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#JezWeCan: The Jeremy Corbyn social media campaign

leonoraSocialists don’t normally go in for miracles. Yet the way some people have reacted to the incredible success of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign, you’d think we’d witnessed some sort of supernatural event. How on earth did Jeremy go from rank outsider in June to a landslide winner just three months later in September? Of course, with time, people will analyse the ‘perfect storm’ which has propelled Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of the party, and conclude (quite rightly) that the factors were complex and varied. But one element which has had little coverage so far, but will in my view stand out when people have the time to reflect, is the unprecedented social media campaign – the biggest such operation for a single politician this country has ever seen. I’m not about to declare that it was ‘Twitter wot won it’, but it was certainly a central factor.

Of course, social media campaigns are by their nature hard to pin down, as if they occur by magic. That’s part of the illusion. The work is done anonymously and nobody sees the stitches, but it entailed a lot of hard work behind the scenes. The foundations for the campaign can be traced back to a project started in 2011 called Red Labour. That’s where many of those involved in the social media campaign cut their teeth. Red Labour started its life as an irreverent Facebook page and Twitter account aimed firmly at the purple politics of Progress and its new rival, Blue Labour. Pretty soon, though, its content became focused on building the left as well as exposing the machinations of the Blairites. When Ed Miliband resigned in May, there was a sustained campaign for an anti-austerity candidate from a number of online activists, all using the methods that had been perfected over three years of Red Labour activism.

When Jeremy declared that he’d stand in early June, therefore, a small group of activists were ready. With official sanction from John McDonnell, Jeremy’s agent, we determined to rack up the MP nominations one by one. We prepared spreadsheets, published email addresses and Twitter accounts. We organised Twitter storms, petitions and mass letter writing campaigns. Of course, we didn’t realise how hard it would be, but the more resistant MPs seem to be, the more people seemed to want to get involved. It had become an issue of democracy. It was relentless. When the mainstream press decided that those nominations were ‘gifted’, therefore, it stuck in the craw.

In contrast to some of the other leadership campaigns, our social media campaign was completely organic and grassroots. We assembled a team of activists around the left of the party: people who could design those memes, who understood Jeremy’s politics and who were in touch with the wider movement. There was deliberately no thematic line. It was creative and at times ad hoc, but it connected with people much better than the slick offerings of the other candidates. On day one, we introduced the phrase that would become emblematic of not just the social media campaign, but the campaign as a whole: #JezWeCan. Sure, we had the raw material too. Jeremy was a dream candidate for the social media age: everything he said was clear, accessible and without jargon. Jeremy’s record could speak for itself, but he’d never had such a platform. Our Facebook page gained nearly 70,000 likes in three months, with our top post reaching 560,000 people. On a weekly basis, between 1.5 and 2 million people were seeing our Facebook posts. On Twitter, we gained 64,000 followers, nearly 250,000 mentions were made of the campaign on Twitter and our top tweet was retweeted 1,800 times.

The #JezWeCan social media operation has been the driver for much of the positive aspects of the campaign: getting across Jeremy’s central messages of respect and encouraging debate rather than a beauty contest, stimulating the engagement of volunteers and attendance at the huge events all over the country. Most importantly, we have been able blunt some of the media attacks by relentlessly pushing a positive message and creating alternative sources of news for our supporters (in a recent YouGov survey, 57% of Corbyn supporters stated that they saw social media as their main source for news for the campaign, as opposed to 38-41% for other candidates and 32% for the wider population). This is a massive and significant sea change in the way we do our politics. When the over whelming 59.5% vote came through on that historic Saturday at the QE II Conference Centre, a few audible gasps were heard. None of them came from the social media team. We were no longer surprised.

This article was originally published in LRC Labour Briefing 

Image credit: Artwork by Leonora Partington

10 Comments

  1. John P Reid says:

    I was the first to congratulate Jez on getting the 35 nominations, so I hope this doesn’t sound pedantic, but.
    Jeremy supporters, including John Lansman told people to use Conrads Liz endall for tory leader facebook page, o it they were say Liz get your tits out for the tories
    there were known Jeremy supporters putting up, twitter comments about ,Yvette being a Nazi bitch and for people to rape liz kendall, these weren’t pretend Corbyn supporters,
    yes congratulate the Corbyn win, but this sort odf stuff needs to be kicked out the labour party.

    1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

      “I remember a time where Trolls were fictitious monsters from fairy tales, not arseholes on the internet looking for attention.”

      Robert O’Sullivan

  2. Paul Harman says:

    My top facebook page was ‘Kittens for Corbyn’ which seemed to exemplify a more human delight in an otherwise over-long and tedious process. Some of the discussion pages were full of dismally abusive exchanges. But most telling of all was the donation page on Corbyn’s campaign website. All four candidates had one. Only Corbyn’s showed in real time how much was coming in, mostly by small amounts. The fact that an original target of £10,000 ended at £213,850 also indicates a completely different approach to politics and a positive response from supporters. Now the real work of activating those supporters and LP Members to engage in making and selling workable policy by 2020 needs the same open, inclusive and honest approach.

  3. Verity says:

    If this was the success claimed then congratulations. Still not explain why that has happened for one candidate but not for others in the past. But now the first stage of success is now complete and our congratulations are surely almost complete and we need to give as much time and effort to the next stage as we do to congratulating ourselves on the past event. I am now more concerned with what happens now and how is this followed up. We have had one slot of caffeine that is all and all the political running is with others.

    1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

      A miracle it certainly ain’t although everyone here seems so busy with various flavors of self congratulation, (though about what precisely what is not obvious since after all Labour completely lost the general election,) that they seem completely oblivious to the arithmetic.

      It has been estimated that Blair lost Labour well over a million votes, whilst JC has managed to persuade only 160,00 of us to return often somewhat grudgingly and reluctantly in the hope that Labour might still have something yet to offer the country and us the electorate.

      The Labour party conference, which I and a lot of other had looked forward too with keen interest and enthusiasm, turned out to be a faintly sad affair, unconvincing and pretty limp wristed that’s left me along with a lot of other people that I know feeling somewhat demoralized, skeptical and more than a bit cynical.

      “One shot of caffeine,” sums the situation up perfectly; so far there is no, “next stage,” and there has been absolutely no serious attempt at all to engage with or to consolidate the support of the new members, (and many of us are already becoming very skeptical and restive as a result,) or to build on that very limited success.

      Quite the opposite in fact, particularly among those factions that supported the various unsuccessful candidates, but particularly Andy Burnham’s supporters, (who seem now only to be biding their time,) and and who remain not merely unsupportive and disinterested in the new members and our opinions but are still probably deeply resentful of us.

      1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

        only 160,000, obviously.

  4. John P Reid says:

    Blue labour isn’t a rival to progress, blue labour socially conservative Peo trade union, is a call back to non new liberalism of labour of the 50’s

    Actually as progress like Blair was about,gay and women’s rights, that was socially liberal

  5. Chris Warwick says:

    I think it is miraculous, as it seems too come out of nowhere. No one, but no one could have predicted what has happened, and the hope it now engenders has to be tempered with patience sand determination. Things are changing.

  6. Bazza says:

    I was reading how universities have harnessed new techology in teaching as well as keeping the traditional face-to-face teaching (which students still want and value) and this is described as ‘blended learning’ and perhaps we need ‘blended participation’.
    I personally believe you can’t beat being in the same room as a group of people and discussing issues amongst you and from this interaction you can formulate and add to ideas.
    But this can also be done on-line and as I have mentioned before some people may not always be able to make meetings because of caring roles, childcare responsibilities, or work of other commitments so perhaps we should also give people the option of also having a voice on-line.
    I went to an interesting meeting in the UK last year where there were 2 guest speakers (from Syriza) live from Greece via Skypte!
    Perhaps by constituency we could explore also having e forums?
    Blended learning seems to work in higher education as long as it is not used to replace teachers (and by the way there are loads of free MOOCs – massive, open, on-line, courses out there on important issues like the environment) so blended particiption may add to a grassroots, bottom up, democratic approach.

  7. Jim says:

    The defending of the rape comments by Zoe Williams at the guardian is extradinary

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