Clearly, Labour did not win the general election. But neither did the Conservatives.
To say the least, the result was truly unprecedented and begs so many questions, but I want to focus on how Jeremy Corbyn and his movement of activists have changed and are changing the Labour Party.
Labour’s share of the vote saw an immense increase with the party gaining seats in constituencies, such as Kensington and Canterbury that nobody would have anticipated would switch to Labour, and especially not Corbyn’s Labour.
On the 25th May, two weeks before the election took place, Labour was behind by about 20% in most opinion polls and there were popular forecasts of a 150 seat majority for the Conservatives. After all, this is why Theresa May called the election to begin with. On 8th June that Labout decreased that gap to just 2%, with them on 40% and the Tories on 42%.
The main question is to what extent Labour’s impact was via digital communication and online activity as it was really only during the final two weeks of the campaign that the advancement became clear. Political engagement in UK party politics has shifted and been reshaped in order to keep up with on going changes online and in the media.
There have been newfound forms of engagement through digital media and how they merge with the online society and the literal doorstep crowd, thus changing cultural shifts in how people are experiencing politics. The growth of digital media in citizens’ political systems has undoubtedly taken a broader shift toward youth engagement. There is a certain willingness among many individuals to view elections and party participations as a fair game for social media politics of the kinds that have been so important for non-party protests and mobilisations over the last 10 years. This is now more common than ever as the public has started to channel their social media activism into party politics and have integrated it with face-to-face doorstep campaigning under the guidance of the new Labour party leadership.
There was comparable movement with Bernie Sander’s campaign in last year’s US election – the key here is the process of organisational and generational cultural change and how it fits with changes in how digital media is now a normality in political activity.
When Labour lost the 2010 election, and even as Corbyn continued to attract a huge flow of new members for his party, much commentary revolved around the ‘death’ of social democracy and even the party itself – however, June 9th suggests that the Labour party and its half a million-plus member are only just beginning.
Rather than drifting under the radar, Labour is going through a long term process of change of political culture and is adopting new organisational strategies which fuses together online and offline activism.
Digital media allows parties to foster a culture of experimentation and a party-as-movement mentality, enabling lots of individuals to reject norms of traditional discipline and ‘diehard’ loyalty. A considerable amount of the politically active now perceive campaigning as yet another opportunity for personalised expression and to spread the word online and face to face networking. Because of this, Labour is being refreshed from the outside in, digitally enabling citizens (many of which are young) to breathe fresh air of a traditional form.
As of yet, this movement has not necessarily touched the Conservatives. Turnout amongst young voters rose a substantial amount, with 63% of 18-34 year old voting Labour. The election saw a huge voter registration drive led by Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens who were merged with online movement 38 degrees who ran their own crowdfunded registration campaign, which targeted clearly successful Facebook advertising.
With all of this, we still need to remember that the Conservatives did achieve 42% of the popular vote. It is difficult to suggest that the continual campaign against Corbyn in the British Press did not make a difference to the overall outcome.