Labour "fooling themselves" over plans to combat attacks on Miliband

Conservative-leaning public affairs experts have questioned the value of Labour's adoption of US-style campaigning tactics in the wake of the opposition hiring election strategist David Axelrod.

Ed Miliband: Labour preparing election strategy
Ed Miliband: Labour preparing election strategy

Labour is setting up an "attack unit" to reply instantly to attacks on the party and its leader, according to shadow cabinet member Michael Dugher in an interview with The Independent today.

Dugher said Labour strategists fear the Tories will follow a "negative" and "personal" strategy similar to the 1992 election campaign against Neil Kinnock.

Burson-Marsteller global practice chair for public affairs Kevin Bell, who is a former adviser to Margaret Thatcher, said: "It’s hard to see how stepping up the attack machine will counter the image of Ed as a bit strange.

"Labour need the ability to effectively counter attack against the Tories – that’s obvious – but they are fooling themselves if they think going on the attack will improve Miliband’s image."

The aggressive mood from the opposition follows its hiring last week of Barack Obama’s election strategist David Axelrod, with Dugher today saying it will model its approach on Obama's 2012 defeat of Mitt Romney.

US-centric campaign tactics may not translate easily to the UK, claims Westbourne Communications founder James Bethell, who stood as a parliamentary candidate for the Tories in 2005.

"The bog-flushing Obama’s toughies gave to Romney the 'rich-boy' demonstrates the way negative campaigning can deliver election results," he said. "But American politics, with big budgets for paid-for media, is quite different from Britain’s lively media-dominated political debate. And Miliband is clearly no Obama."

However, Axelrod's hiring and Dugher's talk of rapid rebuttal was backed by Tetra Strategy co-founder James O'Keefe, who worked for the Labour Party in the leader's office during the 1997 election campaign.

O'Keefe maintained a strategy combining super-fast communications with a carefully considered view of the challenges the country will face can be effective.

"This could be Ed Miliband’s real secret weapon. It is also the way David Axelrod thinks. That he knows what an election-winning machine looks like is taken for granted. That he is also the man who graduated with a double first in the only ‘recession to out-of-recession election’ since 2008, is where he will bring priceless insight into the anxieties and hopes of today’s middle classes."

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