They’ll stop chasing you, when you stop running.


Remember when New Labour brought in CBI chief Sir Digby Jones to advise on trade promotion and Gordon Brown’s economic policy? Yep, that’s the same Digby Jones who said that trade unions were increasingly irrelevant only a couple of years previous.

Remember when good old Sir Alan Sugar was welcomed into the heart of Gordon Brown’s government, as an “enterprise tsar”. Yep, that’s the same Alan Sugar who recently said we should all move to China if the present Labour Party were elected.

Remember when Blair’s Labour rolled out the red carpet in 1999 for Shaun Woodward, who two years previous had been quite happy to be elected as a Tory MP for Witney, and two years later became a Labour MP for St Helens South. Tony Blair welcomed him as a “serious” and a “decent” politician. From 2007 until 2010, he even served as Labour’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Do you remember the shock and outrage amongst the British press? Do you remember their old tweets being dredged up by right-wing newspaper hacks – goaded on by people in their own party? Do you remember the carefully co-ordinated character assassinations, designed to bully them out of their positions and livelihoods? Do you remember Labour MPs summoning up faux outrage from the depths of their bowels and excreting it all over the right-wing, tabloid press?

No, neither do I.

Yet, the appointment of lifelong socialists and radical economists to advise Jeremy Corbyn is deemed scandalous. In turn, John McDonnell, then Andrew Fisher, Seumas Milne – and most recently – James Meadway have been subjected to the most spiteful and personalised campaign by the gutter press, with quite transparent help from the Blairite malcontents in the Parliamentary Party and those lingering within the party machine. I recall how Ed Milband’s office reacted when he was subjected to just a fraction of this onslaught: his advisors recommended that he try to ameliorate the press – and specifically, pose with a copy of the Sun newspaper. Did any of that stop the attacks? Did it satisfy the tabloid hacks that they’d had their little bit of raw meat? No, it had the reverse effect. They sensed blood and went in for the kill. So I’m with Mick McGahey, former vice-president of the NUM, on this:

“They’ll stop chasing you, when you stop running.”

The problem is that we’ve been running for so long, that we need to learn how to stand and fight again. Together, we can.


#JezWeCan: The Jeremy Corbyn social media campaign.


Artwork: Leonora Partington

Socialists 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 Labour Briefing