Dennis Skinner, viral YouTube sensation

by Atul Hatwal

The internet is a strange place.

Last year, Uncut ran a regular shadow cabinet goal of the month competition. We picked some choice shadow cabinet moments from the previous month such as clips of parliamentary performances, media interviews and press stories, and asked you to vote on the best.

At the time, the clips – which are on YouTube – initially attracted viewing numbers that typically ranged from the low hundreds to the low thousands with views declining to a trickle in the days after the Uncut piece.

Until a few months ago, that is. Without any prompting from Uncut or elsewhere, the numbers of views started to rise. A little at first. Then some more. And more again to the point where several thousand new people are now viewing these clips each week.

The most popular is this excerpt of Dennis Skinner from last July’s goal of the month hacking special, questioning David Cameron at PMQs over his meetings with News Corporation. At the time, Skinner attracted a few hundred views. As of three months ago, there had barely been any movement in this number.

But in November the invisible hand of the internet intervened.

By last night, almost 34,000 people had viewed the piece with 89 comments and figures rising at a solid 10,000 views per month.  As I wrote this piece there were 40 more views.

In the grand scheme of YouTube sensations, this isn’t earth shattering. A cat playing with a ball of string can receive tens of millions of views.

But this is politics, not a cuddly pet or a cute baby. The clip is not the normal fodder shared to prompt a collective “aaah”. Neither is it a seminal moment that changed the course of the hacking debate which was discussed up and down the country.

The exchange was barely remarkable. Just another question from an old bruiser during a long Commons session on hacking. Yet still, tens of thousands of people – predominantly in the UK, though also from as far afield as Krygstan, Guadelope and Ecuador –  are flocking to watch this clip.

There is clearly something happening. The question is what?

Two factors often explain apparently striking YouTube viewing figures – marketing and social media.

First, the world of online marketing has a range of techniques to maximise YouTube views. From the basics like adding lots of tags  to  multiple links from different sites or posting comments to make it seem something of interest, several techniques can help promote a clip.

All may have been deployed in the past with proven success for similar types of video, but they don’t explain the popularity of this particular clip.

In this case there are only a few tags, one link from the original Uncut piece and certainly no comments added to give the appearance of activity.

If it were possible to achieve search engine minimisation, this would have been it.

Second, there is the chance that the clip somehow became the subject of a flurry on Twitter or Facebook which sent an online mob charging towards Dennis Skinner’s big moment.

Possible, but once again, unlikely.

There is no mention of the clip on Twitter or Facebook nor is the pattern of viewing one that would be expected from a  flash of mass social activity. The growth has been resolutely steady and stable rather than short and sharp.

The absence of any marketing hooks to drive views, combined with social media silence suggests only one remaining explanation for the clip’s increasing popularity.

Dennis Skinner is going genuinely viral.

People are e-mailing each other, talking about it, mentioning it to their friends and family. Not in mass crowds online, but in the smaller groups that make up the normal social circles in which we all live.

This would explain the pace of growth and how it suddenly started to attract views in November, building up steadily to the current position.

But if this is how the video views have grown, it still doesn’t explain why? What is the magic hook?

For so many thousand people to view the clip there must be something that resonates. Something that is interesting enough to prompt viewers to share the clip with their nearest friends.

On this, the answer could lie more in David Cameron’s response rather than Dennis Skinner’s question.

Dennis Skinner’s charge that the prime minister has dodged  previous questions on whether he discussed News Corporation’s intended (at the time) takeover of BSkyB in his frequent meetings with the Murdoch empire, is fairly straight forward.

It’s Cameron’s evasive response which makes the excerpt.

His sophistry when answering, giving a classic non-denial denial, prompts roars of laughter from the whole chamber. It exemplifies an increasingly common view of the prime minister as a slippery double dealer.

Occasionally, an individual media moment encapsulates the popular view. For those who have seen this clip, something has clicked to drive so many to share it.

If it is Cameron’s duplicity that is chiming with people then for the government that’s a worry sign. From reasonable family man, almost above politics, to a typical Tory politician in just eighteen months.

Given the state of public opinion about Ed Miliband, this is unlikely to translate into an immediate lead for Labour. But if Dennis Skinner continues to climb the YouTube charts, then maybe, just maybe, beneath the surface something fundamental is shifting in how the public view the prime minister.

One to watch.

Atul Hatwal is associate editor of Labour Uncut.


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5 Responses to “Dennis Skinner, viral YouTube sensation”

  1. And when Gordon Brown effectively doubled tax for five million working poor and pensioners in his 2007 budget, unlike Frank Field he kept quiet.

  2. swatantra says:

    Skinner is still an anachronism, just like Tapsell.
    And everytime Cameron’s relationshio with NI is raised, up comes Brown’s.
    On the whole its better to drop the whole subject, admit that Labour made mistakes and move on. Chuka seems to have the right idea about saying we got some things wrong.

  3. swatantra says:

    If Tapsell kicks the bucket, does that mean Skinner becomes the ‘Father of the House’ and gets to choose the next Speaker?

  4. Cisite says:

    The Father of the House doesn’t ‘choose’ the next Speaker, but acts as presiding officer.

  5. swatantra says:

    Let the next Speaker be a woman, but not a Lib Dem or Tory, and not Dawn Primarollo. Men and Women should alternate.

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