The #GE2017 started life as predictable but materialised into the most fascinating election since probably 1997, but for very different reasons. This election feels like a milestone; a pre-curser to changes that need and will come about.
Throughout the election campaign there has been a yearning gap — between the mainstream media and social media. Blurrt has been tracking all the election conversations (not just hashtags) on Twitter since the election was called. Every week I’ve been recording an election podcast (http://bit.ly/2seseNU) and consequently have been delving into the social data heavily. Time after time, I discovered topics of conversation that meant a lot to ordinary people having discussions on Twitter that were either just simply ignored or dismissed in mainstream media. Theresa May’s position on Fox hunting had a massive reaction on social and yet attracted very little attention in the media. Even something as trivial as Theresa May’s appearance on the One Show, and her reference to ‘mens jobs’ such as putting the bins out drew serious discussion about old fashioned sexist remarks. Where was the reporting of the huge crowds attending Corbyn rallies in Newcastle and Birmingham?
There have been reports that the turnout amongst younger votes was near 70%. The campaign for voter registration & the importance and likely impact of the young vote got very little attention in mainstream media, save for a token discussion by Channel 4 news. Yet on social (not just Twitter) this was a massive theme and something we discussed on several of the podcasts. The sheers volume of conversation on Twitter alone was staggering and analysis of those conversations showed a significant bias towards Labour.
It’s not appreciated that Twitter has a pretty even age demographic spread from 16 up to 50 year olds, before tapering significantly for the over 60’s. Younger people are using social to find their news; have discussions and increasingly posting their views or reactions to real time events. The media’s unwillingness to take social data analysis seriously, together with political analysts, pollsters meant they completely missed the likely impact of the younger voter.
This election has been a milestone for media influence. The impact of the Sun, Mirror, Mail et al has been massively diminished. No longer will we hear the refrain that ‘it was the Sun that won it’. Influence has shifted to the online world. Younger voters get their news from a much more varied and distributed network, spread and recommended by their peers.
We all know the result has brought about a hung parliament, with the likelihood that the Conservatives will govern with the support of the DUP. Surely now is the time for the UK to have a proper, grown up discussion about introducing electoral reform. The old party ties have gone. Voters are volatile and we are unlikely to see a parties getting significant majorities. We need to recognise this and get a proportional representation system in place that will provide a way for parties to engage and govern together. What we have at the moment is a mess.
We also need to use new technology to allow people to vote. I was shocked and outraged looking through the Twitter data on election evening and seeing thousands of posts from people witnessing, largely young people being turned away at polling stations in Newcastle, Nottingham and Portsmouth. This isn’t democracy. If we can file our tax returns online I’m sure we can vote.
Whilst we’re reforming the electoral system we need to look at a federal structure for the UK. It was clear voters in Scotland are not convinced by independence. But there is an appetite for people in Scotland, Wales and N Ireland to have more powers and control over their communities. Right now, the devolved settlements are a mess. Some have more powers then others; some are half baked; some are completely unclear & require constant clarification from the Supreme Court. Lets get a proper federal structure with proportional representation in place so people feel in control, connected and responsible for their nations.
We need change. Lets start now.