Barack Obama with David Axelrod at a basketball game in 2010. Photograph: Getty Images.
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The lessons for Labour from America

Digital communications combined with thousands of ground campaigners - Labour's great strengths today - are now more important than ever. 

"Voters no longer just consume content, they produce it, they share it and they persuade each other." These were the words of Jim Margolis, who ran Barack Obama’s advertising strategy during the 2012 presidential race. In many ways, these words define a modern political communications landscape that is more diverse, democratic and discursive.  
 
I recently met Margolis and others from the 2012 Obama team, including David Axelrod who arrives in the UK this week, during a visit Chicago and Washington to discuss political communications and campaigning. They offer a unique insight into winning elections by utilising new technology, having expansive field operations and by deploying a powerful cost-of-living argument. That's why it's great news that Ed Miliband and Douglas Alexander have hired Axelrod and co. to play a central role in Labour’s forthcoming election fight.
 
As Axelrod and his colleagues meet with the shadow cabinet this week, it is worth reflecting on some of the lessons from the US on campaign communications which are relevant for Labour.
 
The first is the importance of retaining and strengthening your argument. Those who argue Labour must change course from cost-of-living are wrong. Labour’s living standards agenda resonates and must be reinforced. Labour’s cost-of-living argument is about taking action now – like freezing energy bills or taxing bank bonuses to pay for youth jobs – but also it's about making big changes to our economy for the future – like fixing the energy market and the banking system that are ripping off hard-pressed families and small businesses.
 
Barack Obama put the challenge well when he said in a speech in Kansas in December 2011: "This is a make-or-break moment for the middle class… At stake is whether this will be a country where working people can earn enough to raise a family…this country succeeds when everyone gets a fair shot, when everyone does their fair share
 
Similarly, in January this year, Ed Miliband set out Labour’s general election argument: "The British middle class is being squeezed by a cost-of-living crisis as never before…The greatest challenge for our generation is how to tackle a crisis in living standards."
 
The cost-of-living argument is the right argument and it's also a winning argument. On the 2012, eve of poll in the US, Mitt Romney had a 7-point lead on "best to handle the economy" and a 14-point lead on "best to handle the deficit".  But Obama had an 8-point lead on "understanding economic problems facing ordinary people" and an 11-point lead "looking out for the middle classes".
 
Another big lesson from the US is the increasing importance of online communications in modern campaigning. Obama himself said that "one of the biggest surprises of the campaign [was] just how powerfully our message merged with social networking and the power of the internet". Today in the UK, there are 33 million Facebook accounts – half the population. A third of adults read their news online, whilst nearly a quarter use social media for news.
 
That is why every aspect of campaigning, whether online, on the doorstep or on the airwaves, should be integrated to mutually reinforce the same message. Like on the doorstep, in the digital world you can’t expect the voters to come to you. You have to build relationships and empower them. Labour is making strides here, which is why Dan Ryan, head of web-design for America 2012, recently said of Labour’s website: "This is the most innovative political splash page I've seen…It's really great to see a political party really innovate in the web engagement space."
 
Equally importantly, Obama in 2012 used online campaigning to expand the electorate, appealing to new and young voters - vital when recent figures in the UK highlight that 60 per cent of young people say they will not vote in 2015. The Obama mantra of "go local" replicated the doorstep conversation online. They used "big data’"to "ladder" voters from curiosity to activism.
 
Obama in 2012 also prioritised attack and rebuttal (just ask Mitt Romney if he regrets writing off 47 per cent of the American public).  That is why Labour is building a new operation at our Brewers Green HQ so that when the Tories and their friends in the press tell a lie about Labour, we will hit back immediately and nail that lie.
 
What we are seeing in this local and European election campaign is how community and doorstep campaigning is driving Labour’s online communications - and vice versa. We know Labour is able to to call upon thousands more activists than a Conservative Party that has seen its membership halve under David Cameron. But in the face of hugely more powerful digital communications, the right-wing-dominated print press is also no longer the force it once was. And an online focus means that big money does not perhaps bring the same comparative advantage for the Conservatives that it once did. For example, an "infographic" is basically the same as an poster on a billboard, but it costs a lot less and far more people can see it on social media.  
 
So digital communications combined with thousands of people campaigning on the ground - Labour's great strengths today - are now more important than ever. As we will discuss this week with those who delivered Barack Obama to the White House, and kept him there, this will be a central part of Labour’s activity as we approach the general election.
 
By relentlessly focusing on how we as a country build an economy that works for working people, one where we earn and grow our way to higher living standards and shared prosperity, just like Obama in 2012, Labour has a winning argument as well as a winning campaign for 2015. 

Michael Dugher is Labour MP for Barnsley East and the former Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

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John Major's double warning for Theresa May

The former Tory Prime Minister broke his silence with a very loud rebuke. 

A month after the Prime Minister stood in Chatham House to set out plans for free trading, independent Britain, her predecessor John Major took the floor to puncture what he called "cheap rhetoric".

Standing to attention like a weather forecaster, the former Tory Prime Minister warned of political gales ahead that could break up the union, rattle Brexit negotiations and rot the bonds of trust between politicians and the public even further.

Major said that as he had been on the losing side of the referendum, he had kept silent since June:

“This evening I don't wish to argue that the European Union is perfect, plainly it isn't. Nor do I deny the economy has been more tranquil than expected since the decision to leave was taken. 

“But I do observe that we haven't yet left the European Union. And I watch with growing concern  that the British people have been led to expect a future that seems to be unreal and over-optimistic.”

A seasoned EU negotiator himself, he warned that achieving a trade deal within two years after triggering Article 50 was highly unlikely. Meanwhile, in foreign policy, a UK that abandoned the EU would have to become more dependent on an unpalatable Trumpian United States.

Like Tony Blair, another previous Prime Minister turned Brexit commentator, Major reminded the current occupant of No.10 that 48 per cent of the country voted Remain, and that opinion might “evolve” as the reality of Brexit became clear.

Unlike Blair, he did not call for a second referendum, stressing instead the role of Parliament. But neither did he rule it out.

That was the first warning. 

But it may be Major's second warning that turns out to be the most prescient. Major praised Theresa May's social policy, which he likened to his dream of a “classless society”. He focused his ire instead on those Brexiteers whose promises “are inflated beyond any reasonable expectation of delivery”. 

The Prime Minister understood this, he claimed, but at some point in the Brexit negotiations she will have to confront those who wish for total disengagement from Europe.

“Although today they be allies of the Prime Minister, the risk is tomorrow they may not,” he warned.

For these Brexiteers, the outcome of the Article 50 negotiations did not matter, he suggested, because they were already ideologically committed to an uncompromising version of free trade:

“Some of the most committed Brexit supporters wish to have a clean break and trade only under World Trade Organisation rules. This would include tariffs on goods with nothing to help services. This would not be a panacea for the UK  - it would be the worst possible outcome. 

“But to those who wish to see us go back to a deregulated low cost enterprise economy, it is an attractive option, and wholly consistent with their philosophy.”

There was, he argued, a choice to be made about the foundations of the economic model: “We cannot move to a radical enterprise economy without moving away from a welfare state. 

“Such a direction of policy, once understood by the public, would never command support.”

Major's view of Brexit seems to be a slow-motion car crash, but one where zealous free marketeers like Daniel Hannan are screaming “faster, faster”, on speaker phone. At the end of the day, it is the mainstream Tory party that will bear the brunt of the collision. 

Asked at the end of his speech whether he, like Margaret Thatcher during his premiership, was being a backseat driver, he cracked a smile. 

“I would have been very happy for Margaret to make one speech every eight months,” he said. As for today? No doubt Theresa May will be pleased to hear he is planning another speech on Scotland soon. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.