Some pundits have recently argued that the concept of the party manifesto will die out as we enter a new era of coalition politics. Yet this week’s launches suggest quite the opposite. In fact, while the promises made may well be diluted in government, the various manifestos have provided an unmissable opportunity for parties to define their identities and launch big policies.
For the two largest parties, it has been an opportunity to “play against type” and emphasise the areas in which their reputation is weak. For Labour, this meant painting themselves as a party of fiscal responsibility, with the document offering a 200-word “budget responsibility lock” before readers even reach the contents page.
For the Conservatives, meanwhile, a typically sober presentation belied a bevy of big spending pledges, including £8bn for the NHS and a promise to give housing association tenants the right to buy their properties.
So how did social media react? According to ElectUK, the app from Tata Consultancy Services that is tracking social media chatter in the run up to the general election, it was the Conservatives that received the biggest boost. In the 24 hours following the launch, their share of mentions on Twitter was 13.2%, an increase of 5 percentage points on its 30-day average. Labour, meanwhile, received a slightly smaller bounce of 4 points during the day, albeit from a higher long-term average of 29.6%. Most significantly, however, the Tories’ positive sentiment increased by 7.7 percentage points to 36.2%, while Labour could only manage an increase of 3.8.
In terms of the tweets themselves, the most notable came when celebrities took the opportunity to voice their (mostly left-of-centre) opinions. Star Trek luminary Sir Patrick Stewart achieved 1,120 retweets for his praise of Labour’s manifesto, stating that “even support for the arts is not sidelined”. The journalist and television presenter Mariella Frostrup, meanwhile, revealed that she was “an undecided voter” until the Conservatives announced their right to buy policy, and argued that “we need affordable housing, not a giveaway for the few”.
Social media also became a forum for statistical analysis, as tweeters unpicked the Conservatives’ housing promise. As musician Billy Bragg put it: “Natalie Bennett was ridiculed for saying Greens would build 500,000 homes for £2.7bn. Today Tories say they’ll build 400,000 for just £1bn.” Labour MP Hilary Benn, meanwhile, pointed out that at £2,500 per home, the Conservatives’ estimated spend would not even cover the cost of bricks and mortar.
For the smaller parties, there were differing results. On the day of the UKIP and Liberal Democrat launches, the former leapt to the top of ElectUK’s trending parties ranking, attracting 35.2% of Twitter conversation. The Liberal Democrats, in contrast, could manage just 9.2%, making them only the sixth most talked-about party. The difference, perhaps, was that UKIP has a set of eye-catching and polarising policies, whereas the Lib Dems’ “straight-down-the-middle” centrism hasn’t generated too much in the way of either enthusiasm or antipathy.
Away from this week’s new releases, social media offered an opportunity to reflect on manifestos of years gone by, with the Labour History Group tweeting every Labour manifesto between 1945 and 2010. This included perhaps the most famous of all the party manifestos, the “longest suicide note in history” from 1983, when it tacked to the left with promises such as unilateral nuclear disarmament and withdrawal from the EU.
Not to be outdone, the Conservative History Group tweeted every Tory manifesto since 1900, as well as Sir Robert Peel’s 1834 Tamworth Manifesto, which arguably set the foundations for modern Conservatism. In accepting the permanence of new electoral boundaries and the need for reform across a range of areas, he reached out to a newly enfranchised electorate – it is this sort of broad-based electioneering, rather than Labour’s narrow campaign of 1983, that appears to be the inspiration for today’s main parties.
Designed, built and delivered by Tata Consultancy Services, ElectUK turns your smartphone into an advanced social media analytics tool, giving you the ability to identify and share online trends around the upcoming election.
Please note: the ElectUK app is analysing the data and helping to identify trends in online conversations around the election, it is not promoting or criticising any party or political view.