Were the Tories ever to attempt to ape Momentum, it would be a complete (and hilarious) disaster, says NATHAN AKEHURST
MICHAEL GOVE isn’t the first individual who comes to mind when you think of an inspirational socialist visionary — or indeed a vaguely functioning human of any description.
Yet David Cameron once scathingly deemed Michael Gove “nuts and a bit of a Maoist.” Gove himself said he’d be happy to let a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party run Ofsted, and there is a wonderful snap of him, with hair resembling an escaping badger, on an National Union of Journalists picket line in the 1980s.
So it stands to reason that the People’s Gove has now let slip his belief that the Conservatives should copy Momentum, which is widely credited for delivering chunks of the field and social media campaigns which gave Labour an unprecedented election result and an even better Glastonbury chant.
What would this Tory Momentum (Torment-em? Maymentum? The English Defence League? The possibilities are endless) look like? We have seen two attempts so far.
One involved a rally on Whitehall for supporters of Conservative leadership candidate Andrea Leadsom (the footage is genuinely surreal) and ended in farce.
The other, a scheme called “Road Trip” involved bussing young activists into key seats in exchange for champagne and curry, and ended in a £700,000 fraud fine from the Electoral Commission.
Govementum would need a few things to get off the ground. First, people.
These are currently in short supply and will dwindle further. The average grassroots Conservative activist is not getting any younger (or any less weird). They will need a recruitment drive.
The problem is they will find it harder than Labour to translate voters into activists.
People don’t vote Conservative because they are inspired.
They may do so out of a faint sense of implacable dread or a lingering hatred of either themselves or everything around them or both.
But these emotions don’t inspire you to run between doorsteps in torrential rain shoving leaflets through doors while someone’s rottweiler tries to do to your fingers what your Health Secretary is doing to the NHS.
Let’s assume Conservative campaign headquarters could clone activists in a lab for a second (and assume the electorate would be unfazed by thousands of men with tweed jackets and rolled umbrellas called Bartholomew pounding their streets).
Once the door is opened, they will find the art of persuasion more difficult. “Hi, we’re here to talk about starving your nan and selling your child’s liver” may have its limits as an opening gambit. You can get people to vote for cuts — or almost anything — in abstract, but I’m not sure when I saw the last community grassroots movement campaigning to cut funds to their local hospital or set the bus station on fire.
The thing that Tory-Momentum advocates seem to have grasped most is the importance of a good social media strategy — they’re already talking about beefing up their team.
But once you’re past the usual teething problems of trying to teach your racist uncle what a retweet is, there remains a problem of message again.
What are you supposed to do? Buzzfeed style lists like “the top ten most vulnerable people we’ve evicted this year?” Instagrammed shots of food bank queues? A Snapchat filter of Boris
Johnson’s mullet — actually, that one might work. They could resort to the same old tactic of just making stuff up. “Jeremy Corbyn is a quinoa-munching Taliban spy who farts at the Queen” will get you to a certain point. But it didn’t work at the last election and there are only so many media rounds and column inches you can do before Michael Gove is proven right: people are starting to distrust so-called “experts,” a process not helped when said experts are literally making it up on the spot.
The root of the problem with Gove’s five-year plan is this: a Momentum-style movement is about visibility — about making your presence felt in every community around the country, with the by-product of dispelling negative media stereotypes as you meet the enthusiastic people from your area who are out campaigning.
If you’re a Conservative, visibility is not a good thing and will introduce people to stereotypes rather than dispel them — hence why they tried to keep even their leader in a windowless box for the first half of the general election. They win when they are the status quo, the necessary evil that you vote for because it’s still raining and nothing less dreary and miserable seems even vaguely possible. Their winning formula is usually the polar opposite of Momentum’s.
Of course, chants of “Oh, Jacob Rees-Mogg” may yet grace the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury 2018. Maybe.
But as the Conservatives descend into meltdown over whether Theresa May should stay on as leader, it seems the only thing they have effectively learned from Momentum is how to spend a few months having a pointless faction fight.