All three major parties have hired foreign ‘spin doctors’ for their 2015 campaigns – but will these master manipulators work in engaging UK voters?
The Labour Party have hired American strategist, David Axelrod, former advisor to President Obama, and the brains behind both his successful 2008 and 2012 Presidential campaigns, as well as his 2004 Senator campaign. Axelrod has acted as a media commentator and as a director of the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago, and, in 1981, Axelrod was Chicago Tribune’s youngest-ever political writer. The 59 year old, New York born consultant has described Ed Miliband’s campaign as ‘focused on building an economy that works for all hardworking people and not just a privileged few.’
The Conservatives have appointed Australian Lyton Crosby, a man described as ‘Master of the dark political arts’. Despite losing the Former Conservative leader’s Michael Howard’s 2005 campaign to Prime Minster, Crosby has a good understanding of British Political psychology – having successfully elected Boris Johnson as Mayor of London twice, Boris described him as ‘Simply the best campaign manager I have ever seen in any political environment, ever’. Crosby has also helped elect Australian PM John Howard, four times.
The Tories have also hired American Jim Messina, former Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations to Obama. Messina – who worked with Axelrod in Obama’s 2012 campaign – has been described by a Senior Aide to Obama as ‘The most powerful person in Washington you’ve never heard of’.
The Liberal Democrats have hired Ryan Coetzee, a South African political strategist. Coetzee has assisted the leader of South Africa’s opposition party for almost 14 years. He has since become the party’s chief executive, and been an MP in the South African parliament.
Labour will be using Mr. Axelrod’s consulting firm AKPD, and paying him ‘six-figure’ salary. Axelrod will be working with Douglass Alexander, Shadow Foreign Secretary and Miliband’s campaign manager. Alexander has described Axelrod’s appointment as ‘Seriously bad news for the Conservatives’. Speaking to Radio 4’s Today Programme, Alexander said he anticipated ‘A tight election and a tough campaign’ adding, ‘I can’t think of anyone I’d rather have alongside me in the trench than one David Axelrod’.
Since his election as Labour leader in 2010, Miliband has emphasised Labour’s socialist roots, stressing how money is getting more and more vested in the few at the top. Miliband has described Axelrod’s appointment as ‘Excellent news’ adding that the strategist will be a ‘huge asset to our campaign as we work to show the British people how we can change our country for the better’.
Is the glamour and shine of American political strategy going to work in rainy old England? Will Americans, South Africans and Australians properly understand the mindset of British voters? There have been some skeptical responses to these appointments.
The Guardian reported one senior labour figure asking of Axelrod: ‘What does this guy know about the voter in Maidenhead? Why are we paying so much out of a very tight budget for this? We seem to be in an arms race across the parties to get foreign people in.’ Further criticism has come from Labour Peer Baroness Prosser, who has questioned the decision to give a six-figure salary to one person.
Cynicism isn’t the only reaction. Others have commended the parties for acknowledging the growing issue of globalization of politics. Social media issues and technological challenges will definitely benefit from the expert global help – but what about the policies? Perhaps hiring support from outside the UK can give a fresh insight into the worrying growth of political apathy and raise voter turnout to higher than the measly 65% in 2010. Chris Mason, a Political correspondent for BBC News has said ‘Each [strategist] is hired for what is seen as their own brand of international political magic, their challenge, as outsiders, is to ensure they fully understand the motivations, instincts – and peculiarities – of the British electorate, and a UK election.’
In a video message on Labour List – a centre-left blog – Axelrod has said he is ‘Proud to join the labour team’ and believes ‘The eyes of world will be on Britain in 2015 because of the contest between ideas of what a healthy economy will look like.’ He closed on, ‘Every day people across the country win elections.’
Labour List editor Mark Ferguson, described Axelrod’s appointment as ‘A big deal’ adding he is ‘Genuinely surprised and delighted that Labour would be able to attract – or afford – anyone of the calibre of the man they call ‘the Axe’’. Ferguson described Axelrod as ‘One of the few superstars in political campaigning’.
David Prescott – son of John, the former deputy leader of the Labour party– who worked on Labour’s ‘Key Seats Team’ in 2010, has advised a focus of digital campaigning. Prescott described Axelrod’s hiring as like ‘someone from Real Madrid joining Hull City’ adding it is ‘A really smart move’ stating his key strength is ‘Defining strategy and getting candidates to stick to it… His appointment doesn’t guarantee victory but it makes sure you’ve got the best team on the pitch.’
The appointment of all of these players shows a definite turning point in British political campaigning. Most notably, for the Left, with the exception of Alastair Campbell, who will play a minor role, Miliband has dropped all of the major players who elected Blair three times.