The Clegg effect in the Twittersphere

Lib Dem leader talk of Twitter. His party? Not so much.

Nick Clegg was the clear winner of Thursday night's debate as reflected in yesterday's (proper) ComRes poll and today's YouGov tracker.

What is also interesting to observe is how online attention turned sharply to the Liberal Democrat leader, if not his party.

 

According to our own analysis (see chart above), Nick Clegg was a lowly third in terms of Twitter mentions among the three party leaders the day before the debate. But in the run up to it and, more particularly, in the immediate aftermath his personal profile shot up. Indeed there was far more Twitter chatter about him than either David Cameron or Gordon Brown.

Mentions may equally be negative or positive but as a measure of public recognition, the rise will cheer the Lib Dems as much as the blogosphere, TV and newspaper verdict.

What is equally striking, however, is how little impact Clegg's performance has had on mentions of his party (see chart below). This may be a reflection on the increasing focus given to party leaders and perhaps matters little. The early opinion polls seem to suggest as much.

Nevertheless, it is crucial that Clegg's popularity translates into electoral success, particularly in the 20 key Lib Dem-Conservative marginals. In fact it matters as much to Labour as it does for the Lib Dems, because the Tories will struggle to gain an overall majority without those 20 seats. All of which helps explain why Labour spinners were being so nice about Clegg post-debate.

1. Party leaders: share of Twitter mentions - 14 April
David Cameron 34%
Gordon Brown 47%
Nick Clegg 19%

2. Party leaders: share of Twitter mentions - 15 -16 April
Nick Clegg 38%
Gordon Brown 32%
David Cameron 30%

3. Parties: share of Twitter mentions - 14 April
Conservatives 42%
Labour 33%
Lib Dems 25%

4. Parties: share of Twitter mentions - 15-16 April
Conservatives 42%
Labour 37%
Lib Dems 21%

Note: These numbers are based on how frequently parties and people were mentioned on Twitter between 14 and 16 April, with a number of adjustments to make sure that only mentions relating to the general election are considered. Mentions can be positive, negative or neutral, and should not be confused with popularity. The NS Digital Dashboard is powered by Resolver Systems.

 

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Jon Bernstein, former deputy editor of New Statesman, is a digital strategist and editor. He tweets @Jon_Bernstein. 

Photo: Getty
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Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.