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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No, Christopher Hitchens did not convert to Christianity on his deathbed

From Mother Theresa to Princess Diana, for Hitchens, there were no sacred cows. He certainly would not have wanted to become one. 

The suggestion that atheist writer Christopher Hitchens converted on his deathbed was inevitable. When the evangelical Christian Larry Taunton appeared on Newsnight last week to discuss his new book, he suggested that “the Hitch” was “contemplating conversion” in his final days. The collective sigh from his fans was palpable.

That particular claim is uncontroversial. Of course Hitchens “contemplated” Christianity – to say so simply suggests he had an open mind. However, the book goes further, and claims that Hitchens began to doubt his convictions in his final days. Taunton writes that: “Publicly, he had to play the part, to pose, as a confident atheist. In private, he was entering forbidden territory, crossing enemy lines, exploring what he had ignored or misrepresented for so long.” The book is littered with similar insinuations that he was, so to speak, losing his faith. His close friends, those he wasn’t paid to spend time with as he was with Taunton, deny this completely.

Naturally, the book has sparked a host of rumours and junk articles that suggest he converted. Not one to let a cheap shot slide or leave an insinuation untouched, Hitchens was forward-thinking enough to not only predict these accusations, but deliver a perfect pre-buttal. When Anderson Cooper asked him, a short while before his death, whether he had reconsidered “hedging his bets”, he responded:

“If that comes it will be when I’m very ill, when I’m half demented either by drugs or by pain when I won’t have control over what I say. I mention this in case you ever hear a rumour later on, because these things happen and the faithful love to spread these rumours.”

If that isn’t enough, however, his wife has made clear in the strongest possible terms that talk of a softening on Christianity and a deathbed conversion is entirely untrue. “That never happened. He lived by his principles until the end. To be honest, the subject of God didn’t come up.”

The spreading of fallacious rumours of deathbed conversions by the religious is predictable because there is so much historical precedent for it. Many of history’s most famous atheists have suffered this fate, so, in a sense, Hitch has now been inducted into this hall of infamy alongside the likes of Darwin, Thomas Paine, and David Hume. In God is not Great, he wrote that “the mere fact that such deathbed ‘repentances’ were sought by the godly, let alone subsequently fabricated, speaks volumes of the bad faith of the faith-based.”

Now, not for the first time, Hitchens has fallen foul of this bad faith. After all, what can be more abhorrent than baying for a man to abandon his lifelong principles when he is at his most vulnerable, and spreading callous lies when he can no longer respond? It speaks for the complete lack of confidence these people must have in their beliefs that they strike when the individual is at their least lucid and most desperate.

Hitchens felt the bitter end of the religious stick when he was dying as well, and he responded with typical wit and good humour. He was told that it was “God’s curse that he would have cancer near his throat because that was the organ (he) used to blaspheme.” His response? “Well, I’ve used many other organs to blaspheme as well if it comes to that.” One suspects that he would have rubbished recent talk in a similarly sardonic fashion.

Likewise, for a man who was not afraid of a provocative title himself (see: The Missionary Position, No One Left to Lie to) it would be reasonable to think he’d accept his own life as fair game. From Mother Theresa to Princess Diana, for Hitchens, there were no sacred cows. He certainly would not have wanted to become one.

Fortunately, we are blessed with the wonders of the internet, and Hitchens can respond to these claims as Thomas Paine and David Hume could not – from the grave. His prediction and preparation for this speaks of an intellect like no other. In a posthumous debate he still wins out.