Sunday 4 August 2013

Why Labour Doesn't Need Jim Messina

"We're doomed! We're doomed!" No, I'm not channelling Private Frazer's ghost. But this sums up the deflated mood afflicting sections of the front bench and commentariat. Why? Because it appears the Tories are getting their act together. Some polls report a narrowing of the Labour lead, while others wipe it out altogether, or (confusingly) show Labour extending its lead. Either way, poll volatility is not something a party that has hitherto enjoyed a commanding lead should be relaxed about. The second bit is the mileage shale gas/tobacco/private health lobbyist Lynton Crosby has made since assuming the mantle of chief Tory election strategist. Gutter politics is what this man's about, and the Tories have proven all too happy to wade into the filth with him. Europe, scroungers, illegal immigrants - there is nothing off-limits as they seek to create a new electoral coalition around negativity, racism and benefit-bashing. And the third bit, which has had some Labour folk wincing, is the appointment of Obama strategist Jim Messina as a Tory election advisor.

Jim who? I know, before last night he wasn't exactly someone on the tip of the political class's tongues (though getting anyone to admit they had never heard of him is a big ask). But nonetheless he's something of a catch for the Tories. After all, Jim Messina is the man credited with masterminding Obama's successful 2012 re-election campaign. He does data, maths, social media and other digital things, apparently. Of course, being a Democrat you could be forgiven for thinking he wouldn't touch the Conservatives with an exit poll. Certainly it's left more than a few people disappointed - witness this petition, for instance. But I think this kind of moralism is pointless. The Democrats are not a labour party, they were not born out of a mass movement of millions of working people. It is a liberal party much like our own LibDems, though far more successful. This isn't to say the Democratic Party have not done some progressive things from time-to-time - I'd certainly have a Democrat in the White House over a Republican any day. But they are not part of our "family", nor should we pretend it is.

Quite why the interminably dull two-horse race of American politics exercises the commentariat's imagination eludes me. Perhaps to ask the question this way is to answer it. But going by the hagiography draped over Jim Messina's person from our self-appointed experts, I'm given to believe he is to psephology what Einstein was to special relativity. Working his way up from the Hobbesian nightmare that passed for politics in Montana, his record includes using cheap, cynical tricks and homophobic innuendo to win fights. The Tory party should fit him like a glove, then. But his major achievement is curating Obama's re-election campaign. This undoubtedly was an impressive vote-winning machine, that - if you pardon the awful term - synergised crowd-sourced fundraising, TV advertising, activist mobilisation, and targeted campaigning.

Which, in a way, is why Messina's is a puzzling hire. His campaigning strength lies in political organisation. To be blunt, the Conservatives haven't got any. This is why, despite what sundry Labour MPs and Bubble wonks think, this is not a shit-the-bed situation.

If you pay more than lip service to the technologies of campaigning, the Tories may have bagged their 'great man'; but Labour has a greater depth of experience. It too has its own technical whizzes - as well as party staff and volunteers that were seconded to Obama's 2008 and 2012 campaigns at all levels. Labour also has its infamous Contact Creator voter ID system, which is absolutely essential for any get out the vote operation and has very wide take-up in the party. The Tory equivalent - 'Merlin' - is much more problematic. And do we need to mention that Labour had an activist-led social media presence way before anything approaching a strategy was developed?

Ah, that word. Activist. Not only is Tory membership plummeting, but the party's average age is quite considerable. It's 68 suggests this report, or 74 according to another. Labour's is, based on a quick google search, anywhere between 47 and 60. Clearly, the latter has greater numbers of younger, fit people who can do the hard grind of leaflets, door knocking, stalls and stunts. Plus Labour has a culture of organising. Yes, there are constituency organisations that have - how shall se say - been at rest for extended periods, but doing things is in the party's DNA. While there are active Tories who do more than hold wine and cheese evenings, it simply cannot out-organise the Labour Party. And to rub it in, Labour are taking on more full and part-time organisers to work the marginals - the experience of 2010 showed that where there were organisers, Labour had a better chance of holding on. Quite how Jim Messina can work with the dilapidated Tory party remains to be seen - but he certainly cannot mobilise new generations of young people around vague notions of hope, or keeping the nasty party out. Labour on the other hand can reasonably expect to benefit from that effect.

But this is all very dry stuff. Labour has the medium, but does not have the message. Whereas the Tories already do. So as the long, long campaign settles in after the summer recess Labour has to get its finger out its arse and come up with policies that speak to the hope for something different, the need for people to feel security in their lives, and the desire to turn the country's fortunes around. Once we have decent positions we can speak to, then Labour's collective strength and strategic nous can fully make its weight felt.


Anonymous said...

Well I'm not voting Labour. They don't deserve it.

Phil said...

That's all very well, but you need to explain your alternative. For instance, which of the two possible governments has pledged to undo zero hour contracts and reverse changes in the NHS?

Gary Elsby said...

I agree that an organiser on the ground works.
The WM organiser was sent to Stoke to turn the anti elected Mayor view into a winner for a City and party that didn't want one.
It worked.

Gary Elsby said...

Also, anonymous, which of the two parties knows it has already lost the 2015 General Election, and is attempting to dump the Trade Union influence in a new Leadership battle certain to take place?

jq mark said...

thank you that was an interesting piece of writing, i would counter that if this messina guy is good at finding new organisers ie people who aint in the tory party already then that could be trouble. obviously it will be difficult to find such people but i would nt say impossible.

Phil said...

Of a morning, Gary normally has the choice between taking the miserable pill or the bitter pill. Looks like he had both yesterday.

Phil said...

Messina will not be finding organisers as his role is strictly advisory. He will not be leaving the US to shack up with Lynton Crosby, so I cannot understand what added value he brings to the Tory camp.

While we're talking Tory activists, it seems it's this group of people who among its membership are finding UKIP alluring. Small wonder Crosby is reportedly considering an under-the-radar operation against them.

Gary Elsby said...

...and just to prove I didn't take my convenience conspiracy pill this morning, it will be you who will ask if the WM organiser turned up to Stoke six Months prior to a Mayoral victory and then camped in the Mayor's office for a further six months (to show how it is done)(close this close that).

Oh and about that bit about trade unionist actually wanting to join the Labour Party? Perish the thought and call in the police, I say! Couldn't make it up if we all tried.

..oh and by the way, when the TV cameras turn up this week filming Labour'll know it was me:-)

Phil said...

Scratch that. Gary's overdosed on incomprehensibility.

asquith said...

Messina is, as far as I can tell, not universally welcomed by Tories. Several commentors on ConHome (which is a really good bellweather of right-wing opinion) think anyone linked to Obama must be a hard-line socialist, which is very daft, but it's a view a number of Tories share.

I think I'd actually fit in fairly well as a Democrat myself, although I'd have to be a slagger-off of their civil liberties record. But then every elected politician I can think of, Obama and Clegg included, is tragic at that. And even if Miliband was a liberal, how long would he withstand the Alan Johnsons of this world, and whoever it is at the Home Office that constantly demands more?

We'll be getting some news out of this gent, however it exactly pans out, it's not the last we've heard of him.

Phil said...

Obama has an appalling civil liberties record. He does the things New Labour at its most authoritarian could only dream of.

As he will be advising from afar I can't see how the Tories are going to get their money's worth. I really don't.

Anonymous said...

I suppose being an educated man doesn't necessarily mean that you are a knowledgeable man or an informed one.
Everything I write is backed up by facts.
My opinion that a stitch up via devious methods is a personal one and the closure agenda (2005-present) came squarely from the organiser from the WM who had a desk in the Mayor's office.
(opinion based on fact.

By the way Phil, imminent shit coming your way BIG TIME.

You, a somewhat knowledgeable man will know it was me.

Phil said...

Dearest Gary, there is absolutely no need for you to pretend anonymity on here. I am a "somewhat knowledgeable man" after all.

You also mistake my lack of interest in your ramblings for "lack of knowledge". But do carry on - you've promised me mountains of crap for the last three years and none of it has yet materialised.

anonymous (Gary Elsby) said...

I do apologise Phil.

When I inform you AND warn you of impending shit, I do want full and proper recognition for it.

I suppose we should all come to terms with you actually knowing what is going on even if we remain puzzled by any lack of public outrage by yourself.

Scared of being 'expelled' or 'thrown out'?

Fuck me.
Not exactly Tollpuddle Martys now is it?

Cowards need more shit pumped on them I say.

Phil said...

The "we" business is tiresome, Gary. How many votes did you get on your last outing? Do remember that you speak only for yourself.

As per usual I have no clue what you're on about. But for your information, I'm no longer the secretary or an officer of the constituency party you were quite happy to see run down over the course of many years, so you might need someone else to go and play with.

Gary Elsby said...

I am employed, ran a business, was a candidate for Labour a number of times, campaigned every year, sat on the Parliamentary panel, an EU delegate and the CLP secretary.

Nothing got in my way.

I gather you have landed a job.

Know it was me yet?
The best is coming soon. Imminent.

Phil said...

You gather correctly, Gary, seeing as I posted about it a while ago.

I look forward to whatever you're alluding to with interest. Unfortunately for you, the immense majority of people in this city will pay your bombshell no heed at all.

it's me, it's me Gary! said...


4 reporters are working on the story.

Phil said...

Gary, it's pointless you dropping your little allusions on this blog as I'm but a rank-and-file member. And one that doesn't care about your ravings.