Prof Andrew Chadwick
Professor of Political Communication in the Centre for Research in Communication and Culture and the Department of Social Sciences at Loughborough University. His latest book is The Hybrid Media System: Politics and Power (Oxford University Press, Second Edition, 2017).
Section 5: The Digital Campaign
- Was it ‘AI wot won it’? Hyper-targeting and profiling emotions online
- Sharing is caring: Labour supporters use of social media #GE2017
- Labour’s social media campaign: more posts, more video, and more interaction
- Like me, share me: the people’s social media campaign
- The alternate and influential world of the political parties’ Facebook feeds
- Social media and the Corbyn breakthrough
- The UK digisphere and the 2017 election
- From voices to votes: how young people used social media to influence the General Election
- All LOLs and trolls
The 2017 election result was truly extraordinary in many respects but here I want to discuss what it reveals about the role of digital media in reshaping the Labour party.
The deep question here is to what extent Labour’s surge during the campaign — and remember it was really only — can be explained by broader, systemic shifts in political engagement in UK party politics and how elections are being reshaped by ongoing changes in our media system.
Central to this are new forms of engagement through digital media and how they jell with the evolving on the doorstep and online, as well as in how people experience politics. As Jenny Stromer-Galley and I argued in the introduction to a special issue on the growth of digital media in citizens’ political repertoires has affinities with a broader shift toward youth engagement and a general skepticism toward authority. There is now a willingness among many individuals to see elections and party participation as fair game for social media-fuelled contentious politics of the kind that has been so important for non-party protests and mobilizations over the last decade. This is happening among those significant sections of the public who have started to channel their social media-enabled activism into party politics and to integrate it with face-to-face doorstep campaigning under the guidance of the new Labour party leadership and Corbyn’s ancillary movement .
We saw similar forces at work with in last year’s U.S. presidential election. We saw it with Italy’s M5S and Spain’s . Key here is the process of organizational and and how it fits with changes in how digital media are now used in political activity.
When Labour lost the 2010 election, and even as Corbyn continued to attract a huge influx of new members for his party during 2015 and 2016, much commentary revolved around the “death” of social democracy and even of the party form itself. But what June 9 suggests is that, for Labour and its half a million-plus members, the party organizational form is alive and kicking.
Rather than dissolving, Labour looks like it is going through a long-term process of adaptation to postmaterial political culture and is leading the way in that combine online and offline citizen activism. Skepticism about Labour’s new members, suggesting that they are not prepared to help out on the doorstep and are merely “clicktivists” who do not see the value of old-style campaigning now seems wide of the mark.
This is a complex process. Interactions between the organizations, norms, and rules of electoral politics, the new, flexible, ad hoc, styles of political engagement, and the affordances and uses of digital media will make the difference. National, regional, and local contexts will also shape overall outcomes.
Digital media and the party-as-movement mentality
But still, digital media foster cultures of organizational experimentation and a party-as-movement mentality that enable many individuals to reject norms of hierarchical discipline and habitual partisan loyalty. Substantial numbers of the politically active now see As a result, Labour is being renewed from the outside in, as digitally enabled citizens, many (though not all) of them young people, have breathed new life into an old form by partly remaking it in their own participatory image. The overall outcome might prove more positive for democratic engagement and the decentralization of political power than many have assumed.
So far, this shift has not touched the Conservatives. They with a shrinking membership of fewer than 150,000, stuck in the elite-driven, broadcast-era mode that they (and Labour) perfected a generation ago, bolting on digital media targeting without the engagement.
Turnout among young voters rose significantly during this election. . The campaign saw a massive voter registration drive led by Labour, Liberal Democrats, and Greens, but missed in the coverage is that the parties were also joined by online movement 38 Degrees who ran their own crowdfunded registration campaign including It looks like it worked.
The Conservatives achieved more than 42 percent of the popular vote and will be forming a government, albeit a weak one. Labour surged, against all the odds, but it seems difficult to suggest that the did not make a difference to the overall outcome of the campaign.
How long the Conservative minority Government will last is anyone’s guess. But there are deeper changes underway on the British left. Digital media logics, in complex interactions with older media logics, older organizational forms, and evolving patterns of participation are playing a role in these changes.