Beware ‘the tyranny of the like’
During the lead-up to the 2015 general election I thought the tide was turning in Labour’s favour — everywhere around me people were commenting positively on scrapping non-dom statuses, ‘liking’ the mansion tax, and posting about it on Facebook. Based on what I had seen around me, I believed on polling day that Labour would edge to a victory. I had been caught in the web of what Helen Lewis described as ‘the tyranny of the like’.
On Facebook feeds and Twitter timelines, we are often surrounded by those who share our world-view. Social media is the 21st-century version of the political rally. We can easily find ourselves thinking we part of an unstoppable movement because all around us people are marching in the same direction.
Add to this bubble, the effect of ‘virtue signalling’ — the promoting of views that give you that righteous credence — and our outlook can become ever more blinkered. Very few people are going to openly ‘like’ a cut to welfare payments even if they secretly agree with it. In the ‘right on’ world of social media, it is best to keep those views to yourself. So liberal views are often bumped up by those algorithms within our own circles. ‘Shy Tories’ stay shy.
A recent YouGov poll showed that 57 per cent of the British public would support a ban on the Burqa and only 25 per cent would oppose it. Now compare this poll to the outrage you saw on your social media about the banning of the burkini in some French towns and cities. You see what I mean?
Jeremy Corbyn is a man who speaks to the type of people who read the comment pages of the Guardian. The focus of his campaign and his policy pillar was his support of an anti-austerity agenda. This is what galvanised so many people, including friends of mine. I understood where they were coming from. I like many people felt austerity was an unnecessary burden that stunts our economic growth and prosperity while punishing the poorest in our society.
Yet I knew deep down the majority of the general public did not know what we meant by austerity — or share my view of it. Though our economic recovery was weak and sluggish under the coalition government, when push came to shove the English people voted for a Conservative government in 2015. They voted for austerity.
However, the myths on why Labour lost the last general elections soon began to snowball online. Time and time again it was said that people voted for the Conservatives instead of Labour because they were ‘basically the same’, and this meant Labour was not far enough to the left. Evidence from reports by Jon Cruddas and the majority of polling evidence show this assertion is very wide of the mark.
Indeed, why would a voter, annoyed at Labour being ‘austerity lite’, disappointed they were not leftwing or radical enough, vote Conservative? It is counter-intuitive, and this argument is downright illogical. To argue this point is to peddle wilful ignorance. But it just the sort of comfort-blanket argument and simplistic narrative that will gather pace online.
Jeremy Corbyn is sensationally unpopular but some are standing by him because they know that some leftwing policies are popular. Yet for every poll that shows 80 per cent backed Miliband’s energy price freeze, that 74 per cent back rent controls or that 55 per cent support rail nationalisation — there are polls that show rightwing policies are also highly popular too. 66 per cent support stopping benefits if you turn down a job for example, 66 per cent want to end parole for murderers and 54 per cent would like to see a total ban on immigration for two years. Now guess which single-issue poll results get shared regularly on my social media?
It is true that on single-issue polls, the country may be in-tune with some of Jeremy Corbyn’s policies. Strip away any sense of tribalism from the British electorate and have everyone engage with politics on a purely policy to policy basis, and we might be on to something — but in politics perception if often more important than policy.
According to Michael Ashcroft’s recent report (based on thousands of focus group interviews) Corbyn is perceived as being ‘unprofessional’ and ‘too far to the left’ … ‘like a student leader at Keele’. While some praised his values and personal decency, most said these were not good enough qualifications for the job: ‘He seems to be a humble man but he’s got no charisma and he’s not leading anyone to power.’ (And not everyone was impressed even by these qualities: ‘He turns me right off. He’s an earnest little twerp. Reminds me of Clegg.’).
When Corbyn became leader he was the first new opposition leader to have a negative initial rating (-8) since the Hugh Gaitskell era. No new opposition leader whose initial rating was less than +20 has ever become prime minister. A few months ago Corbyn’s net approval rating was -41, officially the most unpopular opposition leader this country has ever known.
The man is personification of unelectability in the eyes of the British public. Kick and scream about ‘the mainstream media’ all we want, but the fact is this is a man who’s past associations, comments and stances are irreconcilable to the values of the majority of the British electorate. Many will dismiss this because of what they have seen around them. Everywhere they look, amongst their friends, on the blogs they read, on Facebook or Twitter — Jeremy Corbyn is ‘liked’ and loved. His values and principles aligned not only with you, but those in your circle.
At the next general election many of Corbyn’s supporters will be left puzzled, bitter and heartbroken. Thousands in a crowd at a rally and thousands of shares of those photos of that crowd, will not make Corbyn electable. The tyranny of the ‘like’ is comforting, but for only so long.
This blog was originally posted on ProgressOnline