Twitter gaffes show Tories still grappling with subtleties of digital campaigning
The by-election to replace shamed Liberal Democrat Chris Huhne is heating up, and the Conservative Party yesterday came in for criticism after many of its MPs tweeted exactly the same phrase attacking the Lib Dems on housing policy in the Eastleigh constituency, and accusing their coalition partners of ‘broken promises’. Far from showing the party as united and on message, the gaffe highlighted that the Conservatives are still finding it hard to conduct a digital campaign effectively and subtly, and left them open to ridicule from political opponents.
The message was pumped out by a variety of Tory MPs, including the normally tech savvy MP for Harlow, Robert Halfon:
The Lib Dem Eastleigh campaign in turmoil as Party’s candidate admitted he ‘voted for’ 5,000 new houses on green spaces’ . #brokenpromises
— Robert Halfon MP(@halfon4harlowMP) February 17, 2013
Other MPs who tweeted the message included Nadhim Zahawi and Brooks Newmark.
The Lib Dem Eastleigh campaign is in turmoil as the Party’s candidate admitted he ‘voted for’ 5,000 new houses on green spaces.
— Nadhim Zahawi (@nadhimzahawi) February 17, 2013
Activists also piled in, tweeting the exact same message, but it was noticeable that Party Chairman Grant Shapps, who leads Conservative campaigning, didn’t take part, and nor did other tweeting ministers like Eric Pickles and Matt Hancock.
The tweets were thought to be co-ordinated by Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ), although this has not been confirmed.
A Lib Dem spokesman responded, saying:
“The Tory Twitter lemmings are just showing how little the CCHQ spin machine actually knows about Eastleigh. By jeopardising plans to build vital homes, the Conservatives have put all of Eastleigh’s green spaces at risk.”
The Lib Dems themselves recently experimented with mass messaging too, using the ‘thunderclap’ tool to get over 100 party activists to tweet the same message at the same time.
It all shows that political parties are still battling to find out what campaigning tools are effective in the digital age, and how sensitive people are to being pelted with mass messaging. While there was more online political action in the 2010 election than ever before, particularly around the leaders’ debates, there was little original digital campaigning. Experiments like these may at least help change that for 2015 and beyond.
The Labour candidate is John O’Farrell, the writer and broadcaster, who recently outlined the problem of parties sending out blanket emails when he got a email from Labour HQ.
Just got an email from the Labour Party. “Dear John O’Farrell, Will you go to Eastleigh to help John O’Farrell?”
— John O’Farrell (@mrjohnofarrell) February 14, 2013
While some wonder about the value of a celebrity candidate O’Farrell made clear why he was standing in a piece in the Guardian: ‘Why I’m standing?’ What ever you think about celebrity politics he has a point. Standing on the sidelines complaining is well and good, but it rarely changes things.