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Labour are rattled by the Conservatives hiring world class election strategists

By Harry Phibbs
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Jim Messina, a veteran of the Obama Campaign, has been hired by the Conservatives to advise on social media and political organisation. Mr Messina says he has "long admired" David Cameron. This follows the hiring of Lynton Crosby last November.

Mr Messina does not regard the social media as a substiute for traditional compaiging. He told the Democrats Convention last year:

Every morning, the first thing I read are the numbers from the day before. Not poll numbers or money. The numbers that mean something: door-knocks, conversations, registered voters.

Our volunteers have made 44 million calls and knocked on 3.8 million doors. We've registered more than a million voters—already more than in 2008. And no state has registered more people than the great, blue state of North Carolina!

For a Democrat to be helping the Conservatives has had a psychological impact on Labour supporters - already uneasy over the narrowing of the opinion poll gap and evidence of the economy strengthening.

However Andrew Haldenby reminds us in The Times (£) this morning that the idea that the Democrats favour Big Government and the Republicans favour Small Government is not always reflected in reality.

Mr Haldenby says:

Barack Obama is overseeing what is, on a fair comparison, the most precipitous drop in government spending in American history.

Federal spending is down from 27% of GDP in 2010 to 23% this year:

It is fair to say that the US is witnessing the end of Obamanomics and the beginning of a new era of fiscal restraint.

In his first phase, President Obama’s role model might have been President Johnson, the creator of the Big Society and its associated social programmes. His inspiration now might be President Clinton.

Bill Clinton was the most fiscally conservative president of modern times. His final year in office saw federal spending fall to just 19 per cent of GDP. His policies included a radical programme of welfare reform that continues to influence policy on both sides of the Atlantic.

The challenge for Keynesians lies in the fact that the US economy has continued to recover despite these historic cuts.

Not that Mr Messina is working for free. Charles Saatchi, who made such a noteworthy contribution to Margaret Thatcher's victory in 1979, replies when asked if he is or was a Tory:

"How sweet of you to think that advertising copy is written from the heart."

Mr Saatchi points out that used to puff away while working on anti smoking ads.

However in Mr Messina's case he is evidently working for both money and a wish to see David Cameron succeed.

Even before this star signing Labour were already quite nervous enough about Lynton Crosby - although at least they had the comfort of being able to boo Mr Crosby as a stage villain.

John McTernan, former Political Secretary to Tony Blair, writes in one of the more measured Labour critique's:

Again and again, the pattern is the same: Government weakness turned to strength; language crafted with precision; Labour forced to choose between purity and popularity...

A former colleague of mine describes Crosby’s modus operandi like this: “Lynton always checks out
a battleground. When he’s hired for a campaign he spends days driving around, buying coffee, eating lunch, having a beer, talking to people. He knows that, properly done, every conversation is a mini focus group. Only after that process does he draft questions for focus groups.

This is what Labour is up against: a professional at the top of his game. All campaigners have wins and losses. Crosby’s loss – Michael Howard’s 2005 campaign – was balanced by the securing of a second term for Boris. London is a Labour city, and to re-elect a Tory mayor when the national party was polling below 30 per cent was a great achievement.

This is the crux of it: Lynton Crosby is doing his job and doing it well. It may enrage Labour, but anger is not enough. How do you fight a man with a 12ft sword? Don’t start with a 6ft sword. Of course Crosby can be beaten – but play the game, not the man.

Mr Messina and Mr Crosby are world class election strategists. They appear to offer complementary skills. The Labour Party are worried that their own campaigning will be unsophisticated by comparison.

Some in the Labour Party feel that their Party is being left to play catch up. If as a result of this there are complaints about Ed Miliband's delay and indecision reflecting his weak leadership then that will be some further return on the substantial sums the Conservative Party is paying to their US and Australian assistants.


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