POLITICS

Revealed: How Unite The Union's Election Campaign Powered The 'Corbyn Surge'

Persuaded 'undecideds' and UKIP supporters to back Labour

21/07/2017 07:26 BST | Updated 21/07/2017 14:55 BST
EMPICS Entertainment

Britain’s biggest trade union helped power the “Corbyn surge” in the general election by targeting more than a million of its members to get out and vote, a leaked report has revealed.

Unite the union ran a sophisticated social media, smartphone and email campaign that outshone even Labour’s own impressive tactics, the new study suggests.

The ‘Political Report’ to the union’s executive council, which has been obtained by HuffPost UK, shows that undecided voters were swayed into backing Corbyn after relentless targeting on key campaign themes such as the NHS and austerity and ending the public sector pay cap.

As a result, coupled with Corbyn’s radical manifesto, support for Labour among Unite’s membership soared from previously low levels to a record 60% across the UK.

Unite
One of the ad vans deployed by the union.

And in Scotland, the left-wing union’s membership backed Labour ahead of the SNP for the first time in years.

“Our survey showed that there has been an increase in Labour’s vote among Unite members - particularly in Scotland. For the first time in recent years, Labour is ahead of the SNP amongst our members,” the report says.

“It also showed that there has been a big increase in Labour support in city areas and a big swing from previous Greens, Lib Dems, non-voters as well as some UKIP voters.”

PA Wire/PA Images
Jeremy Corbyn on polling day.

Contrary to some claims that Unite and other unions focused on defending a handful of key seats, the report shows that it in fact targeted its entire 1.2m members across the country.

In a departure from previous tactics, every single Parliamentary seat with Unite members was targeted with techniques “more sophisticated than Labour’s”, according to one source.

The union used the NationBuilder software to link into its database of emails and phone numbers of members to build individual voter profiles of hundreds of thousands of people.

Unite
The leaked Unite report.

Their primary voting intention, secondary voting intention and policy priorities were all logged alongside previous data. Once individuals confirmed they would back Labour, they were texted and emailed until they cast their ballots on polling day.#

“It had a significant effect on voting intention and on turnout,” one insider told HuffPost UK.

Crucial to helping Corbyn’s increased vote was “issue-based” social media adverts which built on union members’ priorities such as health or workers’ rights and then targeted them.

Although some in Labour HQ attempted a similar approach, it was not widely used. In contrast, Unite managed to profile hundreds of thousands of voters.

Thousands of different types of ads and electronic messages were deployed, each tailored to the individual, using advanced data techniques.

For example, Green voters who leaned Labour and had the EU as their priority issue received messages saying that a vote for the Greens could let the Tories in and lead to a hard Brexit.

“Personal emails and texts from Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth would be sent to those who put the NHS as their main policy issue, followed up by targeted Facebook and Instagram adverts,” the report says.

John McDonnell sent messages to those concerned about economy, Angela Rayner to those concerned about immigration and a wide range of shadow ministers was used.

A detailed survey of members – most of whom are working class voters - during the election found that the NHS was the number one issue, with 26% saying it was their priority.

PA Archive/PA Images
Unite used social media to target individual voters' priorities.

This was followed by ‘leaving the EU’ on 20%, the economy 14%, public service cuts 9% and immigration on just 7%.

Members of the union vote for all the main parties and many were ‘undecideds’ or torn between Labour and UKIP.

Personal emails and texts from Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth would be sent to those who put the NHS as their main policy issue, followed up by targeted Facebook and Instagram adverts.

“We contacted members in a number of ways, including direct to their workplace, and through micro-targeted Facebook ads – a first for Unite,” the report states.

“In total, we contacted over 600,000 Unite members by email and text message and reached thousands of Unite members through targeted Facebook advertising.

“We have identified over 60,000 Facebook accounts associated with Unite members and 56,000 Twitter accounts.

HStocks via Getty Images
Facebook and Instagram were key features of targeting members.

“Over 3,000 people have shared content from the campaign on social media, and there have been over 150,000 responses to the email and text surveys that have been run. We also surveyed our members on their voting motivations; which was one of the biggest political surveys of this kind ran by a trade union.”

Unite also backed a number of individual Parliamentary candidates and a number of them won, including Marsha de Cordova and Laura Pidcock. 

“The Unite group will have more members amongst the PLP than any other union,” the report says.

More than 200,000 members responded to text messages from the general secretary Len McCluskey, including reminders on how to get to the nearest polling station on June 8.

The union was the biggest financial backer of Labour in the election too, putting funds into key seats as well as spending on social media and direct mail.