Necessity is the Mother of Invention

Catherine Riley discusses how social media is giving the Women’s Equality Party a new way into politics.

Nothing focuses the mind like setting up a new political party. When we launched the Women’s Equality (WE) Party back in 2015, we of course knew that we weren’t on a level playing field with the major parties. For the 2015 Election, the Tory party splashed out £15.5m, Labour £12m. Sums that are far beyond us.

But social media gives us a new way in. As is plain to see in political systems all over the world, the internet has given a glimmer of hope to newcomers. It’s certainly not perfect, but the internet offers new parties a chance to co-ordinate, to market themselves, to reach new audiences, and to get their message out, at a fraction of the cost compared to 30 years ago. This is why any new political party relies on social media to get some momentum behind it.

It’s not easy. We’ve been working hard on trying to use the web innovatively – and above all that means drawing on our members to lead the charge. In just nine months, we have gathered more than 45,000 members and supporters, and established 70 branches across the UK.

Back in October, we asked our founding members – the first 1,000 to take receipt of a WE membership card – to lead our social media campaign. It’s the first time a political party has devolved responsibility in this way, and it worked. We had thousands of shares and tweets; the hashtag #WElaunch and our selfie campaign were both a massive success. We live-streamed the launch event from Conway Hall, allowing members right across the country to feel involved. And we posted an edited video on YouTube, whose clever algorithms provided links in the sidebar to other media, further driving engagement and membership numbers.

Since then, we’ve used our own website for other key projects. In mid-November we launched our ‘31 Campaign’ to raise the £31,500 required to pay for candidates’ deposits for this May’s elections in London, Wales and Scotland. We expected to take six weeks to hit the target; we did it in six days. Further, by hosting the campaign on our own website rather than an external crowdfunding site, we ensured all the branding was ours, and as a result we received not just funds but feedback from members and supporters that they felt incredibly engaged and empowered.

And we’re constantly developing new plans. Members can receive bespoke links to targeted policy pages, which can be sent to friends, colleagues and family to explain what WE’re about, and to encourage sign-up. We’ve set up a recruitment leader-board to introduce some friendly competition, and we continue to ask people to ‘tell us your stories’, a participatory element of the website that Articulate Marketing described as “ground-breaking”.

We are now in campaign mode, and will maximise every element of our web presence to gather support, and votes, in the run-in to the London Mayoral, London and Welsh Assemblies and Scottish Parliament elections in May. We are fundraising to support our candidates – many of whom have never before now been interested in politics, but were compelled by WE to take that step.

We operate within a political system that is set up to disadvantage new players. We operate within a voting system that impedes real change. We operate within a media system that gives disproportionate attention to the established parties. But politics is changing, and the newcomers have an advantage: we can be more agile, more dynamic and more in tune with the way so many people now live their lives online.