Jeremy Corbyn on a bus. Getty
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Jeremy Corbyn wants to bypass the mainstream media. So why are Labour's memes so bad?

If you’re going to make social media the central plank of your communications strategy then at least try to be good at it.

A lot of attention has been focused on Jeremy Corbyn’s competence – or otherwise – as Labour leader. That’s fair enough, but it would be wrong to pin all of Labour’s woes on a single individual. There are other problems lurking in the party, and none loom larger than its abysmal communications. 

April 1st saw Jeremy Corbyn’s Twitter account issue a prime example – a policy proposal pitched so poorly that I first thought it was an April Fool’s joke.  “Labour’s bus policy will mean greener, more accessible and modern buses - which operate as part of an integrated system,” the tweet read. Underneath it was the following attempt at a meme:

Where do you even start? Ignore what you think about the policy, just marvel at the sheer terribleness of its presentation. It looks like something from a Soviet-era transport-worker’s training manual.  The pink colours are washed out and hideous. Why does the bold text finish halfway through a sentence? Did the Tories cut fonts? Why could you not add a nice picture of a modern bus instead of a reject from a 1980s clip-art collection? Is this miserable bus with its flat tyres, missing left wing-mirror and empty sockets where the headlights should be, supposed to inspire us?

Then there’s the text. Dear god, the text. Why is it not written in plain English? What does 'joint and through ticketing schemes' mean to anyone who doesn't work in middle management at a bus company? How are phrases like ‘mandatory equality training’ supposed to play with voters? What is this 'national strategy' you speak of but never explain? Why are there so many awkward, tedious, wonkish phrases? Why don’t you hire an editor?

That it reads like a policy nerd’s civil service fan-fiction is bad enough, but it’s grammatically incompetent too. Why is everything crammed into one long sentence? Why does that sentence describe a ‘commitment to… a commitment’? What is going on with the hyphen in Jeremy’s tweet? Could you not decide whether to end the sentence or not? And why does the ad lack the most important part of any advert: a call to action? 

Why not just say something simple, like:

"LABOUR’S BUS PROMISE 

More Wi-Fi. Simpler ticketing. Less Pollution. 

Learn more at labour.org.uk/transport."

That version is clear, easily read and understood by the average punter. It focuses on the things people actually care about. It gives a clear action for the reader to take: come to our website and find out more about our wonderful transport manifesto. See? It’s not hard. I’m not even a PR guy. 

Then there’s the timing. Can you conceive of a worse moment for Labour to launch a national bus policy than April Fool's Day on a Saturday morning in the middle of the Article 50 news cycle? We’re leaving the EU, Spain is making moves on Gibraltar, the Tories are presiding over the potential break-up of the Union, and this is the moment you choose to try to pivot the national conversation to public transport? 

No professional PR person worth his or her salary would post something this bad on the Internet. They would be embarrassed and ashamed to have their name associated with it. And yet here it is, proudly displayed by the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition. How many people signed off in this? What organizational failure led to work this terrible being allowed to represent the Labour Party?

If this were a one-off it might be excusable, but it isn’t. Time and time again, the party leadership puts out material that is poorly written and shoddily presented. A video on Labour’s ‘six tests’ for a Brexit deal contains catchy lines like: “Does it ensure the fair management of migration in the interests of the economy and communities.”

A meme about the NHS has text next to a badly-Photoshopped wrinkle-free Jezza that begins: “I have a simple message to the Theresa May (sic) and the Chancellor Philip Hammond, ‘give the NHS and social care the funding it (sic) needs in next week’s Budget’. Your grammatically inept message to a specific Theresa May would be even simpler if you just said it, instead of explaining that you’re about to say something and only then getting to the point.

Then there’s this punchy text about gender inequality in the Spring Budget. The key message here is that 86% of cuts fall on women. Labour highlights this by making it the last thing in the text and putting it under a dull, generic title on the same awful pink background.  As if that weren’t bad enough, Jeremy (or whichever intern writes his tweets for him) takes the opportunity to introduce a dismal new hashtag to the world: #BeBoldForChange. Ironic for people who ran out of bold mid-sentence. 

It’s easy to blame Corbyn for Labour’s problems, but between the tone-deaf writing, utter lack of style, and a growing reputation for indifferent and tardy responses to journalists, Labour’s communications staff have to take some of the responsibility for the party’s dismal poll ratings. Supporters can blame the media as much as they like, but at some point the party’s leadership has to take responsibility for the shoddy material they’re putting out to the world. 

If you want to bypass mainstream media and reach people on the Internet instead, then fine. But if you’re going to make social media the central plank of your communications strategy then for God’s sake at least try to be good at it. Find people who can write decent copy. Invest in some better clip-art, or go take a photo of an actual bus to use.  Hire somebody who knows how to use Twitter properly.  It won’t fix everything, but it would at least be a start. 

Martin Robbins is a Berkshire-based researcher and science writer. He writes about science, pseudoscience and evidence-based politics. Follow him on Twitter as @mjrobbins.

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Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear