Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
Word up kids! Have you been looking for a hella wicked youth movement that’s totally centre-right? Well dudes, Activate, the Tories’ effort to copy Momentum by producing memes (or, as they have it, #memes) has just launched. Cowabunga.
Yes, the Tories – having received such a pasting on social media at the general election at the hands of Momentum and its shoestring-budget viral videos – are trying to beat the Labour-supporting movement at its own game. The plan, much-discussed since the election, is to harness the power of young people and digital campaigning to the Conservative cause, and try to fill the gap left by the demise of the Tories’ official youth wing Conservative Future in 2015.
Activate launched with a list of personnel on its website, but the page disappeared earlier today. There are rumours that they took it down when it was pointed out that their committee has more people called ‘Lewis’ than women. Luckily we kept a copy for them – remember, internet friends, always backup your data!
Let’s start with Activate’s ‘chairman’, Gary Markwell. As his bio said before it vanished, he is both a Tory county councillor in West Sussex, and has worked for the party as a campaign manager for a decade. In other words, he is neither young, nor grassroots. But he did tell the Daily Star (for some reason) that he gave his daughter the middle name ‘Thatcher’.
Fizarn Adris, membership director, has sadly locked his Twitter account but seems to be a prolific commenter on news sites, with Google turning up such opinions as ‘we welcome President Trumps commitment to NATO! Other countries should pay their fair share and stop depending on others!’ and, on an article about teenage girls being barred from a flight for wearing leggings, ‘Should have wore something according to the dress code and not dressed up like some tranny’s’.
Three of Activate’s small committee, campaign director Luke Ibbotson, policy director Marcus Boyle and East England rep Gergely Horvath, are currently studying at Cambridge University, leaving them with at least one campus where they have some support, but unfortunately one member short of a University Challenge team.
Momentum works because it is a grassroots movement. It was founded not by a few people in some bunker who decided it was a good idea one day, but – I hope they won’t mind me saying – messily and spontaneously, and with responses from Labour’s hierarchy ranging from skepticism to anger.
When Jeremy Corbyn unexpectedly won the Labour leadership in 2015, all sorts of grassroots groups formed as part of the campaign – not driven from the top, but set up by local supporters off their own bat, or people who wanted to volunteer their help with a specific skill. Many of these informal ‘X For Corbyn’ networks wanted to continue after Corbyn’s victory, and Momentum was the umbrella that ended up encompassing most of them (though not quite all). The organisation built its independent profile, structures and campaigning work up from that strong initial base.
What comparable moment has there been in Tory politics? What wave of enthusiasm is Activate trying to ride? There is none.
There’s nothing inherently left wing about social media – Trump supporters and other far-right activists have been able to find a following online, for example. But Activate’s output so far is just embarrassingly clueless about everything from memes (the Guardian – not known for its knowledge of online culture – called them out for using ‘a meme that was last popular in the early 2000s’) to some more subtle aspects of online campaigning.
The awkward .uk.net web addresses, for example, is usually sold to people with more money than sense, and in changing their Twitter handle from the double-underscored @activate_uk_net to @ActivateBritain, they left the old one open for a parodist to snap up. It’s been noticeable since its launch that almost all the responses to Activate on Twitter are mockery from the left.
Activate is a basically defensive group at its birth, born from despair that the Tories are outgunned online and so need to figure out how to ‘do the internet’, but without enough support from actual young people to make a decent attempt, ending up more reminiscent of corporate PR drones’ attempts to come up with hashtags.
So while it emerges more fully-formed than Momentum in some ways – as well as its committee, it already has a website featuring a relatively elaborate constitution, code of ethics, and various other formal organisational bits such as paid membership – but without a real base of support. It has no grassroots – only astroturf.
Or, to put it in Activate’s terms: it’s a trap!
We work ourselves into the ground for little economic benefit. It's high time to for a change, writes Aidan Harper.
Deregulation and tax loopholes are justified by saying that they 'protect growth'. But really, they just protect the wealthy, writes James Fox
Inequality is often treated as a law of nature - but really, it's the result of conscious political choices. It's time to choose equality, writes the IPPR's Carys Roberts.
Tom Palmer, aka Agent Kingfisher, was the 'messiah' of London's squatting scene until his death last year. But who was responsible for his fate? MI5, late capitalism or simply a drug overdose? Matt Broomfield investigates.
'Docs Not Cops' write that we must resist attempts to make our NHS any less universal
Louis Mendee explains the real human costs of climate change for the global south.
From climate change to automation to demographic shifts, Mathew Lawrence explains the challenges our economy will face in the coming decade.
Fifty years after the Abortion Act, women are still dying from being denied basic services, write activists from Feminist Fightback
We need to tackle the patronising ideology that lets Tory think-tanks sneer at social tenants, writes Emma Dent Coad
Acid Corbynism allows people to imagine a future beyond the paltry offerings of capitalism, writes Keir Milburn
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism
Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists
Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson
As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win
The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution
Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright