Living in an area represented by the Conservatives is a privilege but not a common experience in the East of London. Where I live in Hornchurch and Upminster, we are fortunate to have a Conservative MP, and Conservative local councillors, and going forward I hope we can build on this and have more of East London represented by Conservatives.
As a teenager, social media is everywhere, and as a young activist I know the importance of having a credible online presence in the digital age of politics. This presence is vital in our efforts to spread our conservative values and social media can help progress conservatism in many forms. I think that as conservatives, we should always aspire for that progression to be our mission, especially in London, with its special and diverse population. When we gain in London, it shows that our values can be universal.
We are surrounded by social media, the digitalisation of politics and life, and it should always be our goal as freedom loving conservatives to hold true to our values and promote the freedom of speech that social media allows us. However, there is rising miscommunication because of social media, and especially in defending the freedoms of others, we must be firm in keeping debate proper without the personal slander and hatred that is too prevalent online.
There is another issue with campaigning in the digital age – and this is that people are now more likely to send a tweet than send a member of the electorate a newsletter. We talk to people a lot less these days, and this can be a key problem in communicating effectively with those we seek to represent, whether that is at a Parliamentary or at a council level.
For example, on public transport people are more than ever sitting (or standing) and looking at their phones, instead of talking face to face with people. Now, of course social media presents new ways of communicating, but have we lost the art of talking face to face?
My grandparents used to travel every day on the train from Ashford, Kent into central London, and they have told me anecdotes of how they would meet strangers on the platform and then have a game of cards with them whilst travelling to work in the morning. I fear the following generations have lost this part of community, and the unwillingness to trust, or even talk to others is a sad reflection of that.
The online presence of a political campaign is important to running a positive, forward thinking campaign that will promote our party’s brand and values effectively. However, my experience on the campaign trail is that unless you are a major figure, where your social media leads news coverage, it will not have a major impact on the electorate. Moreover, I have seen first-hand how online trends and online popularity do not reflect the reality of electoral support particularly in local areas.
There have been questions as to how we can digitalise our party, fit for the 21st century, as well as help local associations to also go digital. Let us look at my local area for an example – in Hornchurch and Upminster we have an increasing ageing population, many of whom are over 65, and may not be fully immersed or engaged in the digital age. This creates a problem for local conservatives, how do we address their grievances, whilst also running a 21st century campaign.
I believe that this can be done by running a quasi-federalised campaign, a campaign composed of a big pavement presence – lots of canvassing, street stalls and knocking on doors, whilst also keeping an online presence, through our website and social media, and informing, educating and inspiring people to promote our values with us, and give them a reason to vote for us!
This being said – the digital age is not completely upon us yet. One notable issue that keeps coming, from all social groups and ages, is that politics contains itself on Twitter, and seems to forget that most of the population use Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat instead. The platform seems to hold hostility to most people who may not be involved in politics, has a clear left-wing echo chamber, and poses a real threat of being heckled, therefore much of the electorate use other forms of social media, and news apps to keep informed with current affairs and politics.
I think that this situation is the perfect opportunity for our party to reinforce our values of tolerance and tradition, healthy debate and pragmatism, compassion and the preservation of people’s life and liberties. These values make us uniquely able to defend the right to freedom but not to harm others – on Facebook, instead of Twitter – and only then can we begin to see positive responses locally and globally.
We have just won an incredible election victory, with all parts of the UK having some Conservative representation, breaking through the Red Wall of Labour heartlands and achieving a very healthy majority. However, in going forward to governing and promoting our local message, be that in Hornchurch and Upminster, or Hawick, we have to understand the electorate’s concerns, redress their grievances, and continue to gain seats in all forms of local and national governance.
The future of our party, our movement and our country is bright, and I know internationally this is recognised by countries all over the world – and has been for years. When we look at the way our party has promoted our values and strengthened our message, it is clear that we are unique in our political longevity.
Look at Churchill’s speeches; delivering revolutionary radio broadcasts to the nation, or Thatcher’s promotion of our party within the new era of television, and the 24-hour news experienced by John Major and his television advertisement General Election messages. We as a party have always been at the forefront of modern technological changes, we are the party of business, of global links, we have always promoted improving people’s lives – by any means possible. But in this, we must remember that there are those unable to access the digitalisation of politics and ensure that they continue to receive our message of hope.
This is why, in our contemporary campaigning, we have to keep one hand on the message board of our smart phones, whilst the other clutches our bundles of leaflets – otherwise we would not represent the UK properly – which ultimately is what our party, and politics is all about doing.