Adrian Mason is a lawyer, and has been in legal education for the last 18 years. He is a Bay of Colwyn town councillor.
The Corbyn bandwagon rolls on. Like it or not, the tactics the Labour Party are using have swept up the initiative, leaving us having to wake up to the reality of twenty-first century electioneering.
As the sub-agent for a Welsh constituency, I had first-hand knowledge of the campaign we conducted, from the beginning to the very end. While I have no knowledge of the events in other areas, I would take a well-placed bet that a similar story can be in many other constituencies. The campaign we conducted was traditional – a tried and tested operation, diligently printing off canvass cards, knocking on thousands of doors and delivering leaflets by the boxful with signs aplenty. We worked hard, travelling hundreds of miles in the ‘battle bus’ through the towns and villages of our rural seat.
As every campaign veteran knows, this is a labour-intensive operation, and on election day we felt pleased with what we had achieved. Our eve of poll internal statistics were excellent, and we confidently predicted a larger majority. During the early hours of June 9th, however, a harsh reality overtook us. Far from increasing our majority, we were facing a resurgent Labour Party, which eventually reduced our majority by nearly half. None of us saw it coming, and it begged the question: why?
It is always easier with hindsight – but sometimes a reflective process is necessary to understand what went wrong. The most worrying aspect for us was that our data was wrong. But leaving aside the criticism of the national campaign, this alone did not account for the substantial decrease in our majority. Rumours abounded that the local Labour activists were conducting a concerted campaign on all social media outlets. Our local campaign, apart from our candidate’s Twitter postings, was devoid of that, and we believed that nothing was more effective than talking to people on the doorsteps. This may no longer be true.
When canvassing, the tendency is to visit areas of the electorate which have traditionally been Conservative supporters. Second, the proportion of people you actually speak to is small. Finally, you can never be sure that the responses that you are receiving are reflective of true voting intentions. During a long campaign, attitudes change, voters switch allegiance. Electors you visit at the beginning of a campaign have weeks to change their minds!
Contrast that with Labour’s social media campaign. They were able to respond instantly to current events and, in some cases, to set the campaign agenda. This was no better illustrated than by the party’s student loan announcement, just a few days before polling registration closed. Labour claimed that they would end university tuition fees and ‘write off’ existing students’ debts. As usual, they were going to pay for this by increasing corporation tax. This was a direct attempt to sway younger voters, and they bombarded social media channels with their messages.
We should have been in a position to counter this outrageous policy, pointing out that an increase in corporation tax to 26 per cent would drive businesses overseas, and that there would be no jobs for students at the end of their degrees. The problem we faced was that we could not reach student voters, since we were not using social media. Labour had a free hand to spout their propaganda without us able to respond. A clear own goal.
In Wales, social care, the NHS and education are all devolved to the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff. Every decision within these areas is down to the Welsh Labour Government. However, Labour’s social media campaign conveniently overlooked this fact, and constantly referred to ‘Tory cuts’ or ‘Tory austerity’. They attempted to dupe the Welsh electorate into believing that it was the Conservatives who were responsible for these areas. In many cases they succeeded – and, because we were not using social media, we were unable to counter these fictitious claims.
Whilst it would be too simplistic to say that social media was the only difference between our campaign and Labour’s, it did provide an effective vehicle by which to deliver the goods. Labour’s message painted a land of make-believe, in which everyone would benefit from an unlimited spending spree. It was a seductive proposition to many, especially after years of cutbacks necessitated by Labour’s 13 years in power. Their message was targeted by social media in a sustained and powerful manner.
We, on the other hand, propagated the same mantra of fiscal prudence, realistic spending plans and the growing social costs faced by an ageing population. All these problems need addressing of course; but we should have also set out a positive vision, a bright future for the UK, free from the restraints and bureaucracy of the European Union. We needed to reinforce the fact that living within our means ultimately leads to a better future for everyone. We failed to stir the public’s imagination. Where Labour tapped into people’s hearts, we attempted to appeal to their heads. Was it the message, or was it the way in which we delivered it? In truth, it was both.
On reflection, then, the conclusion that must be drawn is more clear to me now. The days of exclusively relying upon traditional campaigns are over. Whilst not advocating the removal of tried and trusted campaign methods, we need to embrace new technology – or we will be left behind. Imagine if we had taken the same attitude during the television revolution in the mid-part of the last century. Social media is no less a revolution, and must become a central part of future election campaigns – not just nationally but within individual constituencies too. We also need to be far more positive in our message to the voters, setting out a realistic but positive vision for the UK.
Social media should become an integral part of any ongoing campaign to ensure that we win back the hearts and minds of voters who have been swayed by the socialists’ false promises. For the moment, at least in our constituency, these people are unreachable, and it is imperative that we are able to give back to our voters an informed choice: Conservative values and visions rather than fanciful, unrealistic and untrue Labour promises. Labour is way ahead in the cyber game at the moment. This needs to be addressed urgently, or we will lose these voters for a generation.