The UK Labour Party is winning the meme war, but young voters think it’s all pretty embarrassing

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The meme war began shortly after the U.K. general election was announced on May 22. Both the Labour and Conservative parties’ social media campaigns shared hundreds of memes, ranging from Labour’s viral TikTok that used English singer and TV presenter Cilla Black’s “Surprise! Surprise!” to mock the Conservative Party’s plans for mandatory national service at age 18, to the Tories’ TikTok video showing only a blank slide with the caption “Here are all of Labour’s policies.” Reform UK, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party have shared their own memes in the lead-up; meanwhile, the two leading parties in the election have engaged in “trolling” each other on platforms such as TikTok, Instagram and X.

“Shitposters have gone mainstream,” says Jack Spriggs, a political strategist at Cavendish Consulting who specializes in TikTok’s impact on politics.

But public reaction to the meme war has been mixed, particularly among Gen Z voters, ranging from delight to disgust. “Although the conversation is provocative, it feels childish,” says Maya Hollick, a 20-year-old voter from London. “They’re trivializing a very serious event.”

The Labour Party launched its TikTok account as soon as the election date was announced on 4 July and has since gained more than 200,000 followers, and hundreds more videos than any other party. Many of its posts have been viewed more than a million times, but its reach is even greater. “The biggest power of TikTok is not how long it stays on the platform, but how far it goes,” says Hannah O’Rourke, co-founder of Campaign Lab, an organisation that researches campaign innovation.

“Memes are Labour’s way of telling someone about party policy,” O’Rourke said, referring to Labour’s viral Cilla Black TikTok.

WIRED spoke to students at the University of Bristol, Bristol Central, a constituency where Labour and the Green Party, which also attract young voters, are front-runners. (It’s the same university this writer studies at.) Some voters, like 20-year-old student Ed Sherwin, say they don’t find the memes useful: “I don’t really use TikTok, but I did see the video,” he says, referring to the Cilla Black meme. “However, it didn’t inspire me to look into national service policies. I did that when I saw it on the news.” Sherwin labelled the memes “pathetic and insensitive given the state of the country”.

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

Some have also criticised the simplification of political issues in the meme format. “The use of memes shows that young people need a simplified version of politics – they’re smarter than we think they are,” says Grace Shropshire, 21. “Their marketing is quick, punchy and concise.” Marketing student Alisha Agrawal says she “likes Labour but doesn’t like the overly simplistic way their campaign is marketed.”

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