U.K. Tories Lead Facebook Ad Spend as Potential Election Looms

The U.K.’s Conservative Party is significantly outspending its rivals on political advertisements on Facebook, a sign Prime Minister Boris Johnson may be gearing up for an early general election.

Over the last month — the period which covers Johnson succeeding Theresa May as premier — the Tories have spent almost three times as much as the main opposition Labour Party, according to data from the Facebook Ad Library.

The advertisements have highlighted Johnson’s domestic policy announcements, such as a promise to recruit 20,000 police officers, and emphasized his pro-Brexit credentials as he seeks to draw a contrast with opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Johnson’s Tories spent 51,719 pounds over the month, according to Facebook data, while Labour spent 18,065 pounds and Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party 11,957 pounds. The Liberal Democrats, who also elected a new leader in the period, spent 2,284 pounds.

Many of the ads encourage viewers to click through and share personal information such as their name, email and postcode — valuable data for targeting messages at voters during an election campaign.

Speculation about an election in the fall has grown as opposition U.K. lawmakers threaten a no-confidence vote in Johnson’s government to prevent a no-deal Brexit. If Johnson were to lose such a vote, and no grouping in Parliament could form a stable government, there would be an election.

The flurry of Conservative activity on Facebook is not only useful for collecting information but is also a bid to re-shape perceptions of the party and show Johnson has an agenda beyond Brexit, according to Simon Usherwood, professor of politics at the University of Surrey.

“It’s about owning a narrative of what this government is,” Usherwood said by phone. “Meanwhile, if it comes to a general election, they’re prepped and ready to go.”

Digital campaigning is now a vital mainstream part of political election strategy for all major parties. Social media advertising helped the Tories win an unexpected general election majority in 2015 and contributed to Corbyn’s success two years later.

Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s senior adviser who ran the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union, strongly credits digital advertising with delivering the Brexit vote. One of the advertisements says “MPs can’t just pick and choose which votes to respect,” a phrase Cummings echoed when interviewed on his doorstep this week.

To contact the reporter on this story: Joe Mayes in London at [email protected]

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rebecca Penty at [email protected], Thomas Penny, Tony Halpin

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