Obama spin doctors hired to shake up deadlocked UK vote

2015-03-30 14:26
US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron. (Kevin Lamarque, AFP)

US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron. (Kevin Lamarque, AFP)

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London - Rival parties in Britain's election campaign have hired former strategists for US President Barack Obama in an attempt to sway one of the most unpredictable elections in years ahead of polling day on 7 May.

Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron is battling to stay in power against the main opposition leader, Labour's Ed Miliband, with their parties neck and neck in polls.

Miliband has hired David Axelrod, 60, the mustachioed strategist behind Obama's "Yes We Can!" slogan, which helped sweep him to power in 2008.

Cameron has Jim Messina, 46, who led Obama's 2012 re-election campaign, as well as 33-year-old Reggie Love, the president's former personal aide.

Axelrod explained that he joined Miliband's team last year because of his ideas and the "strength of his vision".

It's a view of the Labour leader that has been under constant attack by his rivals, who cast Miliband as incompetent and out of touch with ordinary voters.

Nigel Farage, leader of the anti-European Union UK Independence Party (UKIP), recently blamed the US advisors for bringing vitriol into the British campaign.

"What I'm seeing in this election is the influence of these big American advisers and it's becoming the most negative, nasty and personal campaign I've ever seen," Farage said on radio.

"I don't agree with most of what Ed Miliband stands for, but he is a perfectly decent human being and for him to just be attacked personally day after day after day - how is that taking us forward in terms of a national debate?"

But experts question how much influence the spin doctors have really had on the campaign.

"British politics has always been incredibly robust and adversarial, and we have a really strong tradition of political satire," said David Bowden of the Institute of Ideas, a think tank.

"To be honest, I think their role on both sides has not been particularly significant."

'Borrowed glamour'

For some, the hiring of the super-advisors with high salaries is little more than a publicity stunt.

"I don't believe the three US consultants will have much of an influence or impact on this UK election," said Aeron Davis, professor of political communication at Goldsmiths, University of London.

For Davis, the hires were a sign of "the professional political consultancy business that wanders across nations trying to drum up business for themselves" and party "sabre rattling".

Axelrod's involvement in the Labour campaign has been difficult to discern and his lack of involvement "widely remarked upon", according to Bowden.

None of the three have commented much in public on the election - with only a few sporadic tweets.

However, Bowden credits Messina with influence on the Conservatives' social media campaign and the decision for Cameron to give a major interview to new media company BuzzFeed rather than a traditional outlet.

More than anything, the hiring of the strategists shows that the British election is not being fought over major issues of principle, as it might have been in the past.

"It obviously illustrates the extent to which politics in the UK has generally become less pronounced in ideological terms and that Conservative and Labour are only really fighting over small technical details around the economy," Bowden said.

"If anything, both the Tories and Labour feel like they're hoping the borrowed glamour of Obama will inject their campaigns with some optimism and vision which are lacking in their own policies."

Read more on:    barak obama  |  uk  |  uk 2015 elections

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