Labour hires “Obama’s Backroom Brit” as it seeks to make 2015 the Digital Election

A significant change within the Labour Party began yesterday, as the starting gun was fired on the “digital” element of the 2015 General Election.

A new “Digital Task Force” has been established by the party (headed up by John Miles, the party’s Head of Digital) with a remit to get the right people and processes in place to ensure that Labour has a far more significant digital presence by 2015.

Now that all sounds quite humdrum so far – political parties are always setting up task forces and working groups – except the most important digital hire has in all likelihood already taken place.

The Labour Party have hired Blue State Digital – the people behind both of Obama’s online presidential campaigns – to advise the party on digital communications. In particular, that means that Matthew McGregor (dubbed Obama’s “Backroom Brit”) will be working out of Labour’s Brewer’s Green HQ. Until recently Matthew directed Digital Rapid Response at Obama for America, and led the all-important online rapid rebuttal team. David Axelrod has said of McGregor:

“When you talk about rapid response it has to be rapid, but it also has to be pointed. Matthew has got that edge to him.”

A Labour source last night told me:

“We are hiring one of the very best digital campaign companies on the world…it shows out determination to make digital campaigning one of the key ways we will fight the next election.”

If you believe that online campaigning matters (I do) and that the Labour Party has historically lagged behind the Tories on investment in this area (I certainly do), then you’ll see this as a significant upgrade in the party’s capacity. I won’t be expecting fireworks straight away – but I’d expect a noticeable improvement in the party’s online offering in the coming months.

I think this is a significant hire – and I’ve certainly made no secret of the respect I have for Matthew. Last year I wrote:

“I know Matthew a little and I’m a huge fan of his work. If you look at most of the best online campaigning in British politics now (even after he’s been away for two years), you’ll probably find that he’s been involved in it somewhere.”

“On the Obama campaign, McGregor was responsible for the digital rapid response unit that attacked Mitt Romney relentlessly, ensuring that any statement by the Republican was picked over and rebutted, often within minutes or hours. My favourite example was this video which was posted soon after Romney’s infamous 47% speech leaked. It’s sheer campaigning brilliance.”

“The Obama campaign had 130 members of staff on their digital team. The Labour Party will obviously never get anywhere near that, but it needs to scale up from the small handful of talented but poorly resourced individuals who run the party’s online operation today. Hiring McGregor would be a good place for Labour to start.”

This is a significant investment aimed directly at 2015 – and General Secretary Iain McNicol and Ed Miliband (both of whom met McGregor before hiring him) should be commended for making a bold move.

If 2015 is the digital general election, Labour just put their tanks on the Tory lawn.

More from LabourList