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It’s the social media wot won it

So the Sun has turned on New Labour. The day after Gordon Brown’s keynote speech at the Labour Party Conference 2009, Britain’s top-selling daily led with the headline Labour’s Lost It. Citing failures on law and order, education, health, immigration and foreign policy, the Sun formally anointed David Cameron as its preferred candidate in 2010.

Elections and the Sun

The Sun’s decision has powerful symbolism. In 1992, it was credited with persuading voters to elect John Major’s Conservatives over Neil Kinnock’s Labour, prompting the infamous headline: “It’s the Sun wot won it”. Then ahead of the 1997 general election, it switched sides with a front page entitled “The Sun backs Blair”. Now in 2009, it has gone full circle.

However, the prime minister has come out fighting. During a tempestuous interview with Sky News political editor Adam Boulton, Gordon Brown blasted: “People decide elections, not newspapers”. This is very true. In the web 2.0 era, where people can instantly share their innermost thoughts, it may be even truer than Gordon Brown realises. Whether commenting, tweeting, posting videos or blogging, people have never had so much power at their fingertips.

Reader participation

In that very same interview, Gordon Brown argued most Sun readers would like what was said in his keynote speech. What he forgets is that we can already find out exactly what they think of him. On the Sun website, the Labour’s Lost It article has already attracted more than 200 comments ranging from “Blair and Brown destroyed Britain” to “Mr Brown and the Labour party may seem to have lost it, but they are still better than the alternatives”. There are also links to a poll asking who should lead the country and a forum discussing what Britain might look like under the Tories:


Twitter

Twitter provides a seemingly inexhaustible supply of real-time views. Indeed, a quick search on Trendistic shows that Gordon Brown was mentioned in 0.14 per cent of all tweets between 3pm and 4pm on the day of his speech. That may not sound like much, but it actually means thousands of people were blogging about the Labour leader in real time. And it’s worth pointing out that 24 hours earlier, the tweet rate was just 0.01 per cent. Similarly, What the Trend? shows that ‘Gordon Brown’ and ‘#lab09’ were both trending yesterday. Some tweets were positive, some negative and some even offered a real-time critique of key policies from his speech.


User-generated video

Gordon Brown may not be committing to a televised debate, but glance at YouTube and you could be forgiven for thinking it is already underway. In addition to official coverage from the BBC and Sky News, a search for Gordon Brown also points you towards homemade conference analysis and satirical songs like the one below. And of course all videos can be commented on or rated at the click of a button.

Blogs

Professional political blogs like Guido Fawkes, Iain Dale, Conservative Home and Dizzy Thinks have a proven track record of breaking stories ahead of the mainstream media. Medical allegations first made on right-wing blogs were even raised by BBC presenter Andrew Marr during last weekend’s interview with Gordon Brown. But we should not underestimate the number of amateur blogs that discuss politics, however incidentally. A Google search for blogs featuring the keyword ‘Gordon Brown’ currently returns almost 1.2 million hits – and that’s just on Blogger:


People decide elections, not newspapers

Gordon Brown is absolutely right when he says “people decide elections, not newspapers”. But what he fails to grasp is that, thanks to web 2.0, everyone can now play political correspondent. Democracy has opened up politics to the masses. Barack Obama grasped this very early on, and indeed social media helped his presidential campaign. Gordon Brown, facing his own election battle in 2010, would do well to take note.

Richard Frost

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