Will Obama’s spin doctor deliver for Ed?

This week, the Labour party hired the American political strategist David Axelrod to run their 2015 general election campaign. So it seems that the UK’s next parliamentary election “will be fought out by an American, an Australian and a South African”, say Helen Warrell and Barney Jopson in the Financial Times.

The American, credited with helping Barack Obama win the White House in 2008, then gain re-election in 2012, “is likely to be a doughty adversary” for Australian Lynton Crosby, the Conservatives’ election guru. However, he will also be “far less involved in the day-to-day running of the campaign”.

Ironically, another Obama strategist, Jim Messina, “is advising David Cameron’s team on an ad hoc basis”. Ryan Coetzee, the man who turned South Africa’s Democratic Alliance into the main opposition party, advises the Lib Dems.

“If champagne were still allowed on Planet Labour, the corks would be popping to celebrate the arrival” of Axelrod, says Anne McElvoy in The Observer. While Labour lead in the polls, they are “short of the over-40% approval rating that would lure us to bet the mortgage on a runaway” victory.

Labour leader Ed Miliband “comes across as well-meaning, but a bit woolly”. Axelrod’s emphasis on a consistent message will help, but he “has his work cut out”.

This sums up the key problem, says Matthew Norman in The Daily Telegraph. “For almost 20 years, senior Labour figures have dwelt in the fantasy world of The West Wing. They were and remain utterly mesmerised by Aaron Sorkin’s glorious TV drama.”

So it is no surprise that their new American hire will make Labour’s officials “sniff the Oval Office bouquet from video conference calls and be intoxicated”.

But “even Axelrod might find it beyond his superhero powers to transform an adenoidal, overgrown Adrian Mole into the second coming of Obama”.

But while Miliband may be less of a “charismatic commodity” than Obama, says Will Marshall in The Times, Axelrod “knows how to talk to swing voters”.

And crucially, he also knows the difference “between a politics centred on economic aspiration and one centred on class grievance”. This is important, because Labour “must craft a powerful argument for political change even as the UK economy improves”.

Overall, “Axelrod’s feel for the kind of ideas that move persuadable voters will likely prove an asset”.

But what should this message be? The truth is, says Janan Ganesh in the FT, that “the most important decisions of this parliament were made in the last one”. The Tories decided to slash the deficit quickly; Labour wanted to move more slowly.

That looked sensible while the economy stagnated – but when it started to pick up, Labour’s Keynesian line “slowly died”.

Shadow chancellor Ed Balls nimbly switched to a ‘cost of living’ argument – but with wages starting to outstrip inflation again, that argument is dying too. But “it is worth persevering with”. The cost of living argument isn’t about economic data – it’s about the “insinuation” that the Tories don’t care about the struggles of ordinary voters.

“This perception may be an extravagant slander, but as long as it exists, Mr Miliband would be foolish not to exploit it.” It may not be enough – but without it, Miliband “has nothing left to say”.

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