland under the leadership of Ruth Davidson is truly remarkable. But whilst we hear reports that 66 votes prevented a Conservative majority, Corbyn’s surge cannot be ignored.
As I was up in the early hours at my count, overhearing the staff say to each other they would soon need a bucket for my Labour opponent’s votes, I reflected on Momentum: creeping, insidious… and on the verge of an historic breakthrough.