UK’s Labour Is Winning the Meme War, but Young Voters Think It’s All Incredibly Embarrassing

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Almost immediately after the UK general election was called on May 22, the meme war began. Social media campaigns from both the Labour and Conservative parties shared hundreds of memes, from Labour’s viral TikTok using English singer and TV presenter Cilla Black’s “Surprise! Surprise!” to mock the Conservative Party’s plans for mandatory national service at the age of 18, to the Tories’ TikTok video showing only blank slides titled “Here are all of Labour’s policies.” Reform UK, the Liberal Democrats, and the Green Party have contributed their own share of memes in the lead-up; meanwhile, the two leading parties in the polls have been engaged in a “trolling” back and forth on platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and X.

“The shitposters have gone mainstream,” says political strategist Jack Spriggs from Cavendish Consulting, who specializes in TikTok’s influence on politics.

But reactions to the meme war have been a mixed bag, particularly among the Gen Z electorate, ranging from amused to disgusted. “Although conversation provoking, it reads as infantilizing,” says 20-year-old voter Maya Hollick from London. “They’re trivializing a very serious event.”

The Labour Party launched its TikTok account as soon as the election date of July 4 was announced, and has gained more than 200,000 followers since then, with hundreds more videos than any other party. Many of its posts have more than a million views, but its reach spans even further. “The most important power of TikTok isn’t how much it stays on the platform, but how much it travels,” says Hannah O’Rourke, cofounder of Campaign Lab, an organization that researches campaign innovation.

“A meme is Labour’s way of getting somebody to look into party policy,” O’Rourke says, referencing Labour’s viral Cilla Black TikTok.

WIRED spoke to students from the University of Bristol, with Bristol Central being a constituency where Labour and the Green Party, which also appeals to young voters, are frontrunners. (It is also the university where this writer studies.) Certain voters like Ed Sherwin, a 20-year-old student, say they don’t find memes useful: “I don’t really use TikTok but I did see the video,” he says, referencing the Cilla Black meme. “However, it didn’t make me go and look at the national service policies. I did that when I saw it on the news.” Sherwin labeled the memes “kind of pathetic and insensitive considering the state of the country.”

Charlie Siret, a member of Extinction Rebellion Youth Bristol, one youth branch of the climate-focused pressure group XR, says that they personally think Labour’s memes “are transparent and embarrassing” and “show a complete lack of self-awareness,” while Conservative memes are “a half-hearted attempt to appeal to a generation that largely despises them.”

Some also critiqued the simplification of political issues that happens in the meme format. “The use of memes infers that young people need a simplified version of politics—we are more intelligent than they give credit for,” says Grace Shropshire, 21. “Their marketing is quick, loud, and short.” Marketing student Alisha Agarwal says she “likes Labour, but not the oversimplified way they’re marketing their campaign.”



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