Keane Duncan's Grand Hotel promises herald new form of online politics: Chris Burn

It should be little surprise that North Yorkshire mayoral candidate Keane Duncan knows how to win headlines – the 29-year-old was well versed in writing them as a news editor for the Daily Star.

The Conservative candidate has received national attention in recent weeks for his eye-catching pledge to buy Scarborough’s iconic but ailing Grand Hotel through a compulsory purchase order if he is elected this Thursday.

A snappily-edited video of him making the announcement has received more than one million views on X, formerly Twitter, alone. It has also attracted hundreds of comments on TikTok.

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In a fascinating interview with The Guardian this weekend, Duncan admitted he has been applying the same tactics he used as a reporter to get stories online attention to his political campaigning.

Keane Duncan has promised to buy the Grand Hotel in Scarborough if electedKeane Duncan has promised to buy the Grand Hotel in Scarborough if elected
Keane Duncan has promised to buy the Grand Hotel in Scarborough if elected

He said: “As a journalist, your job is to tell people’s stories. My job is to tell the story of the region.”

The original announcement attracted plenty of derision and was lambasted by other candidates as an unrealistic and uncosted commitment but Duncan is persisting with the policy. He released a follow-up video this week explaining he intends to create a Mayoral Development Corporation to oversee the purchase as part of a broader plan to regenerate Scarborough.

Duncan has also been making great use of LinkedIn in recent months as he attempts to build ties with the business community, posting regular updates as he travels around North Yorkshire in a van meeting prospective voters.

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Perhaps unsurprisingly given the public perception of the Tory party at the moment, his social media channels and posts make minimal mention of the fact he is the Conservative candidate.

In contrast, his main rival Labour’s David Skaith, a shop owner from York, is running a more traditional political campaign with regular visits from high-profile party politicians. A recent Twitter post setting out his six-point plan pointedly said: “This position isn’t about gimmicks, it’s about truly making the change our region needs to build for a brighter future.”

However Duncan’s attention-grabbing approach in a race where bookmakers currently have him narrowly trailing Skaith has won some admirers.

Levelling Up Secretary and fellow former journalist Michael Gove recently visited North Yorkshire to support Duncan’s campaign and reportedly suggested ‘Make Scarborough Grand Again’ as a slogan for the hotel policy.

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More pertinently, local Liberal Democrat councillor Darryl Smalley said that much of what Duncan has done should feature in future social media campaign guides for politicians.

"Once people get over their sneering, it’ll be obvious Keane’s campaign has been the most impressive social media campaign of 2024’s locals,” he said.

I’m inclined to agree with that assessment. Politics is in part an attention economy and navigating those demands is a genuine skill. Andy Burnham springs to mind as a master of the art of making press conference announcements that translate into column inches.

What Keane Duncan is trying is no more than a slightly evolved version of that. The true challenge will come if he is elected. Making eye-catching promises is one thing – actually delivering them is an entirely different task.

Chris Burn is Yorkshire Post business and features editor

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