Edward Miliband of Britain's Labour Party has hired David Axelrod, Barack Obama's campaign adviser extraordinaire, to help manage his Party's attempt to recapture control of the government in the May 2015 elections. Hiring talent from the former Empire is not unusual in the UK - the Conservatives are hiring Jim Messina of the 2012 Obama campaign and Lynton Crosby from Australia for their campaign - but the big news across the Pond is Axelrod.
Premise: David Axelrod who was with Obama for his 2006 Senate run as well as his two presidential elections, mastered three things.
First, it was necessary to make middle class Americans comfortable with an African American whose father and step-father were Muslims, whose mother was an expatriate who largely abandoned him, whose mentors included a card-carrying communist in Hawaii as well as Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers, who had just a few years of undistinguished state legislative experience, and who had no executive experience or accomplishments. Somehow they pulled it off with a couple of autobiographical books, a lot of flowery speeches, a pliant media, and an American public which wanted to demonstrate its racial tolerance. Axelrod should be comfortable with the bland Miliband, an Oxford/London School of Economics graduate and Harvard lecturer with a prominent Marxist intellectual father.
Second, "Big Data" and social media were ready for politics. Howard Dean had demonstrated the power of the internet for political fundraising in 2004, and there was a logical marriage between the enthusiastic young Democrat activists and the emerging technology. When Axelrod retreated from Washington to Chicago to develop the infrastructure for 2012, he was clearly on the correct path. The tools of Facebook, Twitter, and databases will be the same for the UK, but one year may not be enough to organize the human part of the equation and the kids may not be as inclined to Labour and Mileband as they were to the Democrats and Obama.
Third, Axelrod and Obama - who campaigned eloquently about uniting America - have been masters at the politics of division. While the Republicans have plodded along advocating ideas - balanced budgets, individual liberty, the job creating power of small business, American exceptionalism - Obama has been a genius at stoking the idea of a "War on Women", the oppression of illegal immigrants, and the greed of the 1%. Whether because Obama is unable to make decisions or because there was political advantage in letting things such as the Afghan War, immigration reform, or the XL Pipeline fester, there is little question that America is more divided today than it was when Obama assumed power in 2008. London beware.
Her Majesty's United Kingdom may not be as able as America to withstand the divisiveness of an Axelrod campaign or the "leading from behind" Obama style. Scotland will decide whether to end some 300 years of union with England in a September 2014 referendum, potentially leaving questions of the currency, splitting the public debt, blame for the UK break-up, and a myriad of other issues to influence the 2015 UK elections. Then there are the British immigration issues, both from the poorer countries of the European Union and from the former British colonies in Africa and South Asia. The Brits even have a rough equivalent of the Tea Party for Axelrod to trash - the nascent United Kingdom Independence Party which opposes the growing role of the European Union. And Axelrod should have a heyday with the always-popular "growing inequality of wealth" theme, made more politically exploitable in the UK by the anachronistic class structure.
From an American perspective, it is good to have Axelrod moving on. He has demonstrated an ability to do a lot with not much. Our loss is likely to be London's loss. Hopefully Hillary will use the same folks that she did in 2008.
bill bowen - 4/25/14