There is a naive belief at the top of government that because the Tories are only a fart’s yard behind Labour in the polls — despite daily manifestations of schism, scandal and incompetence — everything will turn out fine in the end. But this is to ignore the party’s greatest structural weakness: it is clueless in cyberspace. On the social media battlefield, it is fighting with knitting needles against Labour’s laser-guided missiles.
The crude stats are humiliating for Theresa May. Her Twitter and Facebook accounts have 411,000 and 540,000 followers respectively, compared with 1.6 million and 1.4 million for Jeremy Corbyn. His online films and tweets are seen by millions, — many times the number who hang on the Prime Minister’s digital words. This social media deficit will be a serious problem for whoever leads the Conservative party into the next general election because that is where the marginal voters who determine the outcomes of elections and plebiscites are recruited or alienated. David Cameron’s lame jibe from 2009 that ‘too many tweets make a twat’ is redolent of another era, laying him open to the twin charge of casual sexism and techno-politics Luddism.
What makes the Conservatives’ digital frailties all the more extraordinary was that it was Tory technocrats who won the Brexit referendum. The eureka moment of Vote Leave’s campaign was when director Dominic Cummings decided to deliver a small number of simple messages — mainly that dubious though effective one about Brexit liberating £350 million a week for the NHS — to people shown by data analytics to be the most persuadable. He set up the campaign as if it were a hedge fund staffed by rocket scientists who would be rewarded for finding systems that made the most effective use of the £7 million budget allowed by the rules for wooing voters.