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Social Media: Politicians' One-Stop Shop For A Cult Of Personality

10/10/2017 11:12 BST | Updated 10/10/2017 11:12 BST
Anatoliy Babiy via Getty Images

Say anything enough times and it'll be true - social media is perhaps the closest we'll ever get to proving that saying right.

This has undoubtedly been a powerful tool in political communications over recent elections. A friend who campaigns for the Tory party to this day revels in the success of the 2015 election campaign images of Miliband in Sturgeon's pocket and how successful it was in nudging swing voters over the line to vote Tory.

But it's not just traditional political PR that has translated to social media. In recent years, we've seen a new phenomenon where social media has been used as a platform for a cult of personality

Thanks to thousands of young girls banding together for the underdog, the rise of Milifandom during the 2015 election was one of the few PR successes on the side of Labour during the entire election campaign (please don't get me started on the Labour's EdStone of election pledges).

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett stated that Milifandom represented the "meme-ification" of politics,", while still maintaining a valid appreciation - in many cases, at least - for Miliband's politics, with support for his '80 page manifesto'.

Because no great idea in political campaigning can remain unappropriated, it's unsurprising the Tories soon followed with their own attempts - from the Cameronettes to Mayllennials.

However, it is the latest campaign which for the first time appears to be drumming up close to the same combination of affection and political advocacy, in the form of Moggmentum - the social media campaign for Jacob Rees-Moggs.

Unwavering in their support for the backbencher despite his open objection to both abortion (even in the case of rape) and gay marriage, the cult of personality on social media has gathered up enough steam to see an actual political campaign - Are You Ready for Mogg? - launched last weekend, citing 30K subscribers already.

Would this campaign have come about without the rise in social media popularity around Rees-Mogg? I reckon the answer is probably not. The shareability of his home life tales (far from the secret lovers or expenses fraud we've come to expect, but a sixth child named "Sixtus" and admitting to having never changed a nappy), and his confidence in his very conservative / right wing views has led to political commentators questioning whether he is the answer to Labour's Momentum.

There's obviously a hell of a lot of ground that needs to be made up before such a comparison can be justified, but the similarities between the rise of a far right and a far left backbencher to center stage at least in the public eye, not to mention political agenda, can't be missed.

And undoubtedly, Corbynism is the greatest cult of personality of my generation in British politics. The blind unwavering support of some of his supporters - not all I hasten to add, but some - not only helped him win two Labour leadership contests over two years, but, at staggering speed, drove a division down the entire Labour party where many advocated that if you weren't for Jezza, you should get out.

Of course, we can't credit all of the cult of personality around Corbyn to the powerful social media machine. I'm not sure any other politician of this time can whip up a crowd - Glastonbury or otherwise - in quite the same way. And of course there's his "fresh" (revisiting old) brand of politics. But social media and the cult of personality around Jezza has helped Momentum drum up support at both breakneck speed and with unwavering dedication of supporters.

We know the cult of personality is a powerful tool in politics. But never has it been so quick or easy to whip up a frenzy - whether that's for the fresh thinker, the underdog or ... Rees-Moggs.

How this will change our politics long term remains to be seen.

But when just one person with a social media account, a few ideas - and potentially a few memes - can be the creator of such a campaign, the traditional politics of power within political parties is surely threatened.

When a cult of personality for a previously "unheard of" backbencher can create public demand and expectation for that person to be front and centre within the party - far more quickly and easily than the social climbing previously demanded to get to the upper echelons of power - it will be interesting to see how this tactic diversifies.

What will it be next? Liam Fox's "FoxyLadies"? "The Wild Thornberrys" for Emily Thornberry?

God, I hope I'm not giving anyone ideas...