The Conservatives’ launch on TikTok has been branded “pretty pathetic” by an expert who praised Labour’s “savvier” social media team.

Social media has been touted as a key battleground in general elections for many years, but having launched in the UK in August 2018 TikTok was only in its infancy during the last poll in December 2019.

Likely to play a bigger role than ever this election, the Chinese app was banned from Government phones in March 2023 due to data security concerns but both parties launched profiles in recent days.

Despite the Prime Minister announcing the General Election last Wednesday, Labour launched on TikTok three days before the Conservatives – posting an 11-second video on Thursday evening of leader Sir Keir Starmer declaring: “Change. That is what this election is about.”

Since then, the feed has been a mixture of clips from the party’s campaign trail, brief explainers and, most successfully, memes mocking the Tories and the Prime Minister.

@ukconservatives This will change lives #nationalservice #generalelection #uk #rishisunak ♬ original sound – Conservatives

The Conservative Party shared their first TikTok on Sunday morning – a 50-second clip of Rishi Sunak in a white shirt announcing he plans to introduce mandatory national service for 18-year-olds if he returns to Number 10.

Journalist Chris Stokel-Walker, author of TikTok Boom: The Inside Story of the World’s Favourite App, believes the Opposition have come out on top on the platform so far – describing Tory efforts as “soulless and lifeless”.

“The fact that both major parties have taken to TikTok to spread the word about their campaigns is interesting, not least because of the fears that have been stoked about TikTok being a national security threat – concerns that haven’t, to date, been backed up by any evidence,” Mr Stokel-Walker told the PA news agency.

“It’s pretty clear that Labour have a savvier social media team who have pretty effectively managed to minimise the Tories’ claims, not least their clever way of adopting memes to try and rubbish Rishi Sunak’s policy of national service.

“Meanwhile, for someone meant to be tech-savvy, Sunak’s TikTok presence has been pretty pathetic: not only are the videos pretty soulless and lifeless, but they seem to ignore the fact you have to grab viewers’ attention right from the off, instead going ponderously through the Tories’ lines to take on various policies.”

Mr Sunak’s national service pledge has become fodder for memes on Labour’s page.

‘Shrek The Musical’ 1 Year Anniversary Family Fete – London
Lord Farquaad, depicted here on the left among cast members from Shrek the Musical, has scored Labour millions of views (Ian Nicholson/PA)

A post with over two million views and more than 316,000 likes, captioned “Rishi Sunak announcing national service”, sees Lord Farquaad, the diminutive chief antagonist of the 2001 children’s film Shrek, announce: “Some of you may die, but it’s a sacrifice I am willing to make.”

Another similarly popular clip depicts “Rishi Sunak turning up on your 18th birthday to send you to war”, with a viral video of late TV host Cilla Black singing her 1980s track “Surprise Surprise” on the show of the same name.

While the Conservatives’ first post received over 1.2 million views, it received 85,000 likes and over 10,000 comments as Mr Sunak asked for questions about the national service policy.

Those questions included “what if I wanted to go to university” and “who is paying me to do it?”

In response to that second question, a follow-up video on Monday saw Mr Sunak explain the Government would “provide a stipend to help with living costs” for those joining the military and provide “funding for training and administration” for community work.

Although it is early days – the Conservatives had shared just four TikToks by Monday afternoon to Labour’s 25 – the approach by Sir Keir Starmer’s party has been more successful.

@uklabour Change. #votelabour #keirstarmer #generalelection #ukelection #ukpolitics #fyp #foryoupage ♬ Sunrise – Official Sound Studio

Labour has more than 43,000 TikTok followers to the Convervatives’ 13,000 and they have received over 10 times more likes on the platform – with more than 930,000 to 87,000 for the Tories.

“It’s clear that for younger users the Labour campaign’s use of TikTok is more likely to be a more natural fit but, actually, I think you’ll find that it cuts through to older voters, too,” said Mr Stokel-Walker.

“A lot of the memes that Labour have used so far, particularly around the national service policy, are ones that people who spend any time on Facebook, X or even a family WhatsApp group will recognise – and probably laugh at.

“We’ve heard for more than a decade now that every general election is the ‘first social media election’, but there’s no doubt that online campaigning will be important to get the message out to voters – particularly younger ones.”

TikTok was banned from Government devices over fears about how information such as contacts, user content and geolocation data could be used by the company’s Beijing-based owner ByteDance.

In the announcement of the ban in March 2023, then Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Oliver Dowden described the decision as a “prudent and proportionate step following advice from our cyber security experts”.