For someone who was supposed to represent a new politics shorn of gimmicks, Corbyn sure resorts to a lot of gimmicks. His latest one is a particular portion of today’s “digital democracy” speech.
Most of the speech is actually okay, surprisingly enough. He talks about how it is unfair that parts of the country have serviceable access to the internet while others have virtually none. You don’t need to live in rural Somerset to know the pain of this first-hand – try completing any piece of work that relies on a decent 3G connection while travelling cross country on a train and you’ll know what I mean.
Actually, most of Corbyn’s digital manifesto is genuinely all right and I wouldn’t quibble with a lot of it. We really do need much better access to 21st century technology in Britain than we currently have, and Corbyn’s ways of tackling this problem are pretty reasonable.
The problem comes when Corbyn gets to what was clearly the real meat of his speech – the bit about a “digital revolution” carrying Labour, under his leadership, to government. Corbyn says that he and his crew are “leading the way in harnessing the advances of new technology to organise political campaigning like we’ve never seen before”. He expands on this by saying that basically he can circumvent the mass media because his supporters are so visible on Twitter and other social media outlets.
Oh dear. Only Corbyn could talk about social media campaigning and sound definably retro. Most people who are serious about political campaigning online understand the limitations of what it can achieve. Sure, you can reach a lot of people with your undiluted message on Twitter and Facebook. But the number of people you are reaching is still tiny when compared with who you can get to through the dreaded MSM. If your opponents are using mainstream outlets and you aren’t, this makes this problem exponentially more crucial.
Worse, social media acts like an echo chamber, with people there coming into contact mostly with people who share their views. So it can feel very quickly like everyone in the country is with you when in actual fact you are speaking to a very small number when compared to the size of the entire electorate.
I feel silly just having had to type all of that, it’s so obvious in 2016. Yet Corbyn and his crew don’t seem to have absorbed any of these lessons.
On a final note, Corbyn compares what he wants to do to what Bernie Sanders did in America. There’s so much to say about this I could fill ten articles, but I’ll keep it succinct: one, America is a much less socialised country than the UK and thus the groundswell for Bernie’s ideas had much more grounding in reality. Two, Bernie’s campaign was also very good at using more traditional forms of political campaigning – including interacting with mainstream media outlets. Three, in the end Bernie didn’t win anyhow.
Corbyn really believes his digital revolution will carry him to Number 10. The problem is, so do his supporters. What happens when that fails on a spectacular level?