Labour on course to win election (according to Twitter)

Study attempts to use Twitter to predict the election result.

The latest polls may show the Tories' lead over Labour increasing, but there's better news for Gordon Brown in a new report by Tweetminster. The study, which attempts to predict the result of the election by tracking the most mentioned candidates and constituencies on Twitter, suggests that Labour is on course to win by a majority of 14 seats.

You may dismiss the study as hopelessly unreliable (an earlier report found that Twitter users were disproportionately liberal) but that's not really the point.

Tweetminster isn't attempting to put YouGov et al out of a job. Rather, it is investigating what correlation (if any) exists between word-of-mouth on Twitter and the election result. Whatever the relationship between the two, we will learn more about the influence of new media on the world of politics.

A similar study in Japan during last year's general election found that in about 90 per cent of constituencies the most mentioned candidate on Twitter won the seat. But that's still a 10 per cent margin of error, large enough to make the difference between a hung parliament and a healthy Tory majority.

Tweetminster's analysis of 376 British seats, based on two million tweets, suggests the following result:

Labour: 35%
Conservatives: 34%
Liberal Democrats: 22%
Others: 9%

The study also found that support for the Scottish National Party is declining. and that the Greens are performing particularly well in Brighton (where their leader, Caroline Lucas, is likely to win) and Norwich South (where the deputy leader, Adrian Ramsay, is expected to run Charles Clarke close).

It also suggests that the Lib Dems are generating more support in the key south-west marginals that David Cameron needs to win to secure an overall majority.

With so much talk about this being the first "internet election", I think it'll be worth watching to see how close Tweetminster gets to the real result.

Follow the New Statesman team on Twitter.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Leader: Theresa May and the resurgence of the state

More than any of her recent predecessors, the Prime Minister seems willing to challenge the economic and political orthodoxies of the past 35 years.

Theresa May entered office in more tumultuous circumstances than any other prime minister since 1945. The UK’s vote to leave the European Union was a remarkable rebuke to the political and business establishment and an outcome for which few had prepared. Mrs May recognised that the result was more than a revolt against Brussels. It reflected a deeper alienation and discontent. Britain’s inequalities of wealth and opportunity, its regional imbalances and its distrusted political class all contributed to the Remain campaign’s ­defeat. As she said in her speech in Birmingham on 11 July: “Make no mistake, the referendum was a vote to leave the European Union, but it was also a vote for serious change.”

When the financial crisis struck in 2007-2008, David Cameron, then leader of the opposition, was caught out. His optimistic, liberal Conservative vision, predicated on permanent economic growth, was ill-suited to recession and his embrace of austerity tainted his “modernising” project. From that moment, the purpose of his premiership was never clear. At times, austerity was presented as an act of pragmatic bookkeeping; at others, as a quest to shrink the state permanently.

By contrast, although Mrs May cautiously supported Remain, the Leave vote reinforced, rather than contradicted, her world-view. As long ago as March 2013, in the speech that signalled her leadership ambitions, she spoke of the need to confront “vested interests in the private sector” and embrace “a more strategic role” for the state. Mrs May has long insisted on the need to limit free movement of people within the ­European Union, and anticipated the causes of the Leave vote. The referendum result made the national reckoning that she had desired inevitable.

More than any of her recent predecessors, the Prime Minister seems willing to challenge the economic and political orthodoxies of the past 35 years. She has promised worker representation on company boards, binding shareholder votes on executive pay, improved corporate governance and stricter controls on foreign takeovers.

The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, has set the ­Labour Party on a similar course, stating in his conference speech that the “winds of globalisation” are “blowing against the belief in the free market and in favour of intervention”. He pointedly criticised governments which did not try to save their domestic steel industries as China dumped cheap steel on to global markets.

We welcome this new mood in politics. As John Gray wrote in our “New Times” special issue last week, by reasserting the role of the state as the final guarantor of social ­cohesion, Mrs May “has broken with the neoliberal model that has ruled British politics since the 1980s”.

The Prime Minister has avoided the hyperactive style of many new leaders, but she has deviated from David Cameron’s agenda in several crucial respects. The target of a national Budget surplus by 2020 was rightly jettisoned (although Mrs May has emphasised her commitment to “living within our means”). Chancellor Philip Hammond’s Autumn Statement on 23 November will be the first test of the government’s ­fiscal boldness. Historically low borrowing costs have strengthened the pre-existing case for infrastructure investment to support growth and spread prosperity.

The greatest political ­challenge facing Mrs May is to manage the divisions within her party. She and her government must maintain adequate access to the European single market, while also gaining meaningful control of immigration. Her statist economic leanings are already being resisted by the free-market fundamentalists on her benches. Like all prime ministers, Mrs May must balance the desire for clarity with the need for unity.

“Brexit means Brexit,” she has repeatedly stated, underlining her commitment to end the UK’s 43-year European
affair. If Mrs May is to be a successful and even transformative prime minister, she must also prove that “serious change” means serious change and a determination to create a society that does not only benefit the fortunate few. 

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories