UK Web Archive blog

27 May 2020

Web Archiving the UK General Election 2019

By Jennie Grimshaw, Curator for Official Publications, The British Library

The 2019 general election was a turning point in British political history.  It saw the resurgence of the Conservative vote from 8.8% at the May 2019 European Parliament election to 23.6% eight months later. It saw the collapse of the “Red Wall” in the North and the Midlands as seats such as Sedgfield,  Labour since 1935, and Workington, Labour 1918-1976 and 1979-2019, turned Conservative. It saw the breaking of the Parliamentary deadlock over Brexit with the return to power of pro-Leave Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson, with a majority of 80, which then enabled him to “Get Brexit Done”

Polling station sign

To help researchers trace how use of the Internet for political campaigning and communication has evolved over time, the British Library, the National Libraries of Scotland and Wales, and the Bodleian Library have collaborated to create a web archive collection for all UK general elections since 2005, using more or less the same categories – candidates web presence, national and local political party websites, online news and commentary, interest group manifestos and comment and analysis by think tanks. This collection is the fifth in the time series and is complemented by the EU Referendum and Brexit collections. In 2019 Northern Ireland political party and candidate sites were selected by the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI).

Sadly, our ability to harvest social media sites is very limited due to technical and legal issues. We can gather Twitter feeds, but not Facebook pages as the site deliberately blocks the crawls and it has proved impossible to negotiate access.  Due to the limitations of our crawl software, we cannot always gather dynamic content, Wix-based sites, documents stored in the cloud or videos. This may explain why some worthy candidate sites you might expect to see have not been archived.

However, the UK Web Archive General Election 2019 does offers researchers a respectable total of 2237 sites, including:

  • UK–based news and comment sites , such as Politics Home, Political UK, the Commentator, Unherd, Reaction, CAPX and  CAPX 2019 Election Archive as well as Twitter feeds of selected  political journalists. We include satirical sites such as the spoof Conservative Manifesto created by a company called Concerned Citizens Ltd and the Daily Reckless, which offers satirical songs by Tommy Mackay.
  • Candidates campaign websites and Twitter feeds and local constituency party sites. The collection includes all candidates standing in Scottish and Welsh constituencies. Due to staff resource limitations, we can only capture a sample of the websites and Twitter feeds of candidates standing in English constituencies. We cover three inner London and three outer London boroughs, and one rural and one urban constituency from each of the English regions.  We have used the same English constituencies for every election since 2005.
  • Websites and Twitter feeds of 100 national political parties, ranging from fringe groups such as the Animal Welfare Party, Arthur Horner of the Welsh Communist Party, Britain First and the anarchist Class War Party to the major national parties (Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrats, and Greens) and political parties in the devolved administrations (Plaid Cymru, Scottish Nationalists and the Northern Ireland parties). We also capture major political party blogs such as Conservative Home, Conservative Woman, Labour List and Liberal Democrat Voice.
  • Social media sites of the main party leaders captured in depth using Web Recorder. We can use this software only very sparingly as operating it is very resource and time intensive, but it can capture sites our regular crawler cannot reach.
  • Interest groups, seeking to influence party policies through engagement with candidates and publication of manifestos and lists of “asks”.  We have selected about 340 sites, ranging from the manifestos of campaigning charities such as Age UK and trade associations such as Airlines UK and the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry to unions, religious groups, such as the Evangelical Alliance and Muslim Council of Britain, and pressure groups such as the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Actionaid and Anti-Slavery International. Health charities and environmental groups are particularly prominent at this election and professional associations such as the medical royal colleges are also well represented. The voices of disabled people and minority groups are also heard through manifestos and comment from Leonard Cheshire Disability, SCOPE, Disability Rights UK, MENCAP, RNIB, Operation Black Vote and the Muslim Public Affair’s Committee’s Operation Muslim Vote 2019.
  • Thank tanks and academic research centres providing in-depth comment and analysis. We have sought to include both right- and left-wing views, and comment from political, legal and economic viewpoints. Targets include the Centre for Labour and Social Studies (CLASS), the London School of Economics British Politics and Policy blog, the Centre for Constitutional Change, Demos’ Manifesto for consensus politics, the Democratic Audit blog, the British Future think tank, Full Fact, the Institute for Fiscal Studies the King’s Fund and the Institute for Government, etc.

We hope that this collection will preserve the voices and illustrate the concerns and priorities of a wide spectrum of UK society and help to show how political parties and candidates engaged and  responded at this pivotal moment of UK history.

General Election 2019 collection. Note that you can view what is in this collection but many of the actual websites can only be viewed in the reading room of a UK Legal Deposit Library.