Not Waving or Drowning; Corbyn swims with the Red Tide as Pope wows America

September 29, 2015 Leave a comment

Jeremy Corbyn’s baptism as Labour Party Leader hasn’t been a bed of bread and roses; but neither has there been the complete implosion (that may yet still happen but shows no sign of happening in the immediate future). What is going on in Brave New Labour? What has Corbyn failed at so far? What has gone right for him? And what does the future hold?

JC’s mandate is huge; he can turn around to his many critics, including this writer, and say ‘Look at my Votes ye mighty and despair’. He is the change candidate who hasn’t changed in 40 years. His faults have been well documented. The accusation of an inability to change his mind or compromise since 1983 – while somewhat unfair – is the main critique for the permanently almost revolutionary Labourite. The margin of his victory may mean that the Moderates in the Party may not be able to mobilise for months or years, posited on ‘Newsnight’ – this is counter to how the narrative should have been. He may not be deposed in a coup; Peter Mandelson’s advice may be canny – let Corbyn be Corbyn and fail as a result.

To start with the negative. His Shadow Cabinet appointments looked shambolic at times. He has had several extremely talented MPs refuse to serve under him; that will be his loss. The spectre of a Bennite-style witch hunt by the Left looms large. Then, there’s his inability or unwillingness to play the media game. This will appear charming or quirky at first but may be leading the party into an electoral cul-de-sac. Business and the Tory Press hate him as do some Labour Social Democrats and people of principle.

And yet…his first few weeks have not been all bad by any means. His risky appointment of John McDonnell as Shadow Chancellor may turn out to be a masterstroke. He is already showing a deftness with the Press that his leader lacks. Corbyn’s first speech as leader was the anti-Blair, ‘what you see is what you get’. While there’s a late breaking story accusing him of lifting some of that text from Ed Miliband, the speech went down well with Conference, the Left Media and even some on the Right. He has been mature enough to recognise that staking his leadership on Trident would be a foolish move. His policy on Rail Nationalisation should be a vote winner and he has already toned down on some of the more anti-Europe rhetoric that he has exhibited in the past. He may look to Tsipras in Greece as a success but look at the 180 degree flip the Man from Athens had to do to get re-elected. Overall though, Corbyn is a man with a plan.

But there is a long way to go and the cliche of a week being a long time in politics applies particularly under this leadership. If Corbyn makes it past Christmas and is able to gain some traction with the electorate, then many commentators will have to eat their hats. But the risks for him completing a full term in opposition are still significant. He will find the next few months draining. To quote again from Jonathan Coe, ‘freaky times on the event horizon’.

Pope Not Idle

That was some tour. Not only has Pope Francis spread the gospel in America for much of the last week, he has been political in a way that only perhaps this Pontiff could be. Francis spoke truth to power on issues such as poverty in the US. The Democrats, while ignoring a lot of Roman Catholic Conservative teaching, loved him. The Republicans were extremely wary of him. There was no holding back for Francis; he visited prisons, met the Homeless, told Congress of their duties. This was an example of how religion can be a force for good. Yes, Richard Dawkins may disagree but not all Religious are bad Religious. The Republican Party has become such a parody of the party of Lincoln that Abe himself would surely be turning in his grave at some of their antics. The Pope spoke of how the Church must reach out to the Poor; no trickledown economics for him. His visit will be remembered for speaking plainly and with conviction and for being a master of the media. It was a version of the Gospel that many Conservatives will feel distinctly uncomfortable with. He spoke as a New Testament witness; forgiveness and compassion being the message. He is a powerful advocate for the dispossessed and disadvantaged.

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Corbyn Not the Solution

August 31, 2015 Leave a comment

A Corbyn landslide looks increasingly likely; you’d get excellent odds on either Burnham or Cooper winning the leadership election now. There are several compelling reasons as to why JC would not be the Messiah; a previous piece outlined the unlikelihood of the Corbyn bandwagon being able to win back Tory, Lib Dem, or UKIP votes. The positioning of Labour to the Left of all these parties could mean possible electoral annihilation. So let’s look at two salient practical reasons why Jeremy Corbyn will not be a representative leader of one of the World’s great political parties.

The first and main reason to question the legitimacy of a Corbyn win is to look at who voted for him. The ‘wheeze’ of allowing associate members to sign up for a few pounds was an enormous mistake. There’s up to tens of thousands of voters who have never knocked on a door for the party, delivered a leaflet for their local councillor or attended a local branch meeting. These things matter in politics as ordinary membership is the lifeblood of any political party. Clictivism isn’t real activism; the Corbyn ‘madness’, for that’s a valid word to call what’s going on, will not get the Tories out of Office. A reversion to pre-Militant politics of the 1980s will not win the Tory Heartlands of Southern England or even the Midlands. The legitimacy issue is a real one; Labour party officials have, rightly in the opinion of this writer, disallowed the votes of entryist Trots and their fellow travelers. There’s even Conservatives queuing up to vote. When the landslide happens, you have to ask yourself how many of the actual party stalwarts voted for a man they surely know will be an electoral disaster. Just as the Conservatives took four goes post -Thatcher at getting an electable figurehead, these young, new voters may rue the day when their enthusiasm led them to vote with their hearts not their heads. Politics needs the young for their energy, commitment and new ideas. Labour, however, can not claim to have a true representative of the soul of the party in charge if Corbyn wins as expected.

The second reason why a Jeremy Corbyn win would be a disaster is the lack of support he has from his own MP’s. Quite rightly, many are already turning around and asking why they should possibly support a man who has been a chronic rebel against his own party leadership since his 1983 election. JC is not a natural leader either; how he will manage to steer a group of ambitious and politically savvy Social Democrats under the flag of an unapologetically, unreconstructed, Hard Left regime is an open question. There’s already plans afoot for a group of MP’s dubbed ‘The Resistance’ to meet before the leadership result is announced. There is no appetite from the vast majority of reasonably minded MP’s for a rejected philosophy from 30 years ago, one that ignores Neil Kinnock and John Smith and pretends Tony Blair never happened. Put simply, Corbyn will struggle to command the support of anything but a small minority of the PLP. In football terms, he has already lost the dressing room and will struggle to assert any form of authority with the majority. He lacks credibility as a figure that has always shied away from the responsibility of power and compromise. This may be a caricature of the man, but this is a view that most of the current crop of Labour MP’s who will find their new boss extremely difficult to work with and will see him as a cuckoo in the nest .

While fully expecting to be able to say ‘I told you so’ in the not too distant future, it is important for the Left that Corbyn isn’t the disaster many of us foresee him being. There is a chance he can move the political compass to the Left. This would be welcome in itself. But Labour can not afford to keep the Tories in power for another five years, let alone ten, which is unfortunately the probablilty if there is a Corbyn win. Nobody on the Left wants to see Corbyn bring down the Labour Party but if he is going to crash and burn, let it be quick and let it leave a once great party a chance of competing at the next election.

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Labour Losing it?

July 26, 2015 Leave a comment

‘Silly Season’ time again this side of the Pond. This used to mean, apart from obscure foreign interest stories, nothing much happened for a couple of months in the Summer. That paradigm has changed (if it ever really existed). News and politics is a constant cycle now; there is never a real break from events or a crisis. Life, it all of the petty squabbles and great issues continues remorselessly.

One such place where the beat goes on is during an interminable succession race for the Labour Party leadership. There is absolute panic among moderates and Blairites after a Yougov poll gave Jeremy Corbyn the lead. Cue the media gleeing (who are overwhelmingly anti-Labour) and promoting of Corbyn’s cause knowing that it his election would ultimately lead to electoral disaster for the party. Some of this is pure mischief making, more is unfounded speculation with weeks still to go but some of the analysis is real and sincere. Labour would be taking a massive gamble if they were to elect Jeremy Corbyn as their new Leader. This would be a huge leap into political dark matter – a stupendous risk.

Jeremy Corbyn’s analysis of global capital is something anyone the Left would find hard to really argue with. But like all his predecessors from the Hard Left ‘Campaign’ group, we are into ways and means. The most obvious issue around this election is where the party members want Labour to position themselves? A Jeremy Corbyn win would be that equivalent of the party electing Alex Tsipras; but a Tsipras that wouldn’t sell out on his left wing principles. It’s hard to see how many of Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet, let alone the remaining Blairites, could offer any loyalty to a man they believe will write them another 1983 manifesto, famously described by Gerald Kaufman as ‘the longest suicide note in history’. It really pains this writer to say this, but Tony Blair is right when he says Labour can not seek a comfort blanket after their post-election blues. Make no doubt about it, the Party was traumatised in May. A big if, but if it had not been for Scotland and the Bogeyman of the SNP, Ed Miliband would be in 10 Downing Street now. The party is still in a state of shock but each member, trade unionist and elected member needs to decide if Labour wants to be predominantly a party of principle that probably won’t win an election for another 15 years, or if they want to be a Movement, that believes in the idealism of the Centre-Left but recognises the need to be in Government to implement change.

One of the more depressing aspects (from a Left perspective) of the Greek crisis, is how powerless the Hard and Soft Left are against Global Capital. Labour electors need to take a hard look at the lessons from Athens. Britain is nowhere near the debt level that will enslave the Greeks for generations but the Syriza failure is a stark warning of what happens to a political movement that takes Capital on in a straight head-to-head battle. Capital, these days, is always winner. The Soft Left, Social Democrats and Democratic Socialists need to learn lessons from this – to think smarter, to realise that they are in for the incremental long-term. This is not easy; the Left is in tailspin but times and things do change. It’s no revolutionary slogan but it is reality.

That is why Labour voters should think twice before they mark their ballot papers for Leader and Deputy Leader. Liz Kendall would equally be a disaster for the party; she’s shown every intention of throwing everything out the window that makes Labour not the Tories.. The structural issues in Britain need a John Smith figure now, not a Tony Blair one. Liz Kendall would be an enormously alienating figure that could condemn any hope of a Labour revival in Scotland. She was an early media favourite but is now being pressurised within the Party to drop out to stop Corbyn. Liz Kendall may have a lot to offer, but the offer isn’t leading a demoralised party back into power. That is for others to do.

The real choice to be made is between two perfectly capable candidates wiling to grip and lead the party from the Centre-Left. Both Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper would make fine leaders who would steer the party in the right direction. Any elector that votes with their head and heart would have to see this. The strange days of Summer have thrown up a leadership contest that gets to the heart of what the party stands for. If the electors choose Burnham or Cooper, they’ll have demonstrated that they’re serious about getting back into government sooner rather than way, way later.


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Game of Thrones in 2016? Prospects for Bush v Clinton

June 20, 2015 Leave a comment

American politics never ceases to entertain, appal and amaze. With the entry of Jeb bush into the Presidential Race, we have the very real prospect of another Clinton v Bush contest, a whopping 24 years after the 1992 original. In life and political terms, that’s a whole generation ago; for this author (in his early Forties), it would be like looking back into the 1950s to election races a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. What lies ahead for Clinton-Bush redux? What are the strengths and weaknesses for both individuals?

2016 is a long way away if we heed to the maxim that a week is a long time in politics. However, even this far in advance, the importance of getting a good start and dominating the process will be at the forefront of both campaigns. They will both be aiming to be the ‘TINA’ candidates; they will hope to turn round to their respective Parties and say ‘Look, There.Is.No.Alternative’. Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush will be seeking to have the race over before it has begun. This is politics where the winner not only takes all, but all opposition is destroyed in the process.

Let’s look at Jeb Bush. Purportedly the smarter of the brothers – quiet at the back there – Jeb is a moderate in Republican terms. This means he has taken stances that won’t appeal to the Base but may gain traction with the wider electorate. The problem is if, and there’s a long way to go, if he gets the nomination, he may already have been portrayed as a latter-day Romney; privileged,  protecting the interests of the 1% and part of a dynasty out of touch with the aspirations of middle America.

Yet he has strengths. He is articulate. He is the Republican that could win back much of the Hispanic vote that went Democrat in 2012. He speaks fluent Spanish, for goodness sake. His moderate stances and positions, by Republican calibrations, mean that he can potentially reach out beyond the Angry Constituency that is much of the GOP Primary vote. He may well get the early backing of Big Money and Republican Party grandees keen to avoid the circus-like atmosphere of the 2012 nomination process. In short, he is a very strong candidate and has real prospects of blowing other candidates out of the water. He could have the Party Nomination sewn up well before it becomes a Race; he is already a hot favourite.

What of HRC? Let’s look at her weaknesses first; some of which may also be seen as strengths. She too is part of a dynasty, albeit by marriage. She has a partisan legacy that still isn’t totally dispelled; older voters may not warm to her, she may be seen as overly ambitious (would the same be said about a male candidate and on the same terms? Perhaps not). Then there’s the question of where she really stands on anything; is she a conviction politician or more of a ‘Traingulator’ like her husband Bill?Will President Clinton (Bill) lose it during the campaign? Will Left-wing Democrats come out and eventually vote for someone who can easily be perceived as on the economic Right of the Party? Will Monica Lewinsky’s name come up again and again? All of these factors are negatives that will have been gamed and planned on by the Spin Doctors. But Hillary’s positives may far outweigh her negatives.

She has name recognition that surpasses Jeb Bush’s. Bill will be a formidable campaigner on the stump and 2016 will be a repeat of the adage that if you vote for one, you get two. Bill Clinton has become hugely popular since his retirement. They will be an incredibly united and determined couple; Jeb Bush will be taking on a formidable team. HRC will be able to tap into as much corporate wealth as Bush will; see how much she’ll raise on from the West Coast Silicon Valley moguls compared to Bush Wall Street money. Hillary can make history by becoming the first female President and if nominated she will have Obama touring the stump for her, making some more ’08 style Home Run speeches. It would be the arc of history in full sweep; Obama supporting his once defeated rival. For all these reasons, HRC will be tough to beat.

Anything can happen between now and the next US General Election. But it is rare that at such an early stage, pundits are predicting who the two nominees will be. There is many a slip between cup and lip; lots can go wrong for both individuals before 2016. This contest may lack the excitement and rhetoric of 2008 but it could be epic nonetheless. Once again, the Game of Thrones is taking place; whether it is Clinton or Bush that survives the clash of the dynasties, well, this is one that is beyond the power of the prognosticators.

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End of the Milibrand

May 22, 2015 Leave a comment

Didn’t see that one coming at all. Neither did most commentators, politicians, or the Public. While there are some grounds to think that Labour knew all along that they were running behind the Tories, the scale of their defeat left many supporters devastated. So what was behind the Shy Tories? What were the reasons behind a relatively comfortable victory for the Conservative Party? How did Cameron manage to pull off the first Conservative majority in 23 years?

Those of us who remember 1992 and John Major’s shock Election win will say that this seems familiar. It’s that sinking, depressing feeling of knowing that there’s five more years of the same to come. A small but significant amount of voters are just too embarrassed to tell opinion
pollsters of their voting intentions. They’d rather say they’re in the undecided camp than admit to being a Tory. Cameron doesn’t care; as long as he gets the votes at the end of the day, he’ll take as many Shy Tories as he can handle. Some things can be just too embarrassing to admit, and it appears that being a Conservative is such an embarrassment for some voters.

Weak leader. Oh, it’s so easy to be right with hindsight. Miliband, Ed, was not the Alpha Male or tough Blair clone. Even his fans, and yes, there were some, would never have gone that far in their descriptions. But he was and is a decent man with some excellent ideas about how to make Britain a fairer and more democratic country. The Conservative Press will be content to run with the ‘Wrong Brother’ narrative but we can never know if Miliband the Elder would have mitigated the damage enough to have justified his selection as leader. Ed Miliband had his faults but the Conservative media coverage of him was tantamount to bullying a lot of the time. Cameron the Bullingdon Boy took on the Fresher who looked geeky. The Tabloid Press outdid itself again in being trivial, boorish and predictable. Never underestimate the ability of Yellow Journalism to outdo itself again and again.

Although it really galls most decent people to acknowledge it, Lynton Crosby played an absolute blinder. Negative and nasty, Crosby and Cameron crafted an almost perfect campaign. They were blessed with having a resurgent Scottish Nationalist Party that decimated Labour north of the border. Remember, the Tories did their level best to talk up the SNP against Labour in Scotland and use the Nats as a Bogey Man in the south. As a wedge issue, it had a huge impact in 2015. Crosby tries to hit on dog-whistle subjects; he appealed to some of the subconscious instincts in swing voters with the effective but false question of asking if they trusted Ed Miliband with the Union and with the Scottish Nationalists. A sufficient amount of those voters were convinced enough to put Cameron back into Number 10. Paul Mason, among others, has posited that the Tories relied on the propertied English to rebut the Social Democratic Scots.

The Conservatives were absolutely ruthless in how they dealt with their erstwhile coalition partners. This was a decapitation strategy on an enormous scale. The Liberal Democrats were utterly shell-shocked after their worst result since the 1970s. All the talk of them being a permanent party of government has evaporated like the dew in the morning. They learned a cruel lesson; it is the minor party that usually gets the raw deal in any post-coalition election. Nick Clegg’s fall from grace has been stellar; the Liberal Democrats lost many excellent MPs. It will be a slow, long comeback for them. They will be wary of ever going into government again.

Cameron’s election promise on tax seemed like folly at the time. How can anyone promise not to put up tax for the duration of a parliament? Yet, this is exactly the kind of distancing from Labour that Crosby will have suggested. This, along with the right to buy social housing, provided Cameron with Clear Blue Water. The cynicism is breathtaking; how any government can read the economic runes for the next five years is beyond this humble scribe. The may well be hoisted on their own petard on this one.

To the victor the spoils. The Tories can now implement the kind of agenda they were only dreaming about a mere few weeks ago. If you’re not with them, you’re against them. The next five years will probably see the Tories Americanise the welfare state and privatise much of the NHS. There’s danger ahead south of Calais of course as ‘Europe’ once more becomes a make or break issue for a Tory Prime Minister. On a worst case scenario, Cameron could lose Scotland AND lose the in-out European referendum. Don’t write off a Labour revival yet; politics never ceases to surprise.

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Labour, the Scots and the Tories in Knots – General Election 2015

April 14, 2015 Leave a comment

Tory Target Keeps Moving

So is it ‘Red Ed’ or ‘Stud Ed’ or ‘Geek Ed’? Less than a month to go to the British General Election and the Tories and their newspaper allies still can’t make up their mind on how they should paint
Miliband. Is he ruthless – the kind of sneaky sibling who would knife his own brother in the back – or is he weak, an Islington Policy Wonk with no knowledge of the real world? This is a genuine problem for the Conservatives; they’re relying on Ed Miliband being the weak link in the Labour chain. In fact, it’s been a faulty campaign truism for the Tories; they’ve taken for granted that the Electorate would be so put off by the younger brother that labour would be tanking in the polls. Instead, Labour are, by some recent polls, ahead and in the driving seat to form a coalition, at the very least, in the next Government. If most voters aren’t scared of Ed, and remember there is still plenty of time for some Kinnock-style monstering from the Tory Press, then David Cameron’s goose has been well and truly cooked. There is, however, the chance that the Conservatives will go relentlessly negative; the evidence from this type of campaigning is mixed – negative can work in certain circumstances. Lynton Crosby is relying on a few more cards up his sleeve; whether it is enough to stop Miliband from heading into Downing Street, we will find out very soon. Many are saying this is the closest election in decades; at this snapshot in time, it is slight advantage to the Labour Party.

Scotland the Kingmaker

Labour’s woes in Scotland are substantial. The take from the Independence Referendum is that they might have won the battle but they are losing the war. Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP are resurgent. Never a really national party before, they are all set to wipe out the Labour ascendancy north of Hadrian’s Wall. Jim Murphy has been given the hapless task of trying to save enough seats from the wreckage to keep the Labour dream of an overall Westminster majority alive. There are some slim causes for hope – the odds still favour a Labour decimation – that will give Murphy fire in his belly in the adrenalin fuelled coming weeks. Firstly, Gordon Brown saved the Union and is still a hugely popular and respected figure; Scottish Labour would be mad not to have him out on the campaign stump and it would be a major surprise if this Big Beast doesn’t start roaring. Secondly, SNP policies on spending and the prospect of another independence vote are starting to come under the sort of forensic examination one gets during a general election campaign. Nicola Sturgeon is enjoying an electoral honeymoon but from here on in, the campaign is for her to lose. Thirdly, Scottish Labour have logistical experience and boots on the ground; you can have as many Twitter supporters as you like but unless people get out and canvass for you, your opponents can make hay at your expense. If Labour are destroyed in Scotland and the only practical coalition post-election is Labour with SNP support, then politically, we’re into almost completely uncharted territory. Perhaps the only comparison is back to before the First World War and the Irish Parliamentary Party supporting the Liberals. Whatever happens, the ‘Scottish Question’ hasn’t gone away; Scotland will shape the next Government of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Cameron’s Conundrum

Suppose David Cameron does it. He could. He could get enough votes in swing constituencies in the South to become the largest party by twenty seats or so. The polls are mixed on this. If he is just a nose ahead of Labour, then his moral authority to form a government will have been severely weakened. He may well get first approach on forming a government, but it would be difficult for a Left-leaning Liberal Democrats to re-enter a coalition. But if the SNP incapacitate Labour in Scotland and enough voters look to their wallet and UKIP peak and/or decline, then there’s a reasonable chance of Cameron getting back into Downing Street. He is relying on a lot of variables, more than the Labour Party are, for his clear path back to power. For DC to get back to Number Ten, Labour must fail disastrously in Scotland (likely but not guaranteed), UKIP most implode (possible but not probable) and the Liberal Democrats must hold their own in seat numbers and come back with either Nick Clegg as their leader (looking dubious) or with an ‘Orange Book’ new leader (this may be a step too far for the grassroots). A Tory minority government with Liberal Democrat ‘supply’ support seems unworkable and the Conservatives will need to storm ahead if they’re to get into Minority Rule with DUP/Ulster Unionist ‘supply’ votes. It is difficult, at this juncture, to see how David Cameron will be Prime Minister rather than Ed Miliband. Three weeks, however, is a long time in politics.

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The Man ‘O’ calls ‘Axe’

March 12, 2015 Leave a comment

David Axelrod is a giant among Spin Merchants and Political Communicators. Renowned as  Barack Obama’s ‘Keeper of the Flame’, ‘Axe’ has put his life thus far to words in ‘Believer – 40 Years in Politics’. For any student and observer of American Politics, this is to be welcomed. Republicans will hate this – it’s a take on how Progressives can win elections if they’re prepared not to be ‘Swift-Boated’; ‘Axe’ loves a good fight.

Have a close up look at David Axelrod’s heart and you’ll see Chicago written all over it. The ‘Windy City’ is painted as a maddening, addictive, corrupt, idealistic place where politics can be brutal. ‘Axe’ grounded his skills as a Political Reporter in the Chicago Tribune. He writes movingly of his mother and father, an accomplished journalist/focus group pioneer and psychotherapist respectively. He barely graduated from the University of Chicago; he was spending so much time as a cub reporter. There is tragedy in his 20s when his father commits suicide.  But instead of this breaking him, Axelrod somehow drew on his depths of resilience to start his climb in the Political Consultancy World. It was a journey that would take him to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

And what a business to be in. Axelrod writes of the need for a candidate to be fundamentally sound; they must believe in something at their core. He rejects the notion of the Svengali, despite his own success, he can only do so much with the raw material he’s working with. He has some rough words for John Edwards and other candidates he believes didn’t hit the mark. He nearly got the senior gig in the Gore 2000 campaign; who knows how History may have been different if Axelrod had decided not to sit this one out (due to his daughter Lauren having a particularly acute form of epilepsy). His wife Susan is credited as a rock, providing balance and grounding throughout his high-adrenaline career.

The Obama-Biden 08 Campaign must rank as one of the greatest political campaigns in US Presidential History. A freshman Senator, up against essentially both the Clintons and a start-up beginning with nothing and raising hundreds of millions of dollars went on to win an epic political slugfest. Perhaps Axelrod saw Obama as a kindred spirit; a Progressive with edge, standing up for Main Street America and willing to be bold to achieve his goals. Only Barack Obama could have made such a commanding speech on Race as the Rev Wright controversy at one stage threatened to derail the campaign. Axelrod writes with a great sense of flair and pride about the time when Hope did seem to have won out over Fear.

But then we arrive at the famous Mario Cuomo maxim; we campaign in poetry but govern in prose. The First Obama Administration was a bruising Reality Check to the President’s belief that a bi-partisan approach could work in Washington. The Health Care victory and saving the US Economy from possible Depression are two enormous achievements but Team Obama had to fight tooth and nail for even small victories. The scorched earth strategy adopted by the Republicans, particularly after the rise of the Tea Party, meant that every compromise Obama was forced into was seen by his Left political base as folding in to GOP demands. Axelrod brings us into the White House tensions and triumphs. We get a fine sense of the sheer demands put on anyone working in the West Wing. Obama has many qualities, but he is only human and while ‘Axe’ shows the Commander-in-Chief to be mostly in control, he shows how even the great Calm One is prone to frustration when he is unable to steer events his way

Axelrod is on more comfortable ground discussing the 2012 campaign, where he was re-activated as Chief Strategist. This was a much more difficult call than 2008; the economy was barely recovering and Obama did not have the usual incumbent advantages. So while the Democrats campaigned on the electoral maths, they were fortunate to have an opponent who was a cartoon Rich Guy. Romney became the gift that kept giving; the ‘Mother Jones’ scoop on his deriding 47% of the American population as slackers was particularly totemic. Here was Mitt among his wealthy backers saying what he really thought and it was alarming. ‘Axe’ was careful to stroke the party base in 2012; play to the Centre but tilt to the Left. The strategy was brilliantly executed with Obama running out a comfortable winner, much to the shock of the Romneyites.

Axelrod’s autobiography is an excellent account of how elections are won and lost. While it’s undoubtedly extremely tough and sometime rough at the top in his chosen profession, he shows that the ‘Spindoctors’ who try to control the gears, engine and steering of modern campaigning are as important as the candidate with the message. But the candidate must have a message and ‘Axe’s President spoke clearly to the American people in 2008 and 2012. President Obama owes Axelrod no small amount of thanks for his electoral success.

‘Believer – My Forty Years in Politics’ – David Axelrod, Penguin Press, pp 490

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