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UK general election 2024: Lib Dems’ chaotic and compassionate comms are winning the social media battle

Posted by Lauren Harris in Comment

1 month ago

It seems unlikely that at the time of the general election being called anyone would have predicted we would soon be watching one of the main party’s leaders doing interviews about domestic policy and rejoining the single market while paddleboarding or riding the teacups at Thorpe Park.

And yet, within just a few weeks, it’s clear that the Liberal Democrats’ mixture of chaotic and compassionate comms are stealing headlines, winning the social media battle and capturing the attention of the TikTok generation.

Perhaps most importantly – for a party that since the downfall of the 2010 coalition government has suffered at worst, derision, and at best, anonymity – suddenly everyone remembers the name: Sir Ed Davey.

The chaos that is guaranteed to attract views and engagement includes Davey being interviewed while on a paddleboard (190K views), ranking the “doggos we’ve met on the campaign trail” (31K views), serving ice cream from a VW camper van in front of Glastonbury Tor (150K views) and taking part in a water obstacle course (50K views within 60 minutes).

The epitome – so far – was Davey’s visit to Thorpe Park after launching the Lib Dems’ manifesto (1.1M views), where he “spent half the time upside down on rollercoasters” (260K views) and did an interview about the UK rejoining the single market while on the teacups (1.1M views). As ITV’s Shehab Khan noted: “Just vibing everywhere he goes.”

The key, though, has been combining this “vibing” with content that shows more of the party leader’s compassionate side. It’s crucial, after all, that it’s remembered that the ultimate job of leading the country is a serious one and also that the politician is shown to have layers and depth.

Central to this theme was Davey sharing his story as a carer to his disabled son John, 16, as well as talking about losing both his parents to cancer.

The video about John (6.3M views) prompted plenty of praise, including from comedian Sue Perkins (“I found this incredibly affecting. Gave me a chance to see the man behind the stunts; someone who comes across as warm and gentle and sincere”) and actor Hugh Grant (“Impressive.”).

Davey also visited a nursing home and led a group of pensioners in a rendition of We Will Rock You on exercise balls – one clip of this, posted by an X account called Insane Moments in British Politics, gained 1.9M views. More than this though, Davey was praised for not infantilising the residents and using his campaign to emphasise the importance of carers and care workers.

The entire strategy seems to be one of reminding voters that Davey’s human, he’s just like you and he’s nothing like those who have come before, and it’s one that has been praised on The Rest Is Politics podcast for “being quite clever”, gaining notice and seeing a good response from voters.

However, just because the Lib Dems appear to be winning the social media battle doesn’t mean they’ll win the war.

Already entertainment has turned to cynicism, with some criticising the strategy as “stunts” and claiming it distracts from the reality of the Lib Dems’ politics and Davey’s voting record. For a certain subsect, no amount of fun guy activities will heal the betrayal of the party raising tuition fees in 2010 and Davey’s part in the Post Office scandal.

But the thing is, to an extent, it is working. Backed up by a lengthy and well-received manifesto, there has been a turning in the tide.

Latest polls show the Liberal Democrats up by four points, just three per cent behind the Conservatives – which would give them enough seats to leapfrog the Tories in parliament – and up 8% among 18- to 24-year-olds.

And part of this, naturally, is down to comparing the potential future prime minister with the incumbent.

Conservative leader Rishi Sunak has been slammed for leaving the 6 June D-Day commemorations early, stating regrettably that the event had “ran over” (1.7M views), and claiming he understood people’s financial difficulties because his family had to go without Sky TV while he was growing up (1.5M views).

These fumbles have been met by shock, confusion and mocking comments, posts and memes. The social media generation won’t let these things slide or be forgotten. As broadcaster Scott Bryan said: “I think the optics of saying you didn’t have Sky TV and ‘I’m sorry D-Day ran over’ are ‘running across fields of wheat’ bad.”

So, as always, underestimate Gen Z and misunderstand social media at your peril – ranking your favourite dogs during an election campaign may mystify some but it demonstrates that someone on the Lib Dems’ strategy team knows exactly what they’re doing.

By Lauren Harris, CORQ editor. Picture credit: Ed Davey via X (formerly Twitter)