Conservatives must embrace the challenge of the new media│ Conrad Lewandowski
After the shock result of the 1992 general election, where the Conservatives did far better than expected, The Sun declared on its front page that it was their support “wot won it”. Yet despite the Conservatives having the backing of most of the press, it was Labour that did far better than expected in June’s snap election. Corbyn had very little support from traditional newspapers, with even traditionally Labour-supporting papers The Mirror and The Guardian being lukewarm on his leadership. However, he did have enthusiastic backing online from the “new media”. Websites such as The Canary, Novara Media and Evolve Politics released articles that were shareable, easy to digest, and unashamedly partisan. These articles were shared thousands of times on social media during the election campaign. For example, an Evolve Politics article on the Conservative manifesto omitting a previous commitment to ban ivory sales was shared on Facebook 42,500 times between 17th April and 31st May this year. The article linked the policy reversal to president of the British Antique Dealers’ Association Victoria Borwick, then the Conservative MP for Kensington, who went on to lose her seat to Labour by 20 votes in one of the biggest surprises of the election.
These viral news stories outpaced traditional media outlets on social media, with many of these traditional outlets having their content locked behind paywalls. When I asked Senior Editor of Evolve Politics Matt Turner about how sites like his compared to traditional media, he said “Evolve Politics are different to traditional media outlets as we believe our purpose is to give much needed coverage to the marginalised issues that the mainstream media often conveniently omit. Our attitude towards Jeremy Corbyn and issues of social justice are by in-large very different to most traditional media outlets. We have a more sustainable model, where we are not entirely reliant on advertisers or media conglomerates to keep our business going – we are kept going by the financial support of our readers. We are at the vanguard of something new harnessing social media effectively, while the traditional press [is] still stuck in the past. Although they’re still the dominant players in the media world, if the trend we’ve seen over the last few years continues, we’ll be right up behind them in the near future.”
The general election result showed that the centre-right cannot continue to rely solely on support from traditional media outlets such as newspapers in order to reach voters, especially younger voters. Conservative new media sites are a possibility, however if these were to be started they would have to be from the grassroots rather than merely spouting the party line on every issue. Rebuttal videos of viral anti-Conservative news stories is something that CCHQ are slowly improving on, but these videos need to be uploaded quickly. It took three days for the party to release a rebuttal video to the misleading Independent article that said the Tories voted that animals can’t feel pain, by which point 2 million people had seen the original article. The rebuttal video on the other hand has just over 100,000 views on Facebook.
Although there are no easy answers to solve our problem with getting our message across to younger generations, it’s important that the Conservatives accept that the game has changed. We may not like what these sites are publishing, but they are here to stay and unless we can adapt to the challenge of the new media landscape then we risk lagging behind even further on the online electoral battleground.