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. 

Photo: Getty
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Forget planning for no deal. The government isn't really planning for Brexit at all

The British government is simply not in a position to handle life after the EU.

No deal is better than a bad deal? That phrase has essentially vanished from Theresa May’s lips since the loss of her parliamentary majority in June, but it lives on in the minds of her boosters in the commentariat and the most committed parts of the Brexit press. In fact, they have a new meme: criticising the civil service and ministers who backed a Remain vote for “not preparing” for a no deal Brexit.

Leaving without a deal would mean, among other things, dropping out of the Open Skies agreement which allows British aeroplanes to fly to the United States and European Union. It would lead very quickly to food shortages and also mean that radioactive isotopes, used among other things for cancer treatment, wouldn’t be able to cross into the UK anymore. “Planning for no deal” actually means “making a deal”.  (Where the Brexit elite may have a point is that the consequences of no deal are sufficiently disruptive on both sides that the British government shouldn’t  worry too much about the two-year time frame set out in Article 50, as both sides have too big an incentive to always agree to extra time. I don’t think this is likely for political reasons but there is a good economic case for it.)

For the most part, you can’t really plan for no deal. There are however some things the government could prepare for. They could, for instance, start hiring additional staff for customs checks and investing in a bigger IT system to be able to handle the increased volume of work that would need to take place at the British border. It would need to begin issuing compulsory purchases to build new customs posts at ports, particularly along the 300-mile stretch of the Irish border – where Northern Ireland, outside the European Union, would immediately have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would remain inside the bloc. But as Newsnight’s Christopher Cook details, the government is doing none of these things.

Now, in a way, you might say that this is a good decision on the government’s part. Frankly, these measures would only be about as useful as doing your seatbelt up before driving off the Grand Canyon. Buying up land and properties along the Irish border has the potential to cause political headaches that neither the British nor Irish governments need. However, as Cook notes, much of the government’s negotiating strategy seems to be based around convincing the EU27 that the United Kingdom might actually walk away without a deal, so not making even these inadequate plans makes a mockery of their own strategy. 

But the frothing about preparing for “no deal” ignores a far bigger problem: the government isn’t really preparing for any deal, and certainly not the one envisaged in May’s Lancaster House speech, where she set out the terms of Britain’s Brexit negotiations, or in her letter to the EU27 triggering Article 50. Just to reiterate: the government’s proposal is that the United Kingdom will leave both the single market and the customs union. Its regulations will no longer be set or enforced by the European Court of Justice or related bodies.

That means that, when Britain leaves the EU, it will need, at a minimum: to beef up the number of staff, the quality of its computer systems and the amount of physical space given over to customs checks and other assorted border work. It will need to hire its own food and standards inspectors to travel the globe checking the quality of products exported to the United Kingdom. It will need to increase the size of its own regulatory bodies.

The Foreign Office is doing some good and important work on preparing Britain’s re-entry into the World Trade Organisation as a nation with its own set of tariffs. But across the government, the level of preparation is simply not where it should be.

And all that’s assuming that May gets exactly what she wants. It’s not that the government isn’t preparing for no deal, or isn’t preparing for a bad deal. It can’t even be said to be preparing for what it believes is a great deal. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.