25 years separate these two Sun headlines. Both are designed to scaremonger, ridicule and shame the Labour leader of the time, but only one is believed to have contributed to an election defeat. The other had little discernible effect on the 2017 General Election result.
What does this mean for today’s politics? It means the decline in newspaper readership in concert with the rapid rise of social media, is rendering the Tory print media ever more toothless, which means old style smears and scaremongering are failing to have the impact they once had. An extra three million votes for Labour in the General Election, is proof of that.
That doesn’t stop them trying to gum Corbyn, and his socialist project to death, in an ever increasing panic driven frenzy, but it does greatly weaken their influence on the voting public, with one notable exception, older voters.
Newspapers are kept afloat by their older readers, and so by default are the Tory Party, as demonstrated by
the clear correlation between older voters’ pattern of newspaper readership and their higher than average support for the Tory party.
Before my older readers grow irate at my sweeping generalisations, trust me, I know I’m generalising. I myself fall into an age group more likely to vote Tory than Labour, but know I’d rather run naked down my local high street than do so myself. Many of my most ardent Corbyn supporting friends are over sixty. My 76 year old mum has been bought back to political life by the political defibrillator that is Corbyn’s leadership. But it’s important to put our own stories and beliefs aside and
acknowledge these incontrovertible facts in order to figure out how we can change them.
The majority of older voters are not just voting against their own interests, they’re voting against the interests of their children and grandchildren and that has to change.
And I have an idea how to do that. It’s nothing revolutionary, but it will be effective. Rather than brow beat our older relatives to vote Labour [though gentle persuasion is of course fine] or give up on the newspaper they have read their whole life in some cases, let’s have a drive to get older voters signed up to social media, because currently it’s still the domain of the young.
Local Labour branches could open their halls for Tea, cake and Twitter sessions. Middle aged children and grandchildren could devote a day (or several days) to teaching their older parents and grandparents how to use Facebook and Twitter. We could debunk the idea it’s complicated or something only the young can enjoy. My husband, nudging 50, had it in his head that Twitter was a complex beast. An hour instruction later, he’s never off it. Social media could bring a whole new world of political thought into older voter’s living rooms up and down this land. Some will still choose to buy The Mail for its ‘TV supplement’, or The Sun for ‘its sports pages’, but they might end up looking up the #CorbynSmears hashtag in the afternoon, and see the most recent nasty smear story in a whole new light. Doubts will be cast. Political seeds will be sown.
So let’s get our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbours onto social media, and extract the last few of Murdoch’s teeth.