Jim Messina is a superb hire for the Tories – I wish Labour had hired him

2nd August, 2013 5:25 pm

The news that Obama’s 2012 Campaign Manager Jim Messina will be advising the Tories on the 2015 election campaign is a blow. Whilst US political campaigns are markedly different to their British alternatives – not least because there’s precious little money in British politics compared to America – I’m sure he will use impressive political and campaigning nous to the benefit of the Tories between now and 2015.

The odds of Labour winning the next election just got a little longer.

Evidently there’s an element of “gun for hire” about Messina going to work for the Tories. Obama’s Democrats have little in common with Cameron’s Tories – especially on the key electoral issue of the economy, where Obama went for a stimulus and Cameron went for austerity. But it’s somewhat painful to see that a senior Democrat – albeit one who is to the right of the Labour Party – thinks that the Tories are the right horse to back in 2015.

Jim Messina is a superb hire for the Tories – I wish Labour had hired him.

But what’s depressing is the contrast between how the Tories and Labour are approaching general election planning. Whilst the Tories are assiduously searching the globe for the most effective political consultants money can buy – regardless of party affiliation – Ed Miliband still hasn’t appointed a replacement for Tom Watson (one of the few Labour politicians who is a strategic campaigner). At the moment it looks worryingly like Miliband is trying to decide which one of his mates from the Shadow Cabinet to appoint to run the General Election campaign.

The real fear is that Labour will fudge the issue and have the General Election campaign run by committee – a recipe for total message ill-discipline and strategic disaster.

Perhaps it’s time to consider whether or not having a General Election campaign run by a politician is realistic. It’s beginning to look remarkably homsepun that whilst the other parties bring in professionals with a track record of running election campaigns around the world, the bar for what is considered “campaign management experience” in the Labour Party is embarrassingly low. Even the Lib Dems have their own overseas campaign whizz Ryan Coetzee. The Labour Party had made a great start, hiring the excellent Matthew McGregor fresh out of the Obama campaign to steer the party’s digital output, but other Obama campaign veterans who might have come to work for Labour have failed to materialise.

There is very little time to go until the next election. Time spent considering which politician should be running the election campaign is time wasted. Labour should – money permitting – be trying to hire the best political campaigners available to run our election campaign. If the Tories have hired Jim Messina, then Labour could do much worse than approaching David Axelrod – who has recently left the White House – to run a professional, experienced campaign for Downing Street.

The Tories now have Lynton Crosby and Jim Messina – Darth Vader and Anakin Skywalker, if you will. Who do we have? At the moment. No-one. And that’s starting to look complacent at best and embarrassing at worst.

Value our free and unique service?

LabourList has more readers than ever before - but we need your support. Our dedicated coverage of Labour's policies and personalities, internal debates, selections and elections relies on donations from our readers.

If you can support LabourList’s unique and free service then please click here.

To report anything from the comment section, please e-mail [email protected]
  • Robin Wilde

    What about Arnie Graf?

  • KCLAmerican

    As an American Democrat who worked with OFA in North Carolina all I can say is wow. This is beyond disappointing. I know Dems and Labour don’t match up on everything, but we have more in common with Labour than those Mitt Romney-esque Conservatives. This election is most certainly winnable for Labour, but you are right it got a lot harder.

  • JoeDM

    Surprised? Not really.

    Cameron the wet has always seen himself as the “heir to Blair” rather than a true Tory and getting the top Democrat organiser on board is just an extension of that.

  • RogerMcC

    What the bassist from Buffalo Springfield?

    Labour should just hire Neil Young in response.

    • Major Plonquer

      That’s one for the byrds….

  • RAnjeh

    Agreed. We don’t have an Election Co-ordinator and the guy in charge of strategy is Stewart Wood. Compared to Crosby and Messian, Labour is screwed. I’d bring back Matthew Taylor and go further than Axelrod, put David Plouffe in the campaign with Douglas Alexander as election co-ordiantor.

  • RogerMcC

    And you really do miss the point about the Dems who are mainly distinguished from the Republicans not on the economy – both US parties are privatising neoliberals (and even the GOP are only opposed to a stimulus when a Democrat is doing it) – but on cultural issues (i.e. guns, gays and Jesus).

    And as gun toting homo-hating creationists are actually not a significant segment of the UK electorate a Republican strategist whose expertise is in stirring up Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel against latte-sipping liberal metropolitan elites would be largely useless to the Tories.

    And US political skills do not always translate well to the UK – Gordon Brown going to considerable expense to hire the likes of Bob Shrum and Stan Greenberg didn’t actually help us very much.

    • Theo Blackwell

      Only to a point, but not much further – the Democrats approach austerity with a massive stimulus and senators/states/gvt have consistently pursued tougher regulation on the financial sector than anything proposed in the UK.

      American politics is much more nuanced and varied than you make out.

      • RogerMcC

        Of course it is.

        However it is all too easy to mistake rhetoric for reality.

        Obama only had the power to fund a stimulus of any sort for 2 years and even then was forced to accept a smaller one than was required despite having supposed control of Congress as right wing Democrats failed to support him.

        Since 2010 he has little real power over the economy and is likely to have no more in 2012-16.

        And consequently he has while continuing to talk stimulus allowed the sequestration process to impose austerity.

        So ideologically as privatising, free marketeering, neo-liberals with no great interest in regulating what people do with their genitals a mainstream Obama/Clinton Democrat really does have more in common with a Tory like Cameron than with any European social-democrat.

        And that they are still very much the lesser evil is one of the more terrifying things about the planet, .

        • i_bid

          You speak as if most of them things aren’t also applicable to most Labour politicians. Closer to Clinton Democrats than European social democrats at any rate (but then the latter, PS, PASOK and PD are showing there’s little difference any longer, anyway).

          • hyufd

            Hollande and the French Socialist Party is more traditional left

          • i_bid

            Yeah, definitely. But if you look at the extent of what Hollande’s achieved so far – gay marriage – you can see there’s little difference. Gone are the promises to scrap austerity and tax the rich.

          • hyufd

            Not entirely true, he has simply imposed a 66% payroll tax on companies which pay salaries of 1 million euros or more after his proposal for a 75% income tax on the rich was rejected as unconstitutional by the French courts. With the scale of French debt it was inevitable there would be some austerity, but he has imposed it less fiercely than Sarkozy and the UMP would have done!

    • Fully agree. Throughout the first and second Obama campaigns I’ve had a detail commentary from US friends and I’ve always thought “that could not happen here”. The US has a different approach to community than we do, sometimes Americans can be a lot more collectivist that we can be. For example, Town Hall meetings actually mean something in the US. Here, they are damp squibs: the public just are not interested.

      • Mike Homfray

        Yes – its the pluralist tradition – sociologists and political scientists will know this well. Its really not a very good fit with UK society which actually is largely disinterested in grassroots collectivism without the state – try recruiting volunteers for anything…..

  • Mike Homfray

    One of my American friends thinks that all the British political parties are Democrats and that the Republicans are way to the right of our mainstream

    • RogerMcC

      Which is an excellent way of putting it.

    • hyufd

      With the exception of UKIP which is basically a UK GOP ie anti-gay marriage, sceptical about climate change, for tougher border controls, for deeper spending and tax cuts etc. Thatcher would also happily have slotted into the GOP mainstream. A few moderate Republicans, eg Bush Senior, Ford, IKE could have been Tories, but you are right, the US centre of gravity is generally to the right of most EU and western nations

  • ravi

    don’t wish to pile on the bad news but I am hearing Jim Messina team includes David Axelrod and Team Obama core team. The biggest game changer in campaigning is a birdseye approach . The Tories have got it, Boris got it, Labour still have a inward approach.

  • Chilbaldi

    “Whilst the Tories are assiduously searching the globe for the most
    effective political consultants money can buy – regardless of party

    The Democrats are perfectly compatible with the Tories. A lot of Labour members seem unaware of this.

    • Indeed. Simon Burns, transport minister, went to the US to campaign for Obama’s presidential bid. Just because the Democrats are to the left of the GOP does not mean that they are a natural fit with Labour. US politics is much more right-wing than European politics.

      • jaime taurosangastre candelas

        I think there is little to separate the American parties economically (the left / right axis): there is a little bit of course, but it is marginal between total austerity and not quite as brutal austerity since 2008, and before then in the “good times” even President Reagan was a big state spender. Clinton was more economically conservative than either of the Bush Presidents before or after him.

        I do also think there is a considerable difference between them on the liberal / authoritarian axis. Republicans like letting people do what they want to – and all of the bad things that come of that, whereas Democrats like telling people what to do, and all of the bad things that come of that.

        It should not be forgotten just how “engrained” it is in American culture the importance of personal freedom from oppression and tyranny. Their politics was defined by waves of immigrants fleeing from individual oppression in Europe, and the very big polarisations that caused so much bloodshed in Europe (Communism and Fascism) have never mattered to Americans. They also live in a country so vastly rich in resource (agricultural, mineral, in sheer open space), so full of promise for enterprise and so un-encumbered by ownership of land that there was never a chance that anything left wing would ever take hold.

      • RAnjeh

        Simon Burns is a personal friend of Bill Clinton, that’s why. Most Tories back the GOP (vice versa) and Labour would back the Dems (vice versa, with exceptions).

    • RAnjeh

      They are our sister party in the States. Both members of Progressive Alliance and share common ground. It’s just that the American centre is further to the right than in Britain.

  • Monkey_Bach

    No matter how clever, ingenious, or hard working a person might be they still can’t polish a turd and make it shine. We currently have a government where families with disabled children might end up evicted after their housing benefit gets cut because they have a spare bedroom. If Labour cannot defeat the worst Tory mastered government led by the worst Tory Prime Minister in living memory then there is no hope. Crosby and Messina are not political alchemists: they’re not magicians: they can’t change base metal into gold.

    And the current government is very base.

    Very base indeed.


    • JoeDM

      We are still recovering from the Brown Bust !!!

    • dave stone

      Ah, but you’re referencing the experiences of ordinary people – such matters are of little consequence to modern politics.

      Today politics is a game played by elites: elite campaign masterminds who, unencumbered by conviction, hire themselves out to the highest bidder; and elite politicians (who may also hire themselves out to the highest bidder.)

      Ordinary people only have a role as unknowing dupes.

    • Thats_news

      But being evicted by Labour Party controlled Housing Trusts. Who sorta kinda forget that there are methods available to them to not have to evict them.

  • Pingback: Quote of the Day - Guy Fawkes' blog()

  • Simon Maxwell

    The Tories aren’t going to win the most seats, let alone win a majority, at the next election. The Tories could manage only a pathetic 36% share of the vote at the last election, and they’re going to become more unpopular over the next two years, with policies such as privatisation of the NHS and privatisation of the Royal Mail.

    Besides, even if Labour’s share of the vote in May 2015 is 2.5% *below* that of the Tories, Labour would still be the largest party in a hung parliament. So, the odds are against Cameron remaining in power after the next election.

  • I watched the report about this on Newsnight and the consensus was that Jim Messina’s appointment likely went ahead with Obama’s blessing. If true that’s a pretty sobering thought. Jim Messina has a faultless record (no election he has worked on has ever been lost) and it’s possible the Obama administration doesn’t think the stock in Miliband is worth investing in.

    Doubtless many on the left won’t believe Obama and Cameron could have a fondness for each other but that just illustrates something that can be a problem with some of my comrades – they think tribally and discount the importance of personality. I can certainly believe Obama would prefer working with Cameron to Gordon Brown and having done so for three years it’s possible he’d like to see it continue. It’s worth pointing out that Cameron has stated an intention for a post election in / out EU referendum which Obama wants Cameron to win. It may be he will call in this favour come the time.

    • Monkey_Bach

      This sounds a little fanciful to me.

      Jim Messina is only 44 years old and has, as far as I know, only worked for Democrat politicians. His involvement in helping to get Democrat Presidents elected to office could only therefore have happened in respect to Barack Obama election and re-election in 2008 and 2012.

      American citizens can only be elected to the office of President twice in their lifetimes and thus Barack Obama will be out of office by 9th November 2016 whatever happens between now and then. Whoever becomes British Prime Minister in May 2015, assuming the Coalition hangs together, will hence have slightly less than six months to work with the current President of the United States before Obama necessarily has to bow out and step down. I doubt if Obama is much exercised about who become the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, especially considering that his successor is quite likely going to be a politician selected from amongst his opponents in the Republican Party.

      I have lived in America and felt more of a foreigner there than I did in any non-English speaking European country. America really isn’t that much like the United Kingdom and I doubt very much if political methods and strategies that work in the United States will work here as well or at all.

      I am afraid that having next to no good or positive news to trumpet the Conservatives are really going to get down into the gutter and run a vicious campaign full of half-truths, character assassination, and vilification of helpless minorities to try to whip up a climate of fear and loathing they hope to exploit to their advantage.

      It’s all they have left to pull out of the bag.

      Brace yourselves!



    • RAnjeh

      I think you may be a little right. Obama probably just doesn’t care, he has better things to be worrying about. Seems like he’s good friends with Cameron but politically has more in common with Labour over here. But when Cameron endorsed Obama for the 2012 elections, so Messina might be returning the favour. Who knows.

  • leslie48

    The main reason the Tories are doing probably better than they should be( although behind Lab in opinion polls ) is indeed down to their propaganda and communication experts who are able to spin crude and divisive messages which Tory M.P.s articulate in the media. With an increasing Right Wing press, Labour needs experts too. Your concerns are spot on.

    • rekrab

      Come on Leslie48, lets face the facts, it was new labour fault that the NHS is in such a mess, they started the privatisation and those 13 years of new labour didn’t do much to improve Britain’s industry might.At the end of the day Leslie, it’s the state of the country which matters, the tories have simply used 13 years of poor new labour government to make a bad situation more horrible and labour still hasn’t any answers to what they’d do differently.

      • leslie48

        i can hardly reply to such a silly reply – but in the 2000s we had a good economy compared to Europe with very low unemployment, low inflation, growth levels, education and hi-tech expansion on an unprecedented scale esp. at 18+, the NHS improved & reduced its queues esp,. cancer appointments, more regional investment and autonomy, less child poverty.., less crime, no riots, etc., lass social divisions. Our Labour party won three elections. Of course there were imperfections; that’s life, that’s history. Grow up.

        • reformist lickspittle

          Well said.

          Tbh, I have never undestood why some on the hard left are so anxious to paint 13 years of Labour government as unremitting pain misery and failure. Maybe they delude themselves that it will lead to more support for them?

          When, of course, in reality it only benefits the right.

  • Monkey_Bach

    Trouble is the bust happened EVERYWHERE in the western world. The major mistake Brown made was to stupidly follow the inherently faulty neo-liberal, laissez-faire, model of capitalism pioneered by free-wheeling America during the Bush years. As far as Britain goes we’re not yet actually recovering at all. Hence Osborne, tearing his hair out panicking for some growth in the economy, has begun interfering with our already massively over-inflated housing market via government underwritten financial backing to under-capitalised first time buyers to allow them to purchase a property they really cannot afford. This could well trigger another house price bubble which, when it goes pop, will end up disastrously to lenders and borrowers alike: when interest rates begin to rise, which they absolutely will have to do over the next few years, any tentative recovery that might be happening against the odds could be extinguished overnight.


  • Monkey_Bach

    The Solution
    by Bertolt Brecht

    After the uprising of the 17th June
    The Secretary of the Writers Union
    Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
    Stating that the people
    Had forfeited the confidence of the government
    And could win it back only
    By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
    In that case for the government
    To dissolve the people
    And elect another?

    Perhaps it would be simpler if the political classes periodically elected a people rather than submitting themselves to be elected to office themselves by an ill educated and poorly informed population of voters the political classes obviously have little connection with and a scarcely disguised lip-curling contempt toward.

    They know best after all.


  • Claire B

    Axelrod is now working for NBC news

  • Mike Homfray

    I simply think he has taken a job. I doubt whether deep ideological commitment has anything very much to do with it.
    Messina’s record is as someone on the right of the Democrats, and in US terms, all our parties are one sort of Democrat or another. The blend of religiously inspired social conservatism, economic neoliberalism, and localist pork-barrelling that makes up the republican party doesn’t really have an echo here. Whereas there are elements of the Democrats that fit quite well with Labour and Conservative. For example, the Democrats are effectively an economically right-wing pro-market party, but believe in big government projects in order to do so. Both our main parties would be seen as socially liberal in the US. They support abortion, gay equality, easy divorce etc.

  • swatnan

    What about Peter Mandelson? The Party will really come of age when it learns to love Peter Mandelson.

  • Monkey_Bach

    That is true but wouldn’t be happening if the Coalition had not changed the law and encouraged this atrocity to happen. Housing Associations and Councils will all eventually have to toe the line, or break the law of the land, or use some other ruse to evade mass evicting of their poorest tenants. In a front page article in today’s Independent the Bedroom Tax is attacked because 96% of people hit by reductions in their Housing Benefit because they happen to have one (or more) spare rooms cannot downsize because there is nowhere for them to go.


    This is a new kind of injustice and cruelty for which the Tories and Liberal Democrats are wholly to blame.


  • Offer David Axelrod a Lordship and get him in

  • I’m not Mandelson fan but turning a looming catastrophe into a mere defeat was a result

  • David Andrews

    Labour have a big problem which has barely been reported. The Tories are preparing a bill in response to the east Lothian question. It will effectively not allow Scottish MPs to vote on matters affecting only England. This will mean that even if Labour win the election and any election after that, and with Scotland deciding more of its own matters, labour will (except for issues such as defence) be marginalised on almost every vote in the House of Commons. So even if in govt, 80 pct of policies will be determined by the Tories as they will frm the argest voting block without the Scottish about MPs.

    • hyufd

      Not always, Labour won a majority in England from 1997-2005, in 1966 and 1945. They also won most MPs in England in 1950 and October 1974

  • David Andrews
  • Pingback: David Axelrod on board with Miliband | POLITICOM()


LabourList Daily Email

Everything Labour. Every weekday morning

Share with your friends