Skip to content

How social media delivered the Syria defeat

September 5, 2013

By 

On the eve of the Syria vote, a YouGov poll showed that the public were two to one against action. This put backbenchers in a far stronger position to resist the edicts of party managers Photo: REUTERS

On the eve of the Syria vote, a YouGov poll showed that the public were two to one against action. This put backbenchers in a far stronger position to resist the edicts of party managers Photo: REUTERS

Whatever the international fallout from the Syrian crisis, it has changed forever the terms of trade between the public and their leaders. The Coalition’s defeat over plans for military action has underlined as never before the voters’ distrust of the elite; it is changing the balance of power in Parliament, showing the extent to which ordinary people can use social media to bring their will to bear on MPs, prime ministers and presidents. The implications are huge, yet politicians are only just beginning to comprehend the change.

Downing Street seemed quite unprepared for what happened. Via email and Twitter, the public made it abundantly clear that they did not trust their leaders to launch a military strike, and this was reflected in the way some backbenchers voted. Clearly the adventures of Tony Blair and George W Bush in Iraq and Afghanistan played an important part in sapping public confidence, but there is something bigger and more permanent going on here.

As Sir Nigel Sheinwald, our former ambassador to the US, told me: “Globalisation makes governments look small because they are incapable of controlling huge global processes. And the vast amounts of online information mean that people are sceptical of what governments tell them and check up on it instantly. Social media allows campaigns to be mounted at the drop of a hat. Traditional means of political organisation and mobilisation of opinion have been overtaken.”

When voters are as well informed as MPs, we are heading to a world where political leaders will have to put far more effort into justifying their policies. Yet Downing Street was embarrassingly short of persuasive argument on military action in Syria. As one Tory backbencher said: “Even the so-called intelligence they showed us was just a couple of photocopied sheets of paper that wouldn’t have convinced anyone.”

Online campaigns mean that MPs can defy the whips with greater impunity than ever before, explaining that they can’t support the party line because their constituents are against it. Nor can the twitterati be dismissed as a bunch of cranks: the strength of online feeling can be verified by polling. On the eve of the Syria vote, a YouGov poll showed that the public were two to one against action. This put backbenchers in a far stronger position to resist the edicts of party managers. Published in The Telegraph.

Advertisements

From → Commentary

One Comment
  1. streetchampion permalink

    Interesting article and as someone who believes in the democratising power of social media, I want to believe this – but the article contains too many sweeping statements backed up by little or no evidence. I think Sue Cameron over-eggs the whole thing

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s