We won Brexit. Trump won the presidency. The left is distraught. I haven’t laughed so much since Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle team threw away a fifteen-point lead in the Premiership title race. However, the more interesting question is how it happened. We won Brexit against the entire political establishment and Trump won in the US with virtually every newspaper against him.
Step forward the internet in general and social media in particular. Now, I’ve always been a politics anorak. You name any obscure politician from about now, back to the 18th century, and I’ll probably know a bit about him. For example, David Margesson was Chief Whip in Baldwin’s 1930s government. Hugh Dalton, the inept Chancellor of the Exchequer in Attlee’s post war government was the son of Canon Dalton, the tutor of the future George V and his older brother on their world cruise. The original W.H. Smith was the model for the Ruler of the Queen’s Navy in HMS Pinafore (And I didn’t look those up, honest – I have a brain like flypaper, all sorts of crap sticks to it.) However, not even I can think of such a concatenation of shocks where the establishment has been shaken to its core. The BBC – and others – all blame populism as if that were a bad thing. It isn’t. Since WW2 left/liberalism has dominated the media and leftists have believed that they could control an allegedly ‘progressive’ narrative. Hence, they have encouraged the belief that the British Empire was repressive – it wasn’t – it did more to promote civilisation and progress than any other global institution. They have promoted the idea that racism is a cardinal sin. Racism is wrong, but the definition has been expanded to such an extent it has become meaningless and the allegation of racism is used by the left as a means to close down any debate they don’t want to have – for instance over FGM, forced marriage and the repression of women in many Muslim communities.
Before the advent of the internet and social media, people who held such views were isolated. However, about 10 years ago a group of pioneers started writing right wing blogs. The best of these, and one that is still going is the Guido Fawkes Blog, there were liberal Tories like Iain Dale and people who opposed the increasingly wet liberalism of the Church of England like the magisterial Archbishop Cranmer blog (again, that one is still going and well worth reading). The point was right wingers like me no longer felt isolated. We could read His Grace, Guido and Iain Dale and be heartened that there were others of like mind. This became even more clear with the development of twitter. Pretty soon we had a network of online friends who we could rely on to help us mock the left. People like @battsby @Marcherlord1 @skiplicker and @bernerlap (that’s me) attracted thousands of followers by being funny, iconoclastic, argumentative and completely refusing to obey the rules of political discourse set out by the left liberal establishment. The result was we were blocked by many leading political journalists and politicians. It worried us not one bit and we boasted of it on our twitter biographies.
The question was though; how did we breakout of twitter and actually make an impact beyond the tight knit right wing community of the twitter sphere? Some didn’t want to, and that is fine. Some of us did it by making an impact in the mainstream media step forward @Marcherlord1 and his brilliant black op, Tories for Corbyn, which in all probability has destroyed Labour as an electoral force for the foreseeable future. My road was different and the idea of how to do it came from reading about digital campaigning in the 2015 general election. The Conservatives poured hundreds of thousands of pounds into the digital campaign. Facebook is essentially a very sophisticated advertising platform, and the Conservatives’ digital team mastered it. After we won the 2015 election I knew that the Brexit referendum would come, I knew I could campaign on twitter, but I also knew it would be an echo chamber, however, six out of ten people in the UK are on Facebook, it is far more than an echo chamber. The question was, what was the best way to reach the people I wanted to reach in the Brexit referendum, the people the left regard as old, thick, poor white people. I couldn’t afford to pay for the kind of metrics that the main campaigns used but I worked out that the best way to engage these people was by sports clubs. What I would regard as proper football clubs, the likes of Sunderland, Burnley and Millwall. And Rugby League clubs. I set up a Facebook page called “More than a Star”, as in “We’re More than a Star on Someone Else’s Flag”. A star on someone else’s flag is exactly what we would have become if we had lost the Brexit referendum. The way it worked was I’d put a post up on “More than a Star”, if it was popular with people who’d liked the page then I’d buy a dollar a day Facebook advertising for it, targeted it at supporters of the sports clubs I thought would be likely to support Brexit. It worked, in the top week for the page during the campaign, ‘More than a Star” got over half a million hits. Most weeks it was between 250000 and 350000. I don’t know if it changed anyone’s mind but it certainly reinforced the views of anyone who wanted to vote for Brexit and made them less likely to backslide because they knew there were plenty of others supporting them. It was also very helpful over the last weekend of the campaign when campaigning was officially suspended because of Jo Cox’s death. At a time when Stronger In were doing not very much, we used twitter and Facebook to make the economic case for Brexit.
I don’t know what impact the hits on the Facebook page or my twitter feed had. I hope I boosted morale. But the point is, a political nobody from the top of a hill in the wilds of Yorkshire could broadcast to half a million people in one week in a national referendum campaign by a bit of canny advertising, the use of a couple of iPad photo apps, and an evil sense of humour. Now, if you look at the money spent by Leave.EU, Vote Leave and the Trump campaign you can see why social media has become so important in making the weather in political campaigns. They spent millions and it worked. Trump spent less than Clinton, but spent the money smarter and won. Partly it worked because of clever targeting, but mainly it worked because Brexit campaigners and Trump were pushing at an open door. The reason for this is simple. To quote the greatest US President of my lifetime, Ronald Reagan, “The trouble with our Liberal friends is not that they’re ignorant; it’s that they know so much that isn’t so.” It’s what psychologists call ‘cognitive dissonance’. Liberals regard the type of people who voted for Brexit and for Trump as thick because they don’t suffer from the ‘cognitive dissonance’ from which liberals suffer. They know you have to live within your means. They know the western powers aren’t the cause of all the world’s ills. They know wanting control of borders isn’t racist. They know when they see a camp full of fit young men of fighting age in Calais, they’re not refugees, they’re economic migrants. They know a trade organisation doesn’t need a parliament, a civil service, or God help us, an army; but a nascent state does. They know it’s wrong to overlook law breaking by minorities and above all they know it’s right to love their country and be proud of it. The internet has told people who hold those views they’re not alone. It’s allowed them to see that they can take on the left/liberal establishment and win and has stopped that establishment from making the political weather. That is something for which we should all be grateful.