Why Jeremy Corbyn's surge wasn't a surprise to me or other Northampton students

Labour's savvy use of social media engaged students who don't read national newspapers - and convinced them to actually vote
Labour's savvy use of social media engaged students who don't read national newspapers - and convinced them to actually vote

At 10pm on Thursday evening, I was as shocked as everyone else. Watching the TV coverage of the General Election, I, like many, could barely believe what I was hearing.

But I wasn’t reeling from the exit poll. I was surprised at the melodrama with which this apparent revelation was being greeted by TV pundits.

Let’s be honest, the biggest selling national newspapers have tried hard to sway people with their personal attacks. But it was as clear as day this time that all they were doing was convincing themselves.

So to me and my fellow student friends it came as no surprise whatsoever that the Labour party polled so highly. In fact it seemed slightly comical that the political pundits seemed so taken in by the national newspaper narrative.

Of course, we aren’t the targets of the likes of the Daily Mail or the Sun so our immunity to their negative messages is not exactly breaking news. But their immature jibes and blanket vileness towards Jeremy Corbyn did not just miss the mark but actually had a side effect. We ended up asking why they were desperate to put him down. What were they scared of?

In fact they could not have used better tactics or arguments to dissuade my generation from their world view.

The national media in the main became simply too biased or extreme to be worth listening to for many people I know.

Having said that, I feel that explanation still doesn’t give the Labour strategy enough credit. In other elections, right wing and left wing noise and all the bickering may have simply confused things and turned us off. Young people like me may have got fed-up and not voted at all. That sort of thing feels like it has nothing to do with us or our lives.

This time, though, there was something to fill the vacuum: social media.

Yes, Jeremy Corbyn’s policies were popular among my friends and tution fees was the much-cited example of what, in truth, was a raft of ideas that seemed to us to be just a lot fairer for people like us. But it was the way he communicated that made it feel like he got us.

From day one, Jeremy Corbyn’s first port of call was to highlight the importance of making sure students registered to vote.

And he didn't just advocate it from an office in Islington, he sat down with some of the UK’s biggest grime artists, such as JME who reiterated this importance both in his interview with Mr Corbyn and through the use of Twitter. Which politician has ever done that?

The grime MC then tweeted on multiple occasions about how to register to vote and about his support for the Labour party. For the second time in my life, I went down to the polling station in Kingsthorpe and made sure that I voted.

By that time, my timeline was full of friends retweeting Corbyn’s tweets, their opinions on him and his policies - even videos of youngsters showing their support at his appearances. And many of these things had a sense of humour behind them. In light of everything that was going on, this humour was something we could use as a way of showing support to the Labour party.

Although it’s hard to be sure, I’ve read figures that suggest up to 66.4 per cent young people turned out for General Election 2017. For me, that just goes to show how Mr Corbyn’s ability to interact with such an audience wasn’t just through his positive policies, but also the outstanding presence he had created online in order to put across his true self.

By the time the exit poll broke on Thursday night, I felt like the media bubble had to be the only group staggered by it. We students had known it for weeks.

What does this mean for the national media? Perhaps, they would say, not much.

After all, the Daily Mail and the Sun are obviously very popular with a certain demographic and this election will have done nothing to disrupt their bottom lines. They certainly won't have gained many younger readers, but won’t lose many older ones either. You can almost imagine Paul Dacre shrugging. However, I would question how powerful the editors and their papers are now, especially, when it comes to a future General Elections.

The direct contact with individuals that Twitter affords means we can now judge for ourselves without the filters and echo chambers that newspaper pages often provide. This is what this election campaign has revealed. When young people weren't voting, perhaps it was true that papers pitched at older readers won elections. It feels like that has changed forever.

The lesson is a big one, and a bit of a game changer for any politician or strategist who wants to engage people like me. National newspapers have always treated the election like a game, believing their editor's or owners' views would brainwash readers and secure their chosen victor.

Yes, Jeremy Corbyn and Labour didn’t win it this time. But in most people’s view neither did the press. Next time it will be even closer. We aren’t playing their game any more.