Barack Obama talks with David Axelrod during the NCAA college basketball game between Georgetown and Duke in Washington on 30 January 2010. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Axelrod's appointment shows Labour is planning a radical campaign

The man who masterminded Obama's two election victories embodies daring politics.

David Axelrod's alliance with Ed Miliband is the perfect match of message and messenger. Labour gains a comms guru with soundbite skill and strategic insight whilst Axelrod has the chance to work once again for a candidate who embodies his own political beliefs.

Because Axelrod was in many ways the radical of Obama's inner circle. He was the cause of much of the heartburn amongst hedgefund managers with his "Main Street, not just Wall Street" messaging. The appointment is a clear signal of Ed Miliband's intent to double down on the "cost-of-living-crisis" message and of the importance of themes like "building the economy from the middle out" - words spoken as often by Miliband's consigliere Stewart Wood as Axelrod himself.

But in a broader sense, it gives us a clearer idea of Labour strategy: a big offer with a strong, clear message for more then just middle class Labour loyalists and Lib Dem converts. Axelrod himself well understands the importance of raising turnout amongst blue collar voters to ensure success in key battlegrounds. And he knows the importance of ensuring the seamless integration of messaging, policy and organisation to deliver the required win number of votes in each battleground seat.

This is a clarity of objective that has been somewhat lost amidst the recent tumults besetting Labour's high command. In this, he reflects Miliband's own desire for a clear strategy to deliver a big election campaign complete with radical manifesto, ambitious target seat list and embrace of both new tactics and new personnel.

For Labour, in contrast to the Tories' one big name Jim Messina hire, has developed a network of Obama veterans. From Matthew McGregor in the digital team to Axelrod's own deputy Stephanie Cutter and her work last Christmas with the party. Combined with the recent confirmation of Obama mentor Arnie Graf's imminent return, Labour's efforts to organise for 2015 have taken a big step forward. For as the Fabian Society has detailed, Labour is setting the pace in integrating Obama best practice into its operations.

The party has been in discussions with Obama analytics chief and Axelrod ally Dan Wagner over the last year about what it would take to bring his cutting-edge voter targeting techniques to British voters. Such a move would be further proof of Miliband's commitment to a truly world class campaign team.

David Axelrod embodies strategic brilliance and daring, radical politics. His appointment today will give Labour campaigners hope that the party may yet embrace the kind of big movement politics that would win Miliband a majority.

Marcus Roberts is the deputy general secretary of the Fabian Society and the author of Labour's Next Majority: The 40% strategy and editor of Organise! Labour's campaigning revolution

Marcus Roberts is an executive project director at YouGov. 

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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue