Episode IV: A New Hope

Labour hopefuls Andy Burnham and Jeremy Corbyn

Social media has a left-wing bias. We know this. If there’s one thing my UK election prediction experiments could conclude indisputably, it’s that the way the world looks out of our internet windows is that little bit more groovy and socially conscious than the way it looks out in the street.

The reasons for this are twofold. Partly it’s presentation bias – we want to be seen to be nicer than we actually are. Mostly it’s about demographics though; social media, a relatively new form of media, will naturally be more popular amongst less conservative (with a small C) folk, those more ready to embrace the new, less tied to tradition, less likely to vote for the Conservative Party or the Republicans.

So what happens when dealing with an election specifically of The Left, where all candidates are of varying degrees of lefty. How does the volume of social media attention then look?

Well, it might look kinda like this:


Volume of mentions of each Labour Leadership candidate, since May, for Brandwatch React.
The three humps are:
1) 15th June – Corbyn wins a last minute place on the ballot.
2) 20th-22nd July – Corbyn is the sole candidate to vote against the Tory Welfare Bill, followed by a YouGov poll suggesting Corbyn could win.
3) Early August – Corbyn becomes bookies favourite after a second poll.

Two months ago the Labour Leadership election felt little more than an internal restructuring, with three barely distinguishable Lego candidates looking to succeed Ed Miliband on similarly Centerist platforms. But then Jeremy Corbyn, a politician few had heard of outside of Islington North, entered the race. And suddenly things got interesting, as his candidacy proved unexpectedly popular representing, as he does, a further left side of the Labour Party, and UK Politics as a whole.

In the wake of a genuinely surprising UK Election result, in which a Conservative Party majority defied the expectations of pretty much all pollsters, along with a more signposted surge of support for the SNP in Scotland, the Labour Leadership contest has become a debate about the landscape of UK politics. The idea of a more left-wing opposition to a right-wing government (rather than the usual race for the centre) being something that was previously thought to be very out of fashion.

The Corbyn phenomenon has echoes of two other recent political personalities. Firstly, there was Nicola Sturgeon, whose left-leaning, anti-austerity agenda was evidenced to have considerably more popular support than established media could accept (especially outside of Scotland). But there is also a similarity with the last hero of the far right, Nigel Farage, whose European Election surge last year might have been attributed to a more down-to-earth, man-in-the-pub, alternative to the sameness of the kind of UK career politicians voters were used to putting crosses next to.

Corbyn squeezed onto the ballot paper at the very last minute, reaching the required number of nominations with only minutes to spare. And, it appeared, many nominated him with no intention of voting for him, they did it purely to “broaden the debate“. There is a shopping psychology to this. Faced with a choice, consumers tend to go for the one in the middle. So all candidates, seeing themselves as the most Centrist, would imagine themselves benefiting from outliers to either extreme.

Corbyn has had a different effect though. Rather than spread, the other candidates have coallesced, becoming even more indistinguisable. Lego politicians, clicked into a rigid landscape. All Corbyn has had to do is appear relaxed and stick to his message, leaving his competition to argue only that they are the candidate who can promise their party can win power. What they’ll do to achieve this is less clear. Leaving us only to speculate on what lengths they might go to in order to regain ground from the Tories.




Sentiment analysis on the Labour Leadership candidates over the last 12 weeks, for Brandwatch React

At the time of writing, we can only speculate on the result. It’s currently looking unlikely Labour will be getting a female leader, which is a shame. Especially if the Tory leader they’d be battling in 2020 were to be their loveable sex-pest. But the real shame is that the two female candidates have been so uninspiring. Although if Liz Kendall were to be bold enough to run for Tory Leader too in 2019, I’ll take it all back. Go on Liz. Dare ya.

Anyway, I’m going to nail my Mrs Balls to the wall and call it for Corbyn. Because I reckon the bookies have it right. Even if the shortest odds were on Burnham a week ago.

On matters of futurism it’s wise to place faith in the bookies, moreso than pollsters or media monitors. For reasons of Darwinian Capitalism – any bookie that proved less effective at predicting the future than their gamblers would not be able to survive as bookies for very long, so their very survival depends on them being right. Pollsters don’t suffer this as much, they just have to write a report on what they’ve learned from their mistakes.


Ladbrooks Labour Leadership betting odds since June.

Brandwatch’s data shows Corbyn is dominating the chatter, in the same way as he is dominating the headlines. This reflects, chiefly, the novelty of his position. He is talked about because he is newsworthy, a story that stands out against the current narrative. This measure doesn’t necessarily translate into votes though, especially as the Leadership will be decided by a rather small sample (approx 600,000 party members), compared to the massive sampling of social.


Volume of mentions over the last 14 days, for Brandwatch React

But this volume does give an indication of the trend, the momentum of interest in the candidate. It is also interesting that the sentiment analysis, for what it’s worth, errs on the side of positive. Although, as evidenced with Farage, volume of mentions, be they good or bad, is what matters more. As Oscar said, “the only thing worse than being talked about…”

So maybe the time is right. Maybe the nation is ready for a “Smith to Capaldi” shift, as Chris TT described it, from shiny-faced smarm to an “older, grumpier integrity”.

Or maybe one of the Lego Minifigs will get it. And life can continue within the sticky security of The Kragle, only the old lefties remembering, with fondness, Labour’s brief “Episode IV” period. Saturday September 12th will tell…

posted August 16th, 2015


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