If tweets were votes, Miliband would be installing his 8 ft monolith into the Rose Garden this afternoon. Even as they were haemorrhaging seats in Scotland, Labour were adding followers on twitter and making friends on facebook. In the last two weeks Miliband was averaging almost 2,000 new fans per day. His (over-)hyped interview with Russell Brand was watched more than a million times and #milifandom had definitively vanquished the #cameronette upstarts.
When the commentators hailed #GE2015 as an election to be fought and won on social media they were at best only half right. Where in 2010 34% of the UK was on social media now the figure is over 50%. That this should translate into a significant force multiplier during the election doesn’t come as a surprise. This new front possibly broke through the traditional apathy of young voters – 71% of 18-24 year olds say social media has made them politically engaged. But the tangible pay offs for the parties are less obvious. Much of the content put out by parties struggled to reach beyond the orbit of the already converted.
Instead, the key moments of the campaign were situated in the domain of mass media. The influence of the first leaders’ debate–while generating 1.5 million tweets- was ultimately judged by the numbers of those watching the broadcast. We love to hail the death of the newspaper but the press carried on with bullish endorsements and joint statements from various masters of the universe as if it was still them wot win elections.
And – here’s a thought- maybe they do. The Sun’s Tory backing in England and SNP love-in north of the border demonstrated that newspapers these days don’t set the political weather. But when faced with the prospect of another shambolic post-election backroom stich-up the papers did provide advice about how to dress for the storm. In the run up to May 7th most papers published canny guides to tactical bludgeoning with the Sun and the Mail instructing readers on a seat by seat basis how to get the right wing government of their choice. It is difficult to judge the effect of these guides but several of Thursday night’s results bare the marks of cunning ballot play. Clegg in particular owes his seat to the support of Labour-fearing voters.
As the Tory majority becomes retroactively explicable –obviously the compelling lines on economic competence resonated, clearly Labour still aren’t trusted- and the pollsters wheel out the previously neglected caveats – of course Tory voter reticence tends to underestimate the strength of election night blue – we shouldn’t forget just how unlucky Labour was. They transformed their dorkish leader into someone who you could picture as a prime minister (and, for a bizarre moment, a sex symbol); they mobilised an impressive army of volunteers and surpassed their target of 4m doorsteps.
Ultimately it was the Australian (Crosby) who triumphed over the Yank (Axelrod). In the slickly disciplined Tory campaign one philosophy ruled: it is only when the media are sucked dry with despair at the repetition of a political line that it begins to cut through to the voters. The media – bored stiff with Cameron’s long term economic campaign – had written him off at the moment when his message was breaking through. No amount of doors knocked and #GetTheToriesOut tweets can top that.