Barack Obama’s most influential adviser during two presidential victories has been hired to advise the British Labour party on its 2015 election campaign, ensuring that the leader, Ed Miliband, will put inequality and the break between family finances and economic growth at the centre of his election campaign.
David Axelrod has been given the title of senior strategic adviser and the American said that Labour's political and economic analysis was similar to the central themes deployed in Mr Obama's successful re-election campaign.
The political guru said that he had signed up “because I have had some long conversations with Ed Miliband over the course of the past year and it was less about politics, and more about this issue of how in the 21st century you create healthy economies in which opportunity is broadly available, and people can stay ahead of the cost of living”.
His arrival on the British scene will pit him against the Australian Lynton Crosby, the Conservative campaign consultant, who is one the toughest campaign operators. But he will not be as hands-on as his rival: he will first visit the UK in May, and Labour’s overall campaign structure, the subject of recent leaks and rivalries, remains unchanged.
It also, more intriguingly, pits him against a former Obama colleague, Jim Messina, who has been hired by David Cameron. Mr Axelrod was reluctant to discuss Mr Messina, except to promise he had the capacity to surprise.
The deal was finalised last week by Douglas Alexander, the Labour election co-ordinator, and involved what is being described as a six-figure sum to pay for the services of Mr Axelrod and the firm, AKPD, until the general election in May next year.
Mr Axelrod was integral not just to Mr Obama’s two presidential victories in 2008 and 2012, but also to Mr Obama’s election as a senator in 2004. He has been described as a lobe of the Obama brain.
He comes at a time when Labour still holds a consistent poll lead, but there is an expectation that the lead will narrow as the economy improves and wages start to rise faster than prices, the point of crossover that the Conservatives will argue means the living standards crisis is over.
Axelrod said: “Miliband understands that a growing economy demands that you have to have broad prosperity. We can’t just have prosperity hoarded by a few where people at the top are getting wealthier and wealthier but people in the middle are getting squeezed. This is a problem not just for Britain but everywhere in advanced economies, including here in the US.
“That is how we won in the US. Barack Obama articulated a vision which had, at its core, the experience of everyday people. And everyday people responded, they organised and they overcame the odds. I see the same thing happening in Britain.”
Mr Axelrod said: “I have been really impressed by him [Miliband]. He has taken on some powerful interests.” Mr Miliband had little choice but to do so because of “powerful interests stacked against him that benefit from current policies, but those polices conspire against the majority”.
But he attempted also to downplay the significance of his own arrival: “This is bigger than the strategists and the operatives. It is about the ideas, and on the biggest issue facing every mature economy, how do you create broad prosperity and opportunity, Ed is on the right side of that fight, and he will display passion. That is what will make the difference, not some nuance from me.”
Asked if he grasped the specifics of British politics, Mr Axelrod said: “I do not want to say too much before I enter the political arena but from what I have read the Ukip movement has dragged Cameron to the right on Europe, and we have seen some of the same impact on the Republican party from the Tea Party.”
The similarity of argument suggests that Mr Axelrod’s arrival will reinforce Labour’s existing strategy, rather than change it. He also hinted that he was willing to attack the Tories as the party of the elite in the same way as he unbalanced the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, in 2012.
“The Conservatives are going to be hard put to say they are in touch with the experience of everyday people. They have a philosophy that is warmly received in the circles in which they travel. That is if the people at the top prosper, if the powerful people at the top, the bankers and others prosper, the whole country will prosper, and that is an attitude that is ingrained,” Mr Axelrod said.
The former senior adviser in Mr Obama's White House will arrive on May 14th in London for two days of strategy meetings with Mr Miliband and other senior shadow cabinet members. He is being joined by veterans from the Obama for America campaign Larry Grisolano and Mike Donilon, who will further strengthen Labour's campaign with their expertise.
The political guru argued that Labour needs to mobilise ordinary people in the same way as Mr Obama did. “I have said that campaigns are like an MRI scan for the soul – you find out a lot about people in campaigns.”
He also said that he understood the levels of distrust in politics. “You have to recognise there is scepticism about politics and not every solution is a government solution. There are ways to stimulate private investment, or stimulate links between universities and business. But if you ask people, should governments make smart investments in education and training to lift incomes, people overwhelmingly support that.”
Mr Alexander said Axelrod had three great strengths: he had shown an ability to win the middle class over to a progressive cause; he knew how to build large majorities; and he was an expert in handling negative campaigning.
Labour aides insisted that Mr Axelrod and his team would be integral to the campaign, and not be taking money just to provide stardust.
– (Guardian service)