Campaign technology hits Norfolk

On Bank Holiday Monday I received two emails inviting me to assist organisations through the use of campaign technology. Neither came from bodies that I support. I therefore do not propose taking any action as a result, but they have caused me to reflect on the way that technology, particularly social media, could have an impact on the election here.

The first of these emails came from Momentum, the retro-left group set up to propel Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership and defend him against any subsequent questions on his suitability for that position.   As is always the case, the email solicited a donation from me, which they assuredly won’t receive. This time, however, it also invited me to tweet and Facebook during the televised May-Corbyn interviews that evening, or to retweet their Momentum material. Although I was assured doing so would make me part of the ‘digital feedback’, I cannot see for the life of me what possible difference it would make.

I hope that at the end of the campaign someone will do a serious analysis of the value of social networking. In his September 2016 manifesto, when seeking to secure re-election as Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn began by stating that that he has a serious plan with a “focus on winning the next general election to rebuild and transform Britain”. Moreover, “At the heart of my strategy to win is growing our movement through organising communities to win power through the most advanced techniques online and offline”. If this strategy is in place I haven’t seen any evidence of it. The only manifestation is a load of puerile on-line abuse from both sides that follows any Guardian article on the future of the Labour Party.

The second email seeking my support through on-line campaigning came from our local LibDems, who can always be relied upon to position themselves well to the back of any curve. Some time ago I signed up to their digital updates out of curiosity. Monday’s email came from the defending LibDem candidate Norman Lamb. It began, as ever, by informing me that it was neck-and-neck between him and the Tory candidate. This is a permanent refrain from him and every LibDem council candidate and sooner or later it was bound to be true: he is unquestionably facing a tough re-election battle.   Accordingly the email asked if I was active on social media in which case “one of my team will email you when we post something that we need your help to get out there” as doing so “will help us get traction on social media”. I again responded out of curiosity – I have no intention of helping him in any way – and received my first request from his office the following day. This told me “Norman’s just uploaded a photo on his Facebook page, if you could share away (sic) that would be fantastic”.

Well fantastic it may be, but would it be productive? I cannot believe that putting a candidate’s picture on my Facebook page would alter anyone’s vote. Moreover the North Norfolk electorate is not the most technologically adept. At a meeting held just three years ago one of the local Tory councillors stated: “It is not a village where many people work from home, so why do you need broadband?

Now I have no doubt that the electorate expects to be courted to some extent. We have received considerable amounts of literature from both Conservatives and LibDems. The Conservatives have also placed very expensive posters on the local farmers fields that abut such main roads that we have. People will be aware that an election is taking place and this may affect the differential turnout. However, after over fifty years of campaigning, I have doubts if anyone’s vote will be changed as a result. Exactly the same will apply to social media.

leftyoldman will continue to offer some reflections on the election campaign and the future of the social-democratic left. To receive email notification of the next blog when it appears, press the ‘followleftyoldman’ button on the left hand side above.

Activism and clicktivism

Corbyn on-line

Many 60 and 70 year olds are antipathetic towards social networking: we feel that it can easily become a substitute for face-to-face social interaction. I well remember my wife’s reaction when a group of teenagers arrived for a birthday celebration at a Westminster pizza restaurant where we were eating.   They sat on opposite seats of a long table and, rather than speak to each other about their experiences, brought out their smartphones and entered their digital world.

Now I recognise that this opinion is simply one of generational prejudice. The teenagers had every right to behave in this way if they wished – but I still feel they are missing out on something.

I have found myself displaying my generational prejudice in the local Labour Party. A number of members have contacted the party through our Facebook site asking if we are committing to support Jeremy Corbyn in the leadership tussle. These are members, affiliates or registered supporters (see what a mess we are in) who have had no previous contact with the party as far as we can recall. Some of us have pointed to their lack of activity. Foolishly I myself made a Facebook post to this effect and received the response that, just because people do nothing in campaigns, they have every right to their opinion. Although I find this a depressing response to receive from a much younger person I cannot deny the legitimacy of this point of view.

It does however rankle with the old guard who, over many years, have struggled to ensure that that nomination papers were signed and submitted and elections fought. In North Norfolk we have over 600 people who are registered as Labour supporters in one form or another and are able to cast their vote in the Labour Party Leadership Election. However it was the same small handful of long-standing members who were out on the streets in the Referendum campaign, showing a commitment in what was rightly described as the most important ballot in a generation. All credit therefore to my resilient colleagues for their stubborn determination.

Since the majority of our new members have been wholly inactive and the Labour Party must face the facts. If our constituency is anything to go by, we have not recruited whole swathes of young people who are about to regenerate left of centre politics. If that had been the case they would have been visible in the Remain campaign, where it is the under 35s who have produced the highest proportion in favour. Instead the Party has, as a result of a whole range of factors, acquired large numbers of Clicktivists: people who are supporters of Jeremy Corbyn and will take advantage of social media to maintain his position. They will click the mouse on their computer but do nothing beyond that. This will create a social protest movement that does little beyond waving the odd banner when what is needed is a commitment to change through winning elections.