Lessons for Progressives from the EU Elections

The dust starts to settle in some count centres, while in others the plucky remaining few scratch around for final seats. At home in Ireland, we sigh with relief that the far right wave was more of a ripple. But here and throughout Europe, it’s clear this was not a good election for progressives. As we lick our wounds, we need to learn some lessons, and get back on our feet fast.

I’m a social media strategist, so I look at campaigns through that lens. But I’m also a progressive, hungry for positive societal change. And I’m a voter, frustrated by politics moving in the opposite direction. So from these angles, I offer three suggestions to progressive campaigners, all stemming from one core failure I perceive in this election: fear.

•⁠  Stop being afraid of the electorate.
Top-down presidential-style campaigns only work when your president or party brand is strong. The far right position themselves of and with the people, anti-elite. We shouldn’t gift them this space. Social spaces allow us to amplify the voice of the voter, to initiate conversations, engage in dialogues. We need to listen. The electorate will often tell us what they need to hear from us.

•⁠ Stop being afraid of the tough questions.
If we believe in our policy positions, we should be able to defend them clearly and firmly. The age of the soundbite is exacerbated by the goldfish attention spans of social media users. But dodging the detail makes us seem detached and dishonest. It is a challenge to us as comms professionals to distil complex responses into quick and digestible morsels – but we have to keep doing it, every day.

•⁠  ⁠Stop being afraid of social platforms.
We need to leverage every tool on every social channel to amplify our voices. That means not just being present on TikTok, Facebook or Insta, but doing them well. Clear out the trolls from under our bridges, and create welcoming spaces for civic engagement. Game the algorithms using every trick in the influencers’ spellbooks. Use social networking from the grassroots up, not the top down or centre outwards, to build meaningful connections – treating social like organising or canvassing, not only broadcast.

This is hard stuff. It takes time, staffing, money, ingenuity, creativity and resilience. But the far right are doing it. If they can do it, why can’t we?

Picture taken from ODV Digital's last trip to the European Parliament in Brussels
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