Rebecca Coulson

Welcome to the exhausting era of political spam

Welcome to the exhausting era of political spam
Text settings

What does John Major have in common with Nancy Dell’Olio?

Major screenshot

Click on the image to read in full.

Clearly, a love of speech-writer-style paragraphing, sans-serif fonts, and free drinks. (I’m sure Major’s a lot of fun – he’s always been my favourite prime minister – but would he really have put those words in bold?)

The best thing about no longer being a parliamentary candidate is that my inbox has been liberated from its endless national campaign spam. ‘Support us!’ they cried, ‘Then, support us some more!’

Even though I already was.

It was inexhaustible briefcase verbiage – written either by someone who hadn’t thought about it all, or, sadly, more likely by someone who had, but too much. Someone with a qualification in social media, perhaps. After receiving 54 briefing messages on the night of the leaders’ television ‘debate’, I finally changed my email address.

But, for London’s Labour lot – with upcoming leadership, deputy leadership, and mayoral elections – it's only going to get worse. Indeed, Jeremy Corbyn isn’t edging into the lead thanks to his on-trend facial hair, his fashionably dodgy views, or even an admirable en masse scheme to vex Tony Blair. Rather, it’s all about the spam. ‘I’m starting to like him,’ a newly-signed-up-but-lifelong-Labour-supporting friend told me the other day, ‘Because he doesn’t text me as much as the others.’

As someone who's keen enough about a political party to have represented it, I can only imagine how much more frustrating the spam-based approach must be for someone who’s just tentatively decided to get involved. Or for someone who accidentally joined a mailing list in an attempt to read a party’s website.

It’s the intrusive screwed with the impersonal. They offer you wildly-exciting free fridge magnets in exchange for campaign donations, overuse your name but probably haven’t spelled it correctly, and have absolutely no understanding of tone.

Don’t entitle an email ‘Hey!’, and then address it ‘Dear’, and sign it ‘Best wishes’. Or, better still, don’t entitle an email ‘Hey!’, at all.

And then, let’s return to sender. I heard of one Conservative Future member who spent a whole day bragging to his friends that he’d received a text from Theresa May. Until they finally let on that they all had, too. And that – incredibly – it wasn’t actually from her.

Its built-in inability to receive a reply should have been a give-away. It's much more fun when you can…

Parties are mad for supporters: supporters are their lifeblood. But now they’re mad for personal stats, too. The successful Conservative general election campaign was inspired by Australian and US-style political data collection – and why wouldn’t Labour want in on this, too? They want to know what you care about, so that they can target you, and whether you’re going to vote for them, so that they can ensure that you do (even if this means risking that you won’t). It’s get out the vote with a vengeance. And it all hinges on contact.

Door-knocking and phone canvassing are on their way out: we have less leisure time, and we want to spend it undisturbed. And politicians are desperate to enter the media age, too. So, email and text are obviously the answer. Except that we hate spam; didn't we abandon our landlines in order to avoid cold-calls? Should we vote for people that don't understand this? People who are trying hard to make us trust them again?

Of course parties need to communicate during election campaigns. But they urgently need to do it better. By talking with rather than just talking to. By writing in clear, attractive English. By resisting cut-and-paste soliloquies with famous signatories. Simply, by offering people a real reason to vote for them.

This is the way to do it. Not free drinks. (Oh, go on, then. Just the one.)

Rebecca Coulson stood as a Conservative candidate in the 2015 election.