In truth I spent more of the weekend immersed in the Isle of Wight Festival than politics, and colleagues at Weber Shandwick such as former May aide and Sky political guru Joey Jones have far better insights than me. Neither as a New Labour refugee do I have any insights into Corbyn’s strategy – if there was much of one. So I will stick to what impressed and heartened me personally about the outcome of the campaign and what I see as positive for British politics.
There are four things that struck me about the outcome and things that personally give me hope.
1 Youth Engagement
Even with the big Facebook voter registration drive in 2015, the 18-24 year old turnout on polling day remained depressingly low at 43%. Although it is too early to assess the specific youth voter turnout last week, there are clear trends of increased turn out in areas with a high youth demographic and the youth vote was key in securing seats in Sheffield, Leeds, Canterbury and elsewhere. Some cite Labour being more sure footed on digital engagement than in 2015, with new tools like Chatter and Promote. But none of these would have worked without the other factors below.
Youth engagement in politics is a big issue for me and I am delighted to see young people seizing the opportunity to have a big say in their own future. For me this is the biggest positive out of the campaign.
2 Politics Unspun
For someone trained by Peter Mandelson during my time in political communications, it is counter intuitive for me to celebrate the lack of professionalism of the campaign, and I spent much of it shouting “that would never have happened in my day!” at every botched interview and old style rally complete with Socialist Worker banners, but that – linked to people liking the fact that Corbyn defied convention and spoke out for what he believed in – was undoubtedly a factor in Corbyn’s over-performance of (low) expectation. People, and particularly young people, have pushed back on confectionary politics and responded positively to the real thing. New Labour may have perfected the art of professional campaigning in recent decades, but it worked briefly in the decade post 1997 because Tony Blair was genuinely offering and embodying hope. Without him in his political prime it became artifice. Now ironically Old Labour’s poster boy has put a nail – perhaps the final nail – in spin’s coffin.
On the other hand, May’s attempt at message discipline a la New Labour (“strong and stable”, “collation of chaos”, blah blah) just didn’t work despite being rabbited in unison by her media supporters, because neither she nor her campaign looked strong or stable.
3 The continued declining power of the tabloids
In 1992 The Sun had some semblance of truth in its assertion that it was “The Sun Wot Won It” after a campaign of lies and crap about then Labour leader Neil Kinnock. But as trust in the media declines alongside their circulation figures, and people get increasingly fed up being told what to think, that claim is no longer valid. My own firm’s polling shows that even in 2015 traditional print media was a top three influencer of voting intention. But an updated poll released just ahead of polling day revealed that along with broadcast media, and friends and family, Facebook was now seen as more influential that the tabloids.
4 Civility in politics
Strange one this, given the rampant incivility of many of Corbyn’s supporters to their fellow party members and moderate MPs, but the sight of broadcasters and Tory politicians being really nasty to JC earned him a sympathetic underdog status. People didn’t necessarily agree with him, but they didn’t like abuse being heaped on someone who is basically a decent if often misguided old guy with a beard telling it the way he sees it. Given the unprecedented level of nastiness flying in the Trump campaign, it is interesting and affirming to see the opposite effect in our election less than a year later.
So these are four things that struck me and gave me heart out of this election, the results of which continue to twist and turn by the hour.
One last thought on JC – and let’s remember Labour did actually lose the election despite seven years of unpopular austerity policies, a welcome surge in youth participation and a fairly shambolic Tory campaign – was underlined by Peter Mandelson on BBC Radio the other day. He made the point that an election took place on the streets, and now the power shifts back to Parliament. JC has to show he can make that shift also. That means a Shadow Cabinet of the talents, not the cronies. A test for Corbyn is does he embrace the best talent across the PLP and Lords, or return to the narrow tribalism that marked his first two years as leader.