Novara: “Building a social majority is about negotiating differences”

News site Novara – which targets 18- to 30-year-olds – is being taken seriously by the mainstream media. Senior editor Ash Sarkar says there are millions of untapped young votes out there

At the General Election, support for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party shocked politicians and pundits alike. So what happened? In a series of interviews, we speak to the campaigners, mobilisers, concert organisers, educators and pundits changing the political landscape and energising a new generation of the left in Britain…

How does Novara Media fit into the new media landscape?

Where we start from is reflection, analysis and criticism. We come from activist circles, and there is also an academic impulse with all of us.

People lump us in with the alt-left, simple, partisan, loud and lefty, like The Canary or Another Angry Voice. And that is not me shading what they have done, they serve a purpose. But we started with hour-long podcasts. That wasn’t doing it, but people liked the videos and the dialogue, the to and fro, and building on ideas. We diversified.

From long form documentaries to super quick, one-minute autoplay-in-the-timeline video that make a specific intervention. Useful, salient, accessible – they are our key words. What is the most accessible and quickfire way to get complex ideas into a shareable format?

What was your General Election strategy?

Our strategy was seatbealts on, try not to die! Our job was two-fold. One was to push back as hard as possible at every Tory attack line – from the IRA stuff to “no magic money tree” to hard Brexit and “strong and stable”. The other was to inject new and fresh anti-racist perspectives, link up globally on climate change and resistance to Trump.

We are not just pushing back against the right, but pulling things towards the left. We don’t try to impose uniformity. Building a social majority, committed to radical change isn’t about erasing difference but about negotiating difference. Theresa May is scared of critique. This project has to be different, based on dialogue and lively debate.

Stormzy leaflet

Who are you aimed at?

Our demographic is a bit Club Med – 18-30! But we are trying to break out of that. How we do that is by doing mainstream TV on Sky, BBC, Channel 4. People are taking us seriously now. I was on Any Questions with Ken Clarke, Rachel Reeves, and Jonathan Dimbleby. Now they are all trying to scramble for broader analysis.

Why did Corbyn cut through with the younger voters?

You only have to look at senior Tories saying young people won’t get off their arses to vote. It’s indicative of a cynical, insincere, patronising and condescending attitude towards young, debt-burdened and working-class people. They forgot to listen to people. But the people involved with Corbyn’s Manifesto didn’t forget to listen.

And you saw how it connected with people from a traditionally dispossessed background – including the grime scene, JME, Stormzy, Akala, Novelist, they all have first-hand experience of being dismissed and not listened to. They saw that what our political institutions should be doing – namely education and enfranchisement – was deliberately not happening to keep young people powerless. That is where they stepped in with Grime4Corbyn, who could pile in alongside Momentum and the NUS.

What happens next?

The Labour party youth vote increased – but not as high as the 72 per cent initially reported. That is more encouraging. It means there are another two million votes in the young next time.