David Axelrod speaks during the Washington Ideas Forum at the Newseum on September 30, 2010 in Washington, DC. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Labour hires David Axelrod as senior strategic adviser

Former senior Obama adviser joins the party's general election team.

Many in Labour were disgruntled when the Tories recruited Barack Obama's former adviser Jim Messina as a campaign consultant last summer - but Ed Miliband has just unambiguously trumped that appointment. In a political coup, the party has secured the services of the US president's former strategist David Axelrod, the man who masterminded his two election victories, as a senior strategic adviser.

Axelrod, whose appointment is the result of months of effort by Americophile Douglas Alexander, and his firm AKPD will work with Labour's general election team from now until next May and participate in regular strategic discussions with Miliband and others. His decision to take on the role is a big vote of confidence in Labour; strategists as renowned as Axelrod don't want to be associated with defeated parties.

As I've noted before, there are significant similarities between Obama's 2012 campaign and Labour's cost-of-living strategy. In meetings with the Labour team in London and Washington DC, the president's aides emphasised how important his stance on living standards had been to victory in tough times. A report on the election by the veteran Democrat Stan Greenberg for Miliband pointed to polls showing that while Mitt Romney had led on "handling the economy"(51-44%) and "reducing the federal budget deficit" (51-37%), Obama had led on understanding "the economic problems ordinary people in this country are having" (51-43%) and on "looking out for the middle class" (51-40%). This left-right split is mirrored in the UK, with Labour contiuing to lead as the party best-placed to improve living standards.

In a statement released tonight, Axelrod has offered a fulsome endorsement of Miliband's political programme and his focus on the cost-of-living.

He said:

I’ve had several conversations with Ed Miliband over the course of the last year in which I have been struck by the power of his ideas, the strength of his vision and the focus he brings to solving the fundamental challenge facing Britain.

That challenge is how you create an economy which works for everyone: an economy in which every hardworking person can get ahead and deal with the cost-of-living crisis so they can plan for the future and plan for their children.

He 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. Ed  Miliband  has a real vision of where we need to go to solve those problems. He has answers to these questions which will be very potent in the next election.

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.

Axelod will arrive in London on 14 May for two days of strategy meetings with Miliband, Harriet Harman, and other senior shadow cabinet members. Labour sources are keen to emphasise that he is "not a replacement" for Arnie Graf, the US community organiser, who was brought in by Miliband to revolutionise Labour's campaigning. As I've previously reported, the party has a "programme of work" ready for Graf when he returns to the UK. He and Axelrod will have distinct roles in the campaign.

The appointment of the latter, a superstar in the world of political strategy, will undoubtedly help to settle some of the nerves on Labour's left and right that I noted earlier today. At a time when the party's poll lead remains slim, this is a big vote of confidence in its chances of victory.

Miliband said: "David Axelrod is known across the world for helping get President Obama into the White House in 2008 and then win re-election in 2012. In his work for President Obama, David helped shape a campaign that reflected his vision, focused on building an economy that works for all hardworking people and not just a privileged few.

"It’s excellent news that  David  has agreed to  help One Nation Labour win the next election and build our campaign to change Britain so hardworking people are better off. He 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 ."

Douglas Alexander said: "I am delighted to have been able to secure the services of David Axelrod and AKPD  for Labour. My conversations with him over recent months have underlined how he has the skills, the strength and the values needed to make a huge contribution in the year ahead. This announcement is great news for Labour - and seriously bad news for the Conservatives."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Labour's purge: how it works, and what it means

The total number of people removed will be small - but the rancour will linger. 

Labour has just kicked off its first big wave of expulsions, purging many voters from the party’s leadership rolls. Twitter is ablaze with activists who believe they have been kicked out because they are supporters of Jeremy Corbyn. There are, I'm told, more expulsions to come - what's going on?  Is Labour purging its rolls of Corbyn supporters?

The short answer is “No”.

If that opener feels familiar, it should: I wrote it last year, when the last set of purges kicked off, and may end up using it again next year. Labour has stringent rules about expressing support for other candidates and membership of other parties, which account for the bulk of the expulsions. It also has a code of conduct on abusive language which is also thinning the rolls, with supporters of both candidates being kicked off. 

Although the party is in significantly better financial shape than last year, it still is running a skeleton staff and is recovering from an expensive contest (in this case, to keep Britain in the European Union). The compliance unit itself remains small, so once again people from across the party staff have been dragooned in.

The process this year is pretty much the same: Labour party headquarters doesn’t have any bespoke software to match its voters against a long list of candidates in local elections, compiled last year and added to the list of candidates that stood against Labour in the 2016 local and devolved elections, plus a large backlog of complaints from activists.

It’s that backlog that is behind many of the highest-profile and most controversial examples. Last year, in one complaint that was not upheld, a local member was reported to the Compliance Unit for their failure to attend their local party’s annual barbecue. The mood in Labour, in the country and at Westminster, is significantly more bitter this summer than last and the complaints more personal. Ronnie Draper, the general secretary of the Bfawu, the bakers’ union, one of Corbyn’s biggest supporters in the trade union movement, has been expelled, reported for tweets which included the use of the word “traitors” to refer to Labour opponents of Corbyn.  Jon Will Chambers, former bag carrier to Stella Creasy, and a vocal Corbyn critic on Twitter, has been kicked out for using a “Theresa May” twibbon to indicate his preference for May over Andrea Leadsom, in contravention of the party’s rules.

Both activities breach the letter of the party’s rules although you can (and people will) make good arguments against empowering other people to comb through the social media profiles of their opponents for reasons to dob them in.  (In both cases, I wouldn’t be shocked if both complaints were struck down on appeal)

I would be frankly astonished if Corbyn’s margin of victory – or defeat, as unlikely as that remains in my view – isn’t significantly bigger than the number of people who are barred from voting, which will include supporters of both candidates, as well as a number of duplicates (some people who paid £25 were in fact members before the freeze date, others are affliated trade unionists, and so on). 

What is unarguably more significant, as one party staffer reflected is, “the complaints are nastier now [than last year]”. More and more of the messages to compliance are firmly in what you might call “the barbecue category” – they are obviously groundless and based on personal animosity. That doesn’t feel like the basis of a party that is ready to unite at any level. Publicly and privately, most people are still talking down the chances of a split. It may prove impossible to avoid.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.