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How One Man's Memes Came To Dominate UK Political Twitter

Éoin Clarke is mocked and abused, but he's incredibly successful at making pro-Labour messages go viral. What’s going on?

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On a typical day during the general election campaign, Clarke started tweeting at 7:40am with a brightly photoshopped list of bullet points setting out four simple reasons to vote Labour in the next day's general election. For the rest of the day he continued to pump out a mix of pro-Miliband and anti-Tory material. By the time he stopped, at 10:34pm, that day's 32 tweets – a typical mix of lists, brightly coloured graphs, and critiques of the right-wing media – had received 5,283 retweets.

Tonight's Panelbase poll #LabourMustWin

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In the introverted, self-indulgent world of UK political Twitter, that level of interest is unusual.

Anyone who has spent much time on the social network will probably have seen some of Clarke's distinctive graphics, even if they don't know it. They quickly spread across the left wing of UK politics, attracting the attention of Labour MPs who help circulate his message and occasionally ask him for advice on their own online profile.

You might also have seen a lot of anger pointed in his direction.

The likes of Eoin Clarke et al got is so wrong as stuck in their own lefty bubble. Too busy blocking people who live in the real world.

Fact that Eoin Clarke is treated as anything other than a joke by any labour activists explains everything that has gone wrong with the left

Because for all his relative success in terms of building an audience, people on all sides of the political divide have collated the countless apologies he's been forced to issue as a result of errors in blogs.

In short, Clarke has become a strange sort of Twitter-created political star, complete with acolytes and opponents. He's known by senior party officials, he's been held up as example of how social media can lull Labour into an unelectable comfort zone, and his obsessive tweeting takes up hours of every day.

Whatever the reality, he's a self-made political star who can influence tens of thousands of people with some stats attacking the government and a well-timed photoshop.

And he really wants to stop doing it.

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"I don't enjoy it," Clarke told BuzzFeed News over the phone.

"I have a lovely home life, I have a lovely wife, I have a lovely son. I desperately looked forward to not having to do this. I would have given it up if Labour had won the election."

So how did he end up here, creating photoshop after photoshop in an attempt to push the Labour cause forwards?

In 10 minutes time lots of ordinary people are going to try and get #GetCameronOut trending. Fancy helping them out?

He insists he's trying to help inspire a grassroots Labour revival and sees his Twitter activity as a substantial commitment to the Labour cause, with his motivation being "the need to do everything I could do to remove Cameron".

Clarke describes himself a "thirtysomething" who works in the university sector. Unusually, he's a member of Labour despite living in Northern Ireland, where the party doesn't contest elections. He was attracted to join under Gordon Brown ("a friend in need is a friend indeed"), in part because he rejected the religion-dominated domestic politics of his homeland.

In short, Clarke wants to take the fight to the established media, one #CameronMustGo hashtag at a time.

"[Political journalists] speak to young, male, southern people," he says. "Twitter loses track of people age 35-plus that don't have a high degree of educational attainment or are in manual jobs, and I try and speak in as clear language as possible to those people."

I put together this graphical representation of the mess the Tories have made of our NHS. I hope you find it useful.

Going viral sometimes involves, well, stretching the facts to the point where they're open to criticism.

Today Osborne Introduced a 2 child policy Cut £47bn of Welfare over 5yrs Chopped the sick's ESA by 25% IDS cheered

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Clarke admits that the rules of the internet mean a simple stat does better than a nuanced argument: "The higher the level of rigour and intellect you put into something the less well it does. You can put up a picture of a chimpanzee chucking a banana at Cameron and that'll get 100,000 RTs. Very often when I was writing the blog you'd do an empirical piece and you'd present [Office for National Statistics] stats and that would bomb.

"My purpose was to inform as many grassroots door-knockers as possible. The other objective – not that I want to brag about it – there's upwards of 700 people who have told me that they have told they've joined Labour as a result of our account. If Tories are willing to pay £100,000 a month [advertising] on Facebook then there's value in it. The people have fallen out of love with broadsheets and want material from new sources."

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He's also received a kicking for continually referring to himself as "Dr" Éoin Clarke, despite having no medical qualifications.

Clarke defends his decision to use the title afforded by his PhD in Irish revolutionary history with pride: "I'm an Irish traveller and I was born into abject poverty. I promised people in my community if I became [a doctor] I would use it. In terms of aspiration for the people of my community, it's the kind of thing I would prefer to wear with pride because that's the background I'm from."

He's even admits he's sometimes had patchy record on statistical accuracy: "I appreciate [corrections] because those detractors improve the quality of what you do. Your resident pedants make you improve the next graphic. I'm my own worst critic. So I appreciate that. When it gets personal, it's more awkward – for example, if my wife or son gets trolled. That's hard."

David Cameron's career is over. Trust me, 323 MPs will not vote for his manifesto promises. By night's end, he will not command a maj in HoC

It all comes back to Clarke's conviction that the public support many left-wing policies, they just don't know enough about them.

"Was Ed too left?" he says. "I don't think you can say that. Sometimes his policies were presented in an overly crude manner. I can't think of a policy that Labour adopted that the public didn't agree with. There was a poll before the election where 41% of voters said they didn't know what Labour's policies were. Tory voters don't like food poverty, the bedroom tax, food poverty, or high electricity prices.

"I class myself as an ethical socialist, and it is wrong to force through policies unless you can carry the population with you on it. If voters overwhelmingly disagreed with an issue then I wouldn't champion it. "

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For now Clarke is going to keep tweeting out his views, running social media accounts in support of Andy Burnham.

I've corrected the 3 most commonly told lies against Andy Burnham by Rupert Murdoch's press. Please consider sharing

"I passionately believe that Andy is the unity candidate," he says, "because he's been on a journey from [Blairite Labour organisation] Progress. I would characterise Andy as an ethical socialist underpinned by his Christian values. He will govern as much in the interests of Tory voters as Labour voters. John Major fitted that mould. There's been Tory politicians that fitted that mould, while Cameron seems to enjoy factionalism and divisiveness."

But he's not always comfortable with the role: "I view my growing profile as an unmitigated disaster It's a bit of a burden for me. I'll consider my job done when we don't have to tweet any more."

Jim Waterson is a politics editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Jim Waterson at jim.waterson@buzzfeed.com.

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