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Paul Masterman: Corbyn-mania is the young seeking authenticity

Paul Masterman
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The 47-year-old documentarist Louis Theroux is now, apparently, a thing with the under-35s.

If you’re young and hip you can now buy Louis streetwear and “sleep tight Theroux the night” pillowcases.

Ageing politicians, from our own Jeremy Corbyn to France’s hard-left firebrand, Jean-Luc Melenchon, are building youth cults that may get them elected.

Millennials have fallen in love with the middle aged as the new arbiters of cool. At the same time, they are buying vinyl again and live music is on the up.

Coolness comes to those who come across as real – dare I say ‘authentic’ – and look disconnected from the hamster wheel of endless hashtags and ever more viral content.

Yet we local government communicators love a bit of social media, swapping gifs, videos and Twitter threads like school kids obsessing over Panini stickers. In our part of the public sector this is the new engagement.

This makes some sense of course. If you want to be where your residents are looking, sharing and communicating then you have to be on their smartphones and with something tasty to share and compelling content they can snack on.

Can we really be sure, though, that those hundreds of people we have apparently reached and feel more informed, involved with or happier about their local council? The jury is not only out but will take a long time to reach a verdict.

A recent survey of social media in local government showed that on Instagram, for example, even the best councils were ‘reaching’ less than 2% of their residents. On Facebook, the City of Wolverhampton came out best with a reach of only 18% of local people.

More and more clever people are questioning the wisdom of blindly putting all our hopes, dreams and intimate data into the hands of modern Wizards of Oz such as Zuckerberg, Brin and Bezos.

As Guardian writer John Harris said recently, the internet has moved from being seen as a liberating force for good to something buried in a mess of alerts, likes, messages and retweets.

More darkly, a former Facebook executive warns us: “The shorter term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works.”

Social media gives us an illusion of connection yet is in reality is lots of people sitting on their own in a room or on a bus and merely tweeting into the sky.

The health and survival of local government stands or falls on the old-fashioned virtues of community, collaboration, cohesion and on people rolling up their sleeves and getting stuff done in real life (or IRL as we are now supposed to call it).

Perhaps council communicators need to harness the power of the algorithm but with their eyes open.

All hail the revival of the public meeting, the ward surgery, the hard-working local committees, the campaigning rally and the community action groups.

Let’s make local government cool again.

Paul Masterman, independent consultant

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Readers' comments (1)

  • I think the appeal of the older is less to do with coolness or authenticity than with the fact that neoliberalism has tainted those 'leaders' in their 40s

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