Interview: Twitter to victory says Labour candidate

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

Luke Pollard, the Labour party candidate for South West Devon at the next general election, is introducing me to the online world of Twitter.

It is a social network that enables you to post messages while following selected people, who then follow you back in return.

“What you’re effectively doing is pulling off someone’s feed, and so for instance on my Twitter feed I post what I’m doing in my campaign around South West Devon, which local issue I’m campaigning on next, and the roughly 300 people that follow me will get that delivered in their Twitter feed, just like an inbox,” Luke explains.

Labour figures and people involved with his campaign are joined on his Twitter by a certain Stephen Fry.

“He always brightens up my day and posts on his Twitter feed about ten times a day with his latest thoughts, how he’s feeling, and what he’s doing,” says Luke, a 28-year-old with the enthusiasm of a teenage tech junkie.

 “He also follows me back so he gets my updates.

“It’s a wonderful way of whittling down the internet world so you only get what you want in your inbox, and you can pull in feeds from all over the world.”

Luke posts on his Twitter feed about five or six times a day and as a parliamentary candidate regards it as a useful tool.

“As far as a campaign resource it’s useful if I’m out campaigning, because if I see something I can instantly tell people about it and ask their opinion.

“For example when I’m going into meetings with a local politician I can ask people if there are any questions they want to me to put forward.

“I think one of the problems with politics at the moment is that, through no fault of the people involved, it has become sometimes become quite distant.

“Digital media like Facebook, Youtube and Twitter allows you to personalise your communications much more, especially in my situation, going up against a Conservative MP with a 10,000 majority.”

Why does he put so much effort into campaigning in an area that is traditionally a Tory stronghold?

A quick trip around his campaign website reveals many YouTube videos of the distinctly photogenic candidate taking up local issues all round the constituency.

He spends nearly every weekend there, despite having a fulltime public affairs job in London.  

“I’d like to think of it as a surprise Labour gain on the night,” he laughs, “South West Devon is where I grew up, it’s my home.

“I’m lucky in the fact that I can campaign in my own community on issues I remember growing up with, in areas and with people I know about.

“I think it’s essential because it gives you a real bond with the people there and helps you understand what’s on their mind and know how to represent them more.”

Barack Obama election as the 44th President of the United States was an internet election, and his use of the net to raise funds and marshal supporters has not been lost on Luke. 

He believes there are lessons that UK political parties can learn from the new leader of the free world.

“Put simply the Obama campaign changed the way that political campaigns are run from now on.

“What Obama did was to motivate people and give them a reason to go out and vote for him just by appealing to them and to the core issues they are talking about.

“If a politician is talking the same language as the electorate they are naturally going to do well.

“The Obama Everywhere campaign was fantastic, because effectively the same content was delivered to people in different ways.

“That’s how the online world works now and all the main UK political parties have taken elements of that.

“Obama brought people together to campaign in their community. He gave people power to speak to their neighbours and say, ‘Let’s have an Obama party,’ or, ‘Have you seen what he’s done here?'”

With regards to the UK, he is not taken in by the talk about an early election.

“My money would be on 2010 but we do have elections before then.

“In my constituency in June this year we have Devon County Council elections and there are European elections, which happen in every part of the UK.

“But personally I would prefer 2010 for a general election because it would give me more time to carry on campaigning, which is really good fun and something I don’t want to end.”

He agrees that it is campaigning that motivates him.

“I campaign in my constituency every weekend; we also do phone canvassing and letter writing. The more time I have to do these little bits, hopefully the more it will pay off.

“The best thing I can do is fight and keep on fighting.

“Gary Streeter (the sitting Tory MP) tells me he’s not worried about losing his seat and perhaps with a 10,000 majority he shouldn’t be.

“When you’ve got any Government, or any council, or any MP with a strong majority as Gary certainly has, how are they being held to account for what they’re doing?

“I’m sure that some of the decisions they’re taking are the right ones and I’m sure that some of them aren’t, and if we’re not campaigning to hold them to account then they are getting away with these.”

From his website it is clear that the environment is close to his heart.

“I am a bit of a greenie,” he admits.

“And one thing I’m quite keen to do is to make sure the campaign is as green as possible.

“When the election kicks off there will be monitoring of all of our campaign output, not only election spend, but also for carbon spend. I think it’s important that politicians should lead by example.”

As the interview draws to a close I ask Luke, who is gay and single, how he finds time for a life outside of work with all his political commitments.

“Good question,” he muses.

“If you spend all your time in Westminster village, then you only get a Westminster village perspective on things,” he says finally.

“Sometimes I cringe when I see politicians desperately trying to explain they are a normal person. You have to be able to ground yourself.

“I like going clubbing, playing football, hockey and going down the pub with my mates, just like everyone else.”

Click here to find out more about Twitter.