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.
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.”