Piece by piece, the British Election Study is revealing the explanations behind our earthquake election, from the profile and churn of voters since 2015 to the issues that most concerned them. These most authoritative findings will be pored over by every party strategist and shape the way they respond to, or spin, policies such as Brexit.
Of arguably equal importance is the information war – the perennial battle to prioritise and emphasise particular issues and perspectives. To shape the political conversation in households, workplaces, pubs on a daily basis, rather than just a short-term election campaign. On this score, the 2017 election may mark a radical turning point in UK political history.
It is impossible to accurately measure the effect of media coverage, not least because few of us would acknowledge being susceptible to propaganda. Politicians, however, have long been painfully aware of press and TV influence, and the need to manage the news cycle. Labour in particular have seen one leader after another destroyed by Tory-supporting tabloids. Fear of it runs deep in their psyche and partly explains why so many MPs were adamant Jeremy Corbyn would lead them to disaster.
However despite the most relentlessly hostile coverage ever endured by a party leader, Corbyn thrived. Whereas past enemies of The Sun were branded early – remember ‘Red Ed’, the lightweight puppet of the unions, who stabbed his brother in the back? – and never recovered, this Labour leader’s approval ratings soared during the campaign.
That must partly be due to his TV performances but vast numbers of people weren’t watching the debates or political shows, let alone reading newspapers. Corbyn’s unlikely Labour leadership bid started on and was fueled by social media – in direct opposition to a hostile mainstream. His supporters are way ahead of the rest on these platforms, as his opponents just discovered to shocking effect.