David Axelrod was hired to advise Ed Miliband exactly a year ago, but there has been considerable criticism of the former Obama adviser (from both inside as well as outisde the party) for his apparent lack of time spent in the UK working on the campaign. At a reported cost of £300,000 (for a party that doesn’t have a great deal of money) slightly more was expected. But today there’s an interview with Axelrod in the Guardian – his first appearance in the UK press since his last Guardian interview two months ago – so what can we learn from his comments today?
1. Axelrod will be in the UK for the last two weeks of the campaign – Axelrod is clearly aware of the criticism his lack of UK appearances has received (he hit out at that criticism in February) – but says he’s in constant constant with Labour staffers (he’s believed to have a good relationship with Miliband aide Greg Beales), has been in the UK four times in the past year (which is more than widely reported, but still not much) and will be in the UK for the final dozen days of the campaign, arriving on April 26th.
2. Axelrod appears to be the man behind the ‘happy warrior’ strategy – In recent weeks we’ve been hearing Miliband described as the “happy warrior”, a phrase that’s far more American than British. It looks from the way Axelrod talks about Miliband like he’s the man behind the phrase, especially when he says things like “His resilience has become a great story in itself. People have counted him out and counted him out, particularly the media, but he believes in what he is doing”.
3. There’s some Miliband/Hilary crossover (Hiliband?) – Axelrod’s framing of the campaign is a choice between two different kinds of Britain – one where those at the top succeed and one where the nation succeeds because working people are better off. That’s pretty similar to Miliband’s own framing – unsurprisingly. But it’s also similar to the language Hilary Clinton used to launch her presidential campaign. That’s interesting, because unlike many Obama staffers, Axelrod isn’t working on Clinton’s campaign – although he has had a lot to say about her…
4. Axelrod doesn’t rate the Tory campaign (part-run by fellow Obama veteran Jim Messina) – He accuses the Tories of “a kind of cocksuredness predicated on the belief they could caricature Miliband and caricature the Labour party”, and accuses Cameron of uttering “blandishments”. Now these are fairly standard criticisms of an opponent – but he’s also attacked the Tory campaign more broadly for a failure of focus, lurching from one issue/attack to another, saying “At the beginning it was ‘Labour is profligate’. That did not work. Then it was a personal attack on Miliband and that did not work. The next attack was the £3,000 tax increase and then that proved not to be true. Now they have gone full circle and are making 11th-hour promises they have no way of funding since their budgets calls for the most extraordinary austerity”. That’s a particularly interesting critique, considering one of the Tories key advisers is Jim Messina (not that we’ve heard much of him lately).
5. Axelrod expects the Tories to spend the final days of the campaign playing the politics of fear
So Axelrod will only be in the country for the finald ays of the campaign, but what he’s expecting when he arrives is for the Tories to ramp up the politics of fear, saying “Fear is always the last refuge of a panicky campaign. As we get closer to the election, we will hear a lot of that”. Of course, to those of us who have to listen to the Tory campaign everyday, it sounds like they’re doing a lot of that already.